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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 1999/22 Teves, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Why America is apathetic
about Bill's date with destiny

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) BILL CLINTON HAS COME AND GONE a long way in his time -- from Hope (Ark.) to Hype. Or was that the title of his book?

He's gone from Comeback Kid to only the second president of the United States to be formally impeached.

He's gone so far that even the most improbable circumstances of his career no longer surprise.

And now, as Bill Clinton approaches the zenith/nadir of his political career, all eyes should be glued on the opening of his trial in the Senate of the United States, its solemn ceremonies and once-in-a-century rituals, and what is the general national reaction? Ho hum.

We know we're supposed to be paying attention, but the script is so familiar. It's just one more mess the boy has gotten into, and one more that everybody says he'll get out of. It gets routine after a while. Why watch?

Despite the usual ponderous music and basso profundo voices of the announcers and commentators, the whole scene has all the solemnity of picking a number in the takeout line. The stage may be imposing, but somehow the central character has managed to shrink everything down to his own superficial dimension -- the Capitol, the Constitution, the issues, the historical background, even the lies. The setting seems out of scale ---- too grand for the mediocre president being tried.

It's as if somebody had decided to cast the young Mickey Rooney as Abraham Lincoln in a Civil War drama. The costumes, the themes, the settings, everything is so elevated. It's all too big ---- disproportionate, outsized. The Clinton presidential library now on the drawing board for Little Rock will raise the same problem: How design a great building for a tapwater president?

Now the Senate is obliged to try Bill Clinton for High Crimes and Misdemeanors; the phrase is so weighty, serious, grave, elegant, 18th century ... that it gives the accused an unaccustomed, and unconvincing, dignity.

On the television screen the articles of impeachment are duly read, and the Chief Justice is escorted into the Senate chamber and, in turn, administers the oath of impartiality to all one hundred members of a body chosen in the most partisan fashion, and yet everything about this whole, surreal scene has about it an air of ... inevitability.

It's as if all of us all along knew this would have to happen. Someday, somehow, you knew it would all catch up with him. Maybe not exactly how or when, or like this, but somehow. And so, when it does, even the most dramatic of scenes are drained of their drama.

That's why the incessant use of the word Historic by the television anchormen lacks color, conviction, suspense, the very stuff of History. Instead, we get just another criminal case. The whole scene has the air of a Greek drama dumbed down for the modern reader, stripped of nobility, its hubris reduced to calculation. Even the inevitability of it is a little stale by now. You may wish you were reading a good book instead, one in which the characters have life and pathos. Like The Great Gatsby. Our politics can be such a poor imitation of our literature.

William Jefferson Clinton -- the full monicker will always have the air of an indictment about it, as in the articles of impeachment -- has always had a knack for bringing everything down to his ordinary level; they used to say it was a great political asset. But now he has managed to make even the impeachment of a president of the United States humdrum.

Once again, it becomes clear that it's not the drama or pageantry or theme of a production that makes it sublime or mundane, but the actors. The play's not the thing, after all. Not all the TV logos -- BREAKING NEWS or "The White House Under Fire'' -- can supply greatness where there is none. It's like watching a high school cast do Shakespeare. Unless you know somebody in the show, you may feel a little cheated, and a lot bored.

At the beginning of the American century now ending, in the age of the muckrakers and trustbusters, Finley Peter Dunne's Irish barkeep, Mister Dooley, gave his considered opinion about all the fustian and folderol, the dust and disturbance then occupying and obscuring the national stage. There was no need for alarm, he assured his customers. That wasn't any revolution they were hearing, explained Mister Dooley, but just the American people beatin' a carpet.


1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99:Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate