Pants on Fire
After six months of debate, personal attacks, screaming, hollering, and fits of hysteria, there’s really nothing new to add the Clinton debate. The biggest, most flatulent paradox of the whole thing is when all these Republicans line up with their phony serious faces and insist that this is “painful” for them and they didn’t really want to do it but they have to impeach the leader of the free world for lying. They even claim– and this is an outrage– that Nixon had similarly high approval ratings on the day he was impeached.
Let’s get this straight. On the day of the Watergate break-in, Nixon’s approval ratings were, in fact, decent– around 60%. But as the Watergate scandal unfolded, and as testimony revealed more and more about the criminal activities (not merely immoral: criminal) of the White House, Nixon’s approval ratings plummeted, down to a low of 27% on the day he resigned.
So those Republicans who claim that Nixon’s approval ratings were the same as Clinton’s are, of course lying. They are also lying when they claim that they are paying a political price for their “principled” stand. Almost all of the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee face no serious opposition for re-election in their own ridings. The truth is, they could go around wearing a dress and throwing custard pies at Vernon Jordan and still be re-elected in their solidly Republican districts. The truth is that they receive so much money from the corporations that benefit from their corrupt legislative agendas that they will be re-elected until, like Strom Thurmond, they are pretty well senile.
They give all these interviews where they say they have to see the evidence first, and they haven’t made up their minds. Then every last single one of them votes “guilty”, like we all thought they would.
There has never been so much lying in any single repository of political deliberation since the Nixon White House.
The bottom line is very simple. If Clinton had clearly committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”, as Nixon did, there would have been at least five or six Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voting for impeachment, and at least 30-45 Democrats in the House voting for impeachment. That’s all it would take to establish that there really are objective criteria at work here and that they are really being applied fairly, and that this is not a partisan political attack. Unless you seriously believe that every single member of the Democratic Party is a lying weasel.
Well, the Republicans want you to believe that every single Republican Representative is voting their conscience.. That is what they are saying. They ask you to believe this. Do you believe they believe it themselves? If they don’t believe it themselves, they are lying. If they do believe it themselves, they either fanatic or clinically insane or both. If they believed itself, there would be no backroom dealing, no arm-twisting, no secret meetings, no closed-door caucuses….. Come on… do you believe it?
What does this remind you of? The old Soviet Union? The Communist government would declare that this writer or that dissident was a threat to the state and must be expelled or imprisoned or whatever. And every single member of the government would vote for this measure. The vote would be something like 350-10. Just as the Republicans now vote 220-5 in favour of impeachment. Nobody doubted then that the vote was farce, just as no one should doubt it now.
The Republicans keep insisting that it’s up to the Democrats to break the partisan logjam. In other words, we can be bipartisan as long as you vote the way I tell you to.
That is the prosecution–and they clearly are the prosecution– insisting that the defense prove that their client is innocent. “If he really didn’t do it, prove it.” No such burden in law exists. It is the Republicans who want to impeach. It is their job to convince at least some Democrats and the majority of Americans that Clinton should be impeached. They have utterly failed. And if they had any respect for the democratic system of government, they would admit that they simply cannot carry out an impeachment along purely partisan lines, and therefore must stop.
But they don’t care. The most frightening thing about this debacle is the way it has laid bare the Republicans bald contempt for democratic values whenever it stands in the way of their partisan agenda. They literally do not care what anyone thinks. They have the muscle– just barely– to impeach, and a legal technicality to hang it on, and so they will. It is very troubling that so very few Republicans–about five–have the integrity to admit that, no matter what they believe personally, they simply cannot carry out such a momentous process without some bipartisan support. You simply can’t do it, without doing serious damage to the institution of government. No matter how convinced you are that you are right, if you have any integrity or respect for democracy, you can’t go forward. You admit that you failed. You say, “well, if the American people really want him, and we can’t persuade anybody else that he’s guilty, so be it.” Instead, the Republicans say, “what do we care what the voters want or whether the process is credible. Look at CNN? Analysis is about as deep as Tupperware. Everyone will forget this within six months.”
The moment of truth in this debate was the moment that Henry Hyde said, “You may disagree with us, but at least we believe in something.” In other words, this is really a religious battle. We are God’s chosen, and you are the apostates. We know we are right, because God told us the truth, and it is our duty to enlighten you. Why should we consider other points of view, when we’re right? Debate is utterly useless. This, spoken by a man who, when he was Clinton’s age, also had an adulterous affair.
Reagan got off very lightly with the Iran-Contra scandal, largely because most Democrats, as much as they disagreed with Reagan, respected the fact that he had commanding support (almost as good as Bill Clinton’s) from the voters. And they didn’t think it would be worth turning the government upside down just to shove their own views down the throat of the body politic. Unlike the Republicans, they realized they could not proceed without wide public consensus that the offenses committed were serious enough to warrant impeachment. The Republicans have no such compunction.
