Politics & Policy

Burn, Sidney, Burn; Back, Wack, and Loonier Than Ever


Republicans are the crocodile and Bill Clinton is Captain Hook. Sidney Blumenthal is the president’s right hand, we got him., and he’s delicious. Conservatives and most other forms of human life haven’t liked Blumenthal for a long, long time. His writings have been offensive and devious, but very good. Blumenthal is a brilliant writer. After all, lesser men would have been dragged from the typewriter by men in white coats for writing the things that Blumenthal has penned under the guise of a sober and critical political observer. For example, just before Blumenthal finally got on the payroll of the administration for which he’d been volunteering for years, he wrote an article in The New Yorker about Sam Tannenhaus’s magisterial biography of Whittaker Chambers. Blumenthal suggested that the hunt for communists in the 1950s was really a hissy fit by closeted gay Right-Wingers who were trying to out homosexuals.

But Blumenthal is also a profoundly arrogant man. The beauty of Christopher Hitchens exposing him is causing unmitigated glee among Washington conservatives. Already, Hitchens is being blackballed by his left-wing colleagues and I for one feel sorry for him. Yesterday the Washington Post approvingly recounted how various friends must now turn on him for being an “informer.” But what has he informed about? He has admitted something under oath which everybody in Washington already knew and which he had said to numerous people. Was he supposed to lie to Congress? Wasn’t that Ollie North’s pernicious crime?

Blumenthal and his lawyer, Bill McDaniel, on numerous occasions publicly released any journalist who felt bound by the rules of journalistic confidentiality to come forward about the president’s Right hand. To me the real outrage is that journalists kept Blumenthal’s actions secret. If you want to keep a source confidential that’s fine. But if you’ve been released from that commitment and you still keep pertinent information secret, you are deliberately withholding news. Important news. Withholding information is as devious as timing its release for political advantage (Lisa Myers call your office). The allegation that the White House mounted a concerted effort to defame its opponents, especially Monica Lewinsky, is serious. If the press has evidence of it and they choose not to run it, they are making a conscious decision to skew popular perceptions. I know journalists who are still keeping it secret. They shouldn’t.

For Blumenthal I have zero sympathy. Loyalty is not an infinite horn of plenty. Bill Clinton abused the trust of his staff in more ways than there is space here to recount. Sidney Blumenthal did what he did and said what he said because that is the kind of man he is. He likes saying bad things about people. If you snapped him open like a peapod nothing but bilious black ooze would come out. He has been a whisperer of innuendo for much of his professional life. That he now gets paid for it does not make him any more admirable. He is the perfect advisor to our Machiavellian Prince. Last summer, in a speech at Harvard he said,

“We are plunged, at least in Washington, into a politics of defamation, a consuming world of innuendo, false witnesses, allusion, leaks, and smears…. The problem is not simply the largesse from Richard Mellon Scaffe , the eccentric, right-wing billionaire, Starr’s numerous conflicts of interest, ideological and financial, his speeches at Pat Robertson’s university, his alliances, brazen alliances, with individuals determined to inflict whatever damage they can on the president. It is not simply that he has assembled a crew of prosecutorial pirates with lengthy records of prosecutorial abuse, and installed a chief deputy, Hickman Ewing, a religious fanatic, who has proclaimed that he operates from a presumption of guilt. It is not simply that Ken Starr has jettisoned the language of law…. Ken Starr is on an endless quest, if not for vindication, then of vindictiveness.”

He had more of this stuff, but I think you get the picture.

At the time I wondered why God didn’t reach down and pinch his head ‘til it popped for saying that. I mean, “religious fanatic,” “prosecutorial pirates,” “lengthy records of prosecutorial abuse” seem to run counter to his seeming dismay about the “politics of defamation.” The guilt-by-association with Scaife is a vile lie, since Starr and Scaife have never met or even talked to each other. His “brazen alliances” sound really good, but it’s a pretty stupid thing to say.

And keep in mind he said all of this after he told the Grand Jury that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker. He said this after he had come out of the Grand Jury room and lied about what they asked him. The lies were good and convenient for columnists like Anthony Lewis and Frank Rich to solidify the case that Starr is an extra-constitutional monster or some other gobbledygook. But they were lies and even the Grand Jury foreperson said so to his face.

Blumenthal lied to his inquisitors last week, and it is good that he has been exposed. Hitchens doesn’t want his former friend to be prosecuted for perjury and won’t testify against him. Fine for Hitchens, he did his job, but it isn’t up to him. Blumenthal’s perjury isn’t just about sex and it wasn’t a perjury trap. It was an arrogant lie, like so much else that comes out of the man’s mouth. If he wants to come clean now, they should let him. Captain Hook’s hand was a delicious snack but eventually every crocodile wants to eat the whole thing.


After a break from writing ridiculous columns the crazy Richard Cohen is back in today’s Washington Post. Today he ridicules the House managers for not being more concerned with Bill Clinton’s feeling when they interrogated Blumenthal. “How come [Rogan] cared so little about how the president felt?” Rich asks as if this is an intelligent question.


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