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Jewish World Review /Feb. 17, 1999 /1 Adar 5759


Mugger History Lessons: An Immigrant’s Advice

WHEN I TAKE JUNIOR TO SCHOOL in the morning it’s a crapshoot on what kind of cabby we’ll end up with. Usually, after I tell the guy, "Go up 6th, take a right