I just watched Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address. Coming as it does, in the middle of impeachment hearings, it was extraordinary. It may well be the best political speech I have seen in the past ten years. You could not have guessed that the man delivering it was living his life under a cloud.
The Republicans are playing a peculiar game. The State of the Union Address was a no-win situation for them. Sit and growl and you look like sore losers. Stand and applaud, and you have to answer the question: why are you trying to impeach him? Conservatives say that the Republicans are showing a lot of principle here– they are willing to buck a year’s worth of polls that show, with uncanny consistency, that the voters utterly reject impeachment.
Is this really “principle”? I don’t believe it. Remember, we’re talking about politicians here who routinely accept large donations from big corporations in exchange for altering or creating legislation that favours their interests. Remember, we’re talking about politicians who want to rely on chemical companies to tell us if they think some of their products might be doing harm to the environment. Remember, we’re talking about politicians who not only give away our forests to the lumber companies, but also charge the taxpayers for the cost of building logging roads, and who think that “global warming” is a left-wing hoax. Remember, we’re talking Jesse Helms, and Bob Barr, and Henry Hyde here. They ask us to believe that nothing matters more to them than “principle”.
I suspect that many of the hardcore conservatives in the Republican Party have come to believe that polls reflect the effects of some kind of magical spell woven by the Clinton administration and the media, which will evaporate like moon-dust the minute Clinton is actually removed from office. They firmly believe that in two years, the voters will not care who impeached whom, and will once again vote for the “righteous” party, the party of self-interest, the party of guns, the party of big military bands, the party of Star Wars, the party of Kenneth Starr.
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If anyone needed any further convincing that Kenneth Starr is a modern day Grand Inquisitor, consider the case of Julie Hiatt Steele. (If you haven’t already been convinced by his treatment–harassment, rather– of Webster Hubbell and Susan McDougall).
Julie Hiatt Steele got a phone call from Kathleen Wiley one day. Kathleen Wiley was going to tell the media that President Clinton had groped her on a visit to the Oval Office. She didn’t want anyone to think she had made up this story after hearing about all the other scandals involving Bill Clinton so she asked Julie Hiatt Steele to tell a reporter that Wiley had told her about the groping long before the headlines about Monica Lewinsky. Long before the book deal.
Julie Hiatt Steele agreed to do so. She called a reporter and confirmed the story.
A few days later, she called the reporter for whom she had confirmed Wiley’s story and told him that she had lied, and that Wiley had asked her to lie. The story wasn’t true.
I don’t think any of us will ever know why exactly.
Julie Hiatt Steele has now been charged, by Grand Inquisitor Kenneth Starr, with perjury and obstruction of justice. Her tax, bank and telephone records have been seized by Starr’s office. Her brother, accountant, and former attorney have been called in to testify. She could receive up to 54 years in jail. Julie Hiatt Steele has no other involvement in this case. She has never been to the White House. She has never had any contact with any person from the White House. She has recently adopted a Romanian orphan. She is a single mother. Her sin was to dispute Kathleen Wiley’s account of what happened after her meeting with President Clinton, testimony that Starr wanted very badly in order to persuade the Senate to impeach Clinton.
Kenneth Starr, beneath that smug, pious exterior, is a fanatic with unlimited power who is out of control. If the Republicans really believe that he has been impartial, they should sign a pledge that they will renew the Independent Prosecutor’s position when it comes up again even if there is a Republican President.
Kenneth Starr believes that Julie Hiatt Steele conspired with the Clinton White House to sabotage Kathleen Wiley’s allegations. This is kind of a strange idea, because, until the reporter called on Ms. Steele, nobody even knew who she was. It’s hard to imagine how the White House could have gotten to her before anybody in the media knew her name.
It is also hard to imagine an act more cynical, unscrupulous, and devious, than to indict this woman for perjury on the day of the State of the Union Address.
