Politics & Policy

It’s Academic; The Gatekeeper


Imagine that the Christian Coalition or the Family Research Council had pulled together a group of prominent private citizens — say 400 clergymen — to take out ads in the New York Times arguing that President must be impeached. This is not inconceivable, is it? Further, imagine they did it four days before the 1998 election in order to galvanize their troops.

Now, what if the Christian Coalition decided not to announce its role in organizing this national appeal? Would Joe Conason or Rahm Emmanuel or Margaret Carlson or Paul Begala ignore this connection? Indeed, once they turned to the ad over their morning coffee, wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to ask, “Who paid for this?” Don’t you think Sid Blumenthal would give Geraldo a call (through his dental fillings or whatever mode they use to communicate) and say “Jerry, hombre, what’s up with this ad? I mean these people are priests, ministers, and rabbis calling for the removal of the President! They’re supposed to be impartial on politics. I smell a skunk. Be a mensch, look into it for me, will you? I’ll give you another exclusive with President Priapus.”

It seems to me that when Howard Kurtz and Maureen Dowd would write about the ads they would say, “An open letter by 400 clergy, organized and paid for by the conservative Christian Coalition.” And, even though our necks would spasm trying to follow Tony Lewis, Frank Rich, and Richard Cohen from the dizzying heights of their soap boxes, it would still be reasonable to discuss the role of the Christian Coalition in taking out the ads. Wouldn’t it?

Well, remember the “Historians in Defense of the Constitution”? These were the men and women who took out the $55,000 ad in the New York Times in order to “deplore the present drive to impeach the President.” These eminent profs from Harvard, Yale, MIT, and other institutions that should really be running the country decried the ignorant masses who were distracting the President from the “public business.” The tone and tenor of their open letter was that they were non-partisan experts on what the Constitution has to say and what history has to tell us. After all, these were “historians speaking as historians.”

According to the upcoming issue of The American Enterprise magazine, the effort was largely organized by People for the American Way. The mailing address for the 400 Historians Speaking as Historians on the bottom of the ad is the Washington office of this partisan, liberal group. Indeed, it turns out that PAW’s non-profit foundation received the donations and paid for the ads. Let us recall that the People for the American Way is a left-wing interest group that at the time was running ads across the country endorsing the President.

Coincidentally, Sean Wilentz, who testified on behalf of the White House in stridently partisan terms yesterday, was the co-organizer of the Committee of Four Hundred, along with co-testifier Arthur “gentlemen prefer to lie about groping interns” Schlesinger Jr. At the time they took out the ad, they said they simply hoped to “stimulate debate.” In the aftermath of the apparently impeachment-killing November election, there was no more need for debate and they dropped the whole thing. Now, I couldn’t give a damn who paid for the ads or, for that matter, if a bunch of academics want to play politics. This is nothing new. Remember the legion psychiatrists who charged that Goldwater wasn’t mentally stable enough to be President? (Of course, the arrogance of a bunch of chin-rubbing, Volvo-driving, elbow-patched, Cambridgites arguing they’re above politics is a bit hard to take). But this unbelievable reliance on motivations and agendas rather than facts and evidence has to cut both ways.

Oh yeah, The American Enterprise points out, eight days after the open letter appeared in the Times, three of its signatories personally received “national medals for arts and humanities” from the President. Isn’t that special?


The White House argued yesterday through Greg Craig that the President’s coaching of Betty Currie could not be construed as witness tampering or obstruction because Currie was not even on the witness list for the Paula Jones suit. While Lindsey Graham touched on this a bit, generally this assertion was allowed to stand unrebutted. But don’t forget that Betty Currie was always the cut-out. If she wasn’t, why would Monica always sign in as a visitor of Betty Currie? Linda Tripp told me over a year ago that Betty Currie was the President’s gatekeeper and alibi. Is it such a stretch to imagine that the President was coaching Currie with the intention that he might enlist her as a friendly witness?


The Latest