Politics & Policy

Pardon Linda Tripp


Matt Drudge has it right. In his column yesterday he asserted that President Clinton and the governor of Maryland should pardon Linda Tripp.

My reasoning may be a little different than his but the conclusion is the same. Since the Clinton people always think motives are more important than facts, I will start with my motive: weariness.

I think Linda Tripp did the right thing. I know my mother did the right thing. But, I’m tired of talking about it. I’m tired of recounting the president’s lies. I’m tired of hearing that the American people don’t care, and I’m tired of trying to persuade them that they should. I’m tired of listening to his lackeys, I’m tired of their constant prostitution of the truth and politics. Frankly, I don’t want to argue with Lanny Davis anymore because, well, he’s Lanny Davis and I’m terrified people won’t be able to tell the difference. I’m tired of people thinking this is what my life is about.

I got involved in the year of the president’s pants because of personal reasons. I stayed involved for personal and professional reasons, and now I want out. But if they make Linda Tripp the only person to go to jail — and start attacking Lucianne Goldberg again — for what the president did, it would be a travesty that would drag me back in, and I don’t want to go there.

But my interests are quite literally the least of it. Again, put aside those ugly facts and think about motives, about what’s in it for the whole gang. Trying Linda Tripp would be bad for everybody. Her defense would require her to explain why she felt it was necessary to make those tapes. Some may not find her case persuasive but they will not love the president more for hearing it. It would cause her to detail once again the relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky. Once again the nation would need to be reminded about what the president did, didn’t do, or allowed to be done all in the name of redefining executive privilege to his own Caesarian standards. Sure, some would say that the president’s perfidy could stand to be aired. But at this point, what would be gained? It is up to the historians now, not a jury in Ellicot City. As a matter of political reality the president cannot be impeached again. So a trial of Linda Tripp would only contribute to greater cynicism about how the powerful and influential never pay a price for their actions but the small and unglamorous should know their place.

Closer to home for Bill Clinton, this may be the first time his interests are so clearly entwined with the nation’s. He has precisely 14 months left to change his standing in the history books. A trial of this kind would not help in that effort.

He should also think of the two people closest to him. Al Gore is already trailing away like road kill in George W. Bush’s rearview mirror. There are several reasons for this to be sure, but nearly every political professional thinks that Gore’s slow pace has a lot to do with the fact that he is bogged down in Clinton muck. Gore wants to take credit for the Reagan-Greenspan economy which some crackheads and DNC officials call the Clinton Boom. But he doesn’t want or need the public to remember his association with Saturday Night Bill — the man Gore called the century’s greatest president.

Then, of course, there is Hillary, the woman who married the husband she deserved. Does she want the media to trample over her marriage again? She just told Talk magazine that her husband was a two-legged centaur because his mother and grandmother fought over him. She seems to have discarded the vast right-wing conspiracy for the modern liberal white man’s only chance to join the pantheon of the oppressed: emotional dysfunction through childhood abuse. What the hell, blame his deceased mother. She can’t defend herself. It’s not his fault because he has psychic pain. If only Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood had explained that they were just trying to please women out of a misplaced desire to get closer to their mothers. Anyway, this fascinating devaluation of free will for the man who controls the nuclear football aside, does Hillary want to run as a feminist martyr while a single mom stands trial for trying to get out of a situation Hillary’s husband created? Does she want to roll out her new plan for milk subsidies while Monica Lewinsky is testifying live on the cable nets?

If the case for the Gore and Hillary candidacies is not enough for the Democratic party, the president and his advisors might consider the fact that the “impeachment backlash” against Republicans is turning into a impeachment undertow for Democrats. Now that impeachment can’t sink anybody’s mutual fund, Americans are growing increasingly comfortable with the idea that the president is slimy. Call it what you will — hindsight morality or Clinton fatigue — the fact remains that Americans are forgetting about the mess of the fight and finding blame squarely in Bill Clinton’s (ahem) lap.

As the inestimable Paul Gigot illustrated in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, the number of people who think Clinton should have resigned last winter is rising. According to the Pew Research Center, people now think that congressmen who voted for impeachment are more deserving of reelection than those who didn’t. As much as some people don’t like Linda Tripp, that trend will not be helped by her explaining that she feared for her life.

Congressional Democrats are in no hurry to run to the ramparts for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Last week, Roll Call reported, Paul Begala implored the Dems to attack George W. Bush as a pawn of the Republican congress. Even liberal Dems said, in effect, “What have you been smoking?” Bush will win and we’ll need his votes to take back congress. They will praise Clinton’s statesmanship and magnanimity for “putting this painful period” behind us. After all, he kept saying that those who expect forgiveness must be willing to offer it, right?

And of course there are the legions of average Americans who say that the president’s opponents are just haters. They drive cars with bumper stickers that say “Hate is not a family value” and say the nastiest things about people who vote differently than them. They say they love their president because they like his grace under pressure. Well, let them show some grace and prove that they are not consumed by the hate they impute to others. Let them say enough is enough. They have a good motive too — it will let them keep feeling so superior.

There are of course more important things than motives. They’re called facts. I sincerely doubt that Bill Clinton believes all the facts are out. But I am sure that all the helpful ones to his case are. I still believe that Monica Lewinsky lied about the talking points. Is that the sort of thing Bruce Lindsey and Bill Clinton want people to revisit while they’re sending their résumés around for new Y2K jobs?

I know that a pardon will keep me, and Lanny, and Joe Conasson, and the gang from Salon off the tube. That’s a price that I think we’re all willing to pay.

Let’s let this poor woman whose life has been devastated for trying to do the right thing in an environment where the right thing was considered traitorous off the hook. The law she broke has almost never been prosecuted. It was broken out of confusion and fear and because the president’s mouthpiece called her a liar and she needed proof. She had seen friends and colleagues fired, destroyed, and smeared for trivial things when they had no proof on their side. She has been impersonated time and again on Saturday Night Live by John Goodman. Her name is unfairly synonymous among the liberal chattering classes for betrayal. Matt Drudge thinks the journalists and pundits who got rich – of whose ranks, alas, I’m not a member — over this scandal should stop polishing their Pulitzers and rally ‘round a pardon. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but Matt is right.

Let’s end this thing.


For those who want to read a more spirited defense of Linda, they can go to Slate.com and read the dialogue between Jonah Goldberg and Time magazine’s Margaret Carlson.


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