Politics & Policy

Impeachment’s Toxicity


Things seem to be converging nicely. Ken Starr is going to release a final report clearing the air about the impeachment brouhaha and whatever else he deems appropriate. Hillary Clinton, the lifelong Yankees fan who spent the last twenty years publicly cheering the Chicago Cubs for cover, is going to run for the Senate in New York. Al Gore is reportedly going to start a “conversation” with the American people tomorrow night in an ABC interview. In this conversation Al Gore is going to establish his independence from the president’s character problems.

One way to think about the impeachment mess is that it was the cultural equivalent of a huge nuclear mishap. The event itself is over but the background radiation is still poisonous and has a half-life. The surest way to tell it’s safe to go back in is that Bob Woodward is on the scene. Woodward is like the first guy they send in after an accident. His reports aren’t terribly accurate and they’re a little self-serving but they are more illuminating than not.

After every major scandal or political tumult he provides a venue for the disgruntled to spin their side into the history books. So somehow presidential lawyer Bob Bennett has been exculpated in Woodward’s latest book. Bennett thought the president’s testimony was “insanity” and that the president’s sexual distinctions were “absurd.” “This crap won’t fly with anyone. … It’s awful, awful advice,” quoth the lawyer.

That’s good to know, I suppose. But one wonders how it is that confidential conversations between Bennett and the president could make it into Woodward’s reporting. Those conversations were part of the attorney-client relationship. Did Clinton talk to Woodward? Did Bennett? Did someone from Bennett’s firm? Any way you slice it, it could be construed that someone has violated, and therefore waived, attorney-client privilege. If so, all of their conversations could be subject to inquiry by the Independent Counsel. Alas, Ken Starr wouldn’t have a prayer if he tried that. But we can dream, can’t we?

Still the half-life continues. It will be fascinating to listen to the vice president distance himself from the president. This can’t be the equivalent of George H. W. Bush’s “kinder, gentler” schtick when he moved out from underneath Reagan. Bush was talking about policies. Gore must talk about distancing himself from the man. Although it’s doubtful anyone will have the guts to ask him some of the more interesting questions for the scandal obsessed.

For instance, the president never recanted his assertion that he couldn’t remember if he was alone with Monica Lewinsky. He said that because people could come in and out of his office during his “mentoring” sessions with Monica he could truthfully say he was never alone. He could remember well enough his sexual encounters — that he never touched her in any affidavit-defying manner, but whether or not various Cabinet members were milling around, he couldn’t be sure. So: “Mr. Vice President, did you ever see Monica Lewinsky praying at the altar of the president’s pants while he was talking about American servicemen in Bosnia?”

Or here’s one. On the day Bill Clinton became the first elected president ever to be impeached for behavior that seemed to violate the core principles of his party, Al Gore called Clinton one of America’s greatest presidents. Did he mean that? Presumably the answer is yes. So in that case character doesn’t matter, right? I mean, if you can be a great president and have the character of a urinal mint, why even bother with such considerations? Indeed, why should Al Gore try to distance himself on the character issue at all if it is so meaningless?

Instead, perhaps Al will try to finesse. Perhaps he will imply he was saying that out of loyalty rather than conviction. Surely there is some honor there. But if that’s the case then why should we believe anything he says about President Clinton? And also, that presumably means character does matter. If that’s the case, could he explain with some specificity how the president’s deficiency in that regard damaged his presidency? And remember: no blaming everything on his enemies.

Or why not just ask the vice president if he agrees with Bob Bennett that the president’s distinctions were nothing but insanity and crap?

Then, of course, there’s Hillary, whose poll numbers seem directly tied to how much of her reputation she jettisons at her husband’s expense. The hand-wringing in Washington this morning is whether or not Starr should be able to release his report at a time or in a manner that might interfere with Hillary’s run for the Senate. I love this. Put aside the partisan yet wholly accurate point that Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh released his damning report within a few days of the 1992 presidential election. Here we have a woman who has thumbed her nose at every legal, social, political, and journalistic convention in an effort to protect her colossal vanity and possibly conceal her wrong-doings. Because she has decided, in her infinite hubris, to run for Senator in a state she has absolutely no relationship with — except for the fact that she knows a lot of fellow limousine liberals there — she can somehow prohibit the release of an Independent Counsel’s report. By this logic, why didn’t Ed Meese just run for dog catcher in Guam? He could have held up any damning information about him.

I don’t think that Starr should try to sandbag her Senate campaign, not because she wouldn’t deserve it but because it would lessen the report’s credibility. But the idea that somehow she’s immune because she needs to compensate for her husband’s abuses is bizarre.


There will be no G-File tomorrow because we’re taking the show on the road to Switzerland. Hopefully, the File will return Thursday — from the land of clocks, chocolate, and bank accounts.


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