If you get a chance, watch Julie Steele in interviews. She seems like a very bright, articulate, decent person. She answers questions directly, quickly, with apparent candor. She is frightened and astounded that this indictment could happen to her in the United States of America, under the statute that gives Kenneth Starr almost unlimited power. We’re talking about a single mother here who has never committed a crime in her life being threatened with 54 years in prison. Even Marlin Fitzwater, the press secretary for George Bush, said he was appalled.
It appears that Kenneth Starr is punishing Ms. Steele for failing to collaborate his increasingly hysterical views of the Clinton White House.
Remember we all laughed when Hillary Clinton alleged a right wing conspiracy. Well, I sort of laughed. I thought it was a cheap shot, a political statement, not meant to be taken seriously. It’s smart to be skeptical of both sides on this issue.
Now I’m beginning to wonder. You have to keep in mind that the Jones case itself only survived judicial scorn through the efforts of wealthy Clinton foe Richard Scaife.
I suppose it is possible that Ms. Steele is an amazing liar. Either that, or Kenneth Starr is one amazing little fascist.
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If the Senate does call witnesses, as everyone says they will, it becomes increasingly difficult to comprehend the Republican “strategy”. It is said that they favour calling Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Betty Currie.
I can’t imagine what they expect to gain. Monica is likely to repeat her statement that nobody promised her a job in exchange for her silence, or asked her to lie. If the managers from the House hope to intimidate her or shake her testimony, they will have to resort to some rather ham-fisted tactics, which don’t play very well on tv. I would expect the Republicans will try to have these hearings closed to the public, but, like I said, Republican strategy here is baffling.
How will it look on TV, to have frisky little Monica Lewinsky testify in front of 91 white men who are all old enough to be her father, and 9 women?
Betty Currie is another dangerous witness for the Republicans. Picture the svelte, sensitive Bob Barr, or Henry Hyde questioning this middle-age black secretary about who really arranged for the gifts to Monica Lewinsky to be returned. If she says, “I don’t really remember”, will one of the Inquisitors really go, “Come now, Mrs. Currie!” In front of the nation? Will William McCollum crack his whip or his wit? Will Trent Lott offer her a smoke, courtesy of the Tobacco Industry he has served so well in exchange for generous contributions, or invite her to a meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a racist group to which he has given fawning keynote addresses?
How many people, besides myself, will glance around the Senate at that moment to determine who many black members are sitting? Take a guess.
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Trent Lott (2nd from left) with CCC members.
Then there is Vernon Jordan, the real bogey-man for the Falwell-inspired conspiracy buffs. Who is this mysterious man, operating in the shadows, elusive and silent in the face of all this cacophony? Well, by all accounts, he is a very shrewd, very intelligent man, who might just slice the Republican inquisitors to ribbons with his replies. The Republicans want to play with this witness?
And what if the Democrats call Linda Tripp? What if they call that slime-ball book agent from New York who first advised Linda to tape her conversations with Monica Lewinsky– Lucianne Goldberg? One could not imagine more appealing witnesses favourable to the prosecution other than Dracula and Frankenstein. What if they highlight Linda Tripps’ perjury, when she declared that she had no interest in writing a book on the subject to a Grand Jury— while tapes show that she was discussing with Ms. Goldberg how much information to hold back from Newsweek so she would still be able to command big bucks for an exclusive book contract?
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Perhaps one of the most hysterically absurd myths about the Clinton scandal is that the media is in cahoots with the Democrats. I am in cahoots with the Democrats, and I have never been as infuriated with the media as I have been for the past year. I have watched endless hours of CNN– the 24-hour impeachment channel– and ABC and NBC and CBS. I’ve seen Dan Rather summoned back from Cuba to analyze the profound social and political implications of a semen-stained dress. I’ve seen reporters stare into a camera with a straight face and tell the world about the gravity of a situation which I found utterly hysterical and ridiculous. I’ve seen Larry King–divorced and re-married five times himself– solemnly pronounce that the entire nation was disgraced by Clinton’s sexual behavior.
And these are Clinton’s allies?
