Politics & Policy

Ho Hum; Daffy Lame Duckism; Ronald Reagan, Hoss


Unless Nicholas Katzenbach, Elizabeth Holtzman, Sean Wilentz et al were playing poker with the President on all the incriminating dates in question and were in the room during all the damning conversations I’m not sure I could care less what they have to say. I mean, let’s be straight. The White House has spent the last six months saying this scandal is over; these hearings are a farce; We have all the facts; this is just partisan bickering; Ronald Reagan was worse; these are unproven allegations; these are unprovable allegations; get these things over with; Newt Gingrich is orchestrating this; Newt Gingrich isn’t orchestrating this; Ken Starr set Monica Lewinsky up; there’s nothing to see here, move along, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

But now, all of a sudden, like a three-legged turtle crossing an open field to sneak up and bite you on the neck, the Judiciary Committee is FINALLY about to snap Clinton with a few articles of impeachment. So what does the White House do? It screams “rush to judgement!” “We need time to rebut these heinous allegations,” they moaned. “We need time to offer our own witnesses to make our positive case,” they pounded. So who are these witnesses? Well, they aren’t witnesses to anything at all. They are hired guns to lecture the House about how provincial its thinking is. I’ve been saying all along that what Henry Hyde needs to come to his senses is a calcified Great Society liberal like Katzenbach lecturing him.

Of course, even this craven, cynical, moronic, and — here’s the real crime — DULL move by the White House is bull. What were Judge Higginbotham and Alan Dershowitz doing there last week? Why did they bother shooting up Arthur Schlesinger with bee pollen and vitamin E a couple of weeks ago, if not to roll him out to finger wag Henry Hyde? Forget new evidence, there won’t even be any new arguments!

Okay, okay, so the supercillious and paternalistic academic and political elite think the Capitol is overrun by Huns who think a tea cup is a pocket spitoon. We knew that. But the idea that if we get Father Drinan to point his bony finger of damnation at us one more time we’ll all of a sudden see the light is goofy.


Bruce Ackerman of Yale law school is going to be the point-man for my favorite, and most likely, White House strategy. As he argues in today’s New York Times and will again in front of the Committee, if the 105th House passes articles of impeachment they may be dead on arrival after the 106th Congress is sworn in. This is not an outlandish argument, according to many Constitutional scholars. After all, lame duck Congresses can’t pass bills without them being approved by the new body. Whether this applies to articles of impeachment is an open question and I remain agnostic for now.

But even if Ackerman is right, there may be a silver lining. The White House believes this interpretation is an escape hatch for impeachment. Even if the 105th House passes the articles, they will have to be re-adopted by the 106th for a Senate trial to be launched. The 106th House will have more Democrats and therefore the White House would win the new impeachment vote, and then argue they were never impeached. That would be fun. The White House would be reduced to even more ludicrous legalisms and circumlocutions. “No, no, no! We weren’t impeached! It’s a do-over! You know? A do-over!” Like in stick ball when you break the neighbors window, the White House would have to argue with seriousness that this never happened.

If, as many of us believe, impeachment itself is a worthy censure even if it doesn’t result in the President’s removal, then what more fitting closure than letting the White House argue that they were never impeached? The nation could “move on” while Lanny Davis and Gregg Craig would jump up and down screaming, “No, no, no, the President wasn’t impeached!” And the rest of the country would say, “Yeah, whatever.”

Even more delightful would be the fact that the Democrats, especially the brand-spanking-new Democrats, would have to vote the first week of a new session to save the President. Fine, have the vote. These new Democrats, many from marginal districts would have to take responsibility for casting their very first vote on over-turning the impeachment of the President. Bring it on.


. Last night I attended a lecture at my old stomping ground, the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org). Edmund Morris, author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and official biographer of Ronald Reagan, gave an interesting talk about the subject of his forthcoming book, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. It was illuminating. But as a friend of mine observed, it was rather like eating sushi, a very delicately prepared series of morsels that in the end left the patron unsatisfied. Morris’s book has been over a decade in the making and has been delayed several times. It is one of those topics that fascinates New York-Washington journalistic and publishing circles: “When is the damn thing going to be done?”

The threat of Morris’s book has scared away many lesser biographers (Morris’s TR bio is arguably the greatest American political biography ever written). After listening to him speak, I worry that the task may be too much for the man, not so much because Morris is not capable but because Reagan is impenetrable. The more Morris talked, the more supernatural Reagan became. Reagan reportedly never tried to stack the deck about his historical legacy with Morris. In private sessions that more mortal men would have used to edify future generations, Reagan contented himself with telling stories of his radio days. Morris makes it sound like Reagan was a divine scalpel employed by our Creator for excising the Cold War and all of its bile from the global body. He was not an intellectual but he always knew what to do, even when the pointy-heads had no idea. His imagination was greater than most men’s intellect. But as fascinating as Reagan is, Morris seemed to be skirting around the fact that he can’t figure the man out.

But if he can’t figure out Reagan, I was curious if he could figure out the country that elected him. The Presidency, for good and for ill, is the center ring of American political culture. It struck me as startling that in the span of George Bush’s one presidential term, America could go from believing that Ronald Reagan was the best expression for our aspirations to believing that Bill Clinton is. I don’t even mean the Bill Clinton we know now, but the 1992 Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan came from a drunk and “abusive” father as defined in our twelve-step culture. We never heard a word about it. Bill Clinton came from a similar household and he ran on that fact. His Man From Hope video at the Democratic Convention was as boastful of Clinton’s lush father as Teddy Roosevelt was of San Juan Hill. Ronald Reagan led by always appearing heroic, if not always acting that way. Bill Clinton “felt our pain.” What does this say about a society that can turn on a dime that way? I asked Morris about this and he used the historians’ dodge of saying he wasn’t qualified to judge Clinton or the political culture. But he did offer that Clinton was a political chameleon of sorts. He has played TR, FDR, Truman, Johnson, and even (gasp) Reagan to varying degrees of effectiveness. Reagan, on the other hand, was always Reagan.


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