The extremism of the Republicans has forced moderates too far to the right. Not only were Clinton’s offenses not worthy of impeachment, they are not even worthy of censure. They are not worthy of a hiccup. Unlike Watergate and Iran-Contra, they had nothing to do with the exercise of power. The real question to ask yourself– and most American voters appear to have asked it– is what harm was done. The affair was consensual. Paula Jones’ case, by all credible accounts, would have died in any court room (she could never prove that she had suffered any harm, even if the incident in the hotel room really happened). The initial Paula Jones lawsuit, and the now-repudiated testimony of the state troopers, has well-documented links to multi-millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, an arch-foe of President Clinton. Jerry Falwell has links to the film company “Jerimiah Productions” which created “The Clinton Chronicles”, a farcical video that alleges murder and mayhem in the Clinton White House and gives new meaning to the word “paranoid”. Several “witnesses” who provided derogatory stories to the Financial Post and other newspapers were paid by “Citizens for Honest Government”, an anti-Clinton organization with links, again, to Falwell.
On the other hand, Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully traded weapons to an enemy of the U.S. (Iran) in return for the release of hostages in Lebanon. He broke the law. He showed poor judgement. And to any but the most gullible, he lied about it.
It looks like a big mess now. The country has been tied up for months with this insane investigation. Character assassination and invasion of privacy is now accepted as political stratagems. Perhaps the most cynical development in the whole scandal is the party line of the Republicans: “See what Bill Clinton hath wrought!” This is, without a doubt, what Kenneth Starr and the Republicans have wrought. It is only due to their incredibly stubborn and devious machinations that this affair continues to dominate the headlines.
The media have performed about as badly as Republicans, and continue to make the insane assertion that Clinton’s presidency is now permanently “tainted” with this scandal. CNN is the 24-hour Impeachment channel, with music and graphics that make it seem like a great sporting event, complete with colour commentators and sponsors.
I firmly believe that within five years, this scandal will be rightly regarded as one of the ugliest examples of partisan political muckraking in the history of the U.S., and the blame will be squarely laid on the shoulders of Newt Gingrich, Kenneth Starr, Bob Livingston, Henry Hyde, and their fellow raving hypocrites.
Finally, I have to express my utter astonishment at the resilient good sense of the average American voter. I did not believe that public opinion would withstand the onslaught of six months of raving lunacy, by the Republicans, by CNN, by NBC, ABC, and CBS (who recalled Dan Rather from Cuba to cover the stained dress), and even so-called “liberal” papers, like the New York Times.
Why did the media treat the story the way they did, if Clinton’s actions did not justify impeachment? There are three basic reasons. (1) it was a cheap story: all talking heads and free interviews. Very few mobile-cams, travel expenses, research, or paid experts. The profit margin is enormous. (2) The Republicans made it a story by releasing all the scandalous details from Grand Jury testimony when they should not have, and holding press conferences, and calling for Clinton to resign. (3) because sex sells.
Consider, as an alternative, the cost of providing in-depth coverage of the Kosovo crisis: you have reporters travelling and staying in hotels. You have research into the history of the area and its peoples and culture. You have related developments at the U.N. and Moscow and European capitals. It takes longer than five seconds to explain.
But if people didn’t buy the story why did they tune in to CNN to watch it unfold? The outrage effect. Even people who hated the story probably tuned in regularly to see just how outrageous and contemptible it had become. It was, indeed, spectacular. It was ridiculous to the degree of absurdity. It was, at times, insane. But it was always a spectacle, and people will watch a spectacle, no matter how horrifying.
Have the Republicans done permanent damage to their party? Do the voters realize how utterly cynical and contemptuous of them this party is? The Republicans seriously believe that the voters will either change their minds about Clinton, eventually, or they will completely forget, in two years or less, that they did everything they could to obstruct, marginalize, and remove a popular president.
They may be right. Maybe not. The Republicans may have underestimated the effect that this debacle has had on the people who really do shape opinion. Once the vampires in the media have sucked all the blood out of this story, they will need a new one. The reporters and editors who help shape public opinion are always looking for an “angle” to a story. The primary angle of the Lewinsky scandal is Clinton’s immorality. The secondary angle is the intolerance and puritanical zeal of the Republicans.
Clinton will be gone in two years, at the latest. But the Republicans running for re-election in two years, are going to have the same pinched faces, and editors and reporters are going to remember the fanatic intolerance and hypocrisy they introduced into political discourse. Reporters may remember how immune the Republicans were to common sense, decency, and public will. They may be inclined to colour their coverage of Republican candidates with those factors. For example, if future presidential candidate (God help us) Dan Quayle attacks sex education programs for promoting promiscuity, reporters and editors may add a sly comment or two about how Republicans always seem concerned about personal sexual ethics.
Future generations will not remember this scandal for the disgrace it brought upon Bill Clinton. They know that Kennedy fooled around, and Rooseveldt fooled around, and Reagan was divorced and remarried (which means he probably fooled around), and even Dole and Gingrich were not faithful to their first wives. What’s the big deal? What was so different about this case?
They will remember that a fanatic corps of self-righteous Republicans use the flimsiest of pretexts to embark on a holy jihad to remove a popular president from office, and that they never succeeded in convincing anyone other than themselves that there was any reason for it.