Well, lately, maybe they are. CNN has taken a more sober perspective. Jeff Greenfield now finds the impeachment somewhat bizarre. Greta Vansusteran now concedes that no reputable prosecutor would have proceeded with the case. Larry King arches his eyebrows and frowns while interviewing the indicted Julie Hiatt Steele. Bernard Shaw appears to grimace just a little while interviewing Bob Barr.
But Sam Donaldson still looks pretty solemn as he interviews Larry Flynt.
For the record, I would defy these people to name a single commentator in a major American television news department or news magazine who has given a “liberal” view of things, which is, that this has never been and never will be anything else but a desperate attempt by the Republicans to sabotage and destroy a Democratic administration. Yes, some of them may genuinely believe that Clinton’s offenses were serious. Most of them have simply been absorbed into the hysteria. They have no idea of what is up or down, left or right, rational or hysterical. They are simply in the middle of a political vortex that continues to spin out of control.
The real truth was accidentally revealed by Henry Hyde on Saturday. He said, “you may disagree with us, but at least we believe in something”. In other words, we arch-conservatives can’t believe that we are wrong. We refuse to accept. We can not admit it. We can’t tolerate those who disagree with us because their values are not real. We are the only arbiters of truth and justice. If we only had an army….
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What made Clinton’s “State of the Union” speech so good? He struck a tone of non-partisanship. He showed no sour grapes. He touched upon all of the current hot-button issues for voters and took the “correct” position. He pre-empted the Republicans on every issue except tax cuts. He laid out a clear, specific agenda, with realistic goals and achievable results. He reminded America that times are very good, indeed, knowing that most Americans will identify the current levels of prosperity and growth with his administration.
The Republicans keep parroting that history will remember Clinton as the first President, since Andrew Johnson, to be tried for impeachment. To the contrary, I believe history will remember this era as “the good old days”, and exciting period of change and innovation–and prosperity– and it may well become known as the Clinton era.
On the other hand, some politicians may be remembered for voting to impeach the most popular president of the past fifty years. Or they may be forgotten as voters cast them aside.
When people look back today to assess presidents, what do they remember? Who is currently the most popular?
John F. Kennedy, who really accomplished very little, but looked like he had a lot of potential. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who carried on an affair for many years. Why is Roosevelt remembered so fondly? Because he communicated very well. He led the country through a decade of prosperity and continued growth. He made sane, rational decisions that seem, in retrospect, to have been the right ones to make.
Ronald Reagan? He was liked on a personal basis, but a lot of people have not forgotten that, thanks to his fantastical “trickle down” economic theory, he took the budget from a $45 billion deficit to a $540 billion deficit. I’m not kidding. You can look it up. How is it that the Republicans continue to pass themselves off as the “fiscally responsible” party?
Clinton has taken the budget from hundreds of billions in the red to about $80 billion in the black. The Republicans like to say they did it, all by themselves. But they also want you to believe that Ronald Reagan was a great president. But he couldn’t have done without the Democratic Congress. I guess we remember what we want to remember.
Think about it. This is a fact, confirmed by the most extensive scientific polling ever conducted– and the November elections: Bill Clinton is the most popular president in forty years.
The bottom line, for many Americans, is really quite intuitive. Two ships are in the harbour. Both are going to the same destination. One of them is captained by Kenneth Starr, and he introduces his officers to you: Bob Barr, Lindsey Graham, Asa Hutchinson, Newt Gingrich (hey– he got this ball rolling), and the rest of the gang. They explain that there is going to be lots of rules and they will be enforced strictly. Homosexuals are not allowed on board. No smoking or drinking, or rock’n’roll. Rich people get all the big cabins. They have to pay more for them, but only rich people get to dine with captain or use the pool. Religious services are held every Sunday and attendance is obligatory. Let’s pray first. And you’all be sure and have lots of fun.
The other ship is captained by Bill Clinton. He introduces his officers. Vernon Jordan, Betty Currie, William Cohen, Al Gore, and Hillary. You notice there are lots of buxom maids with big teeth. Can’t afford a ticket? You can work your way across the ocean in the kitchen.
Which ship will you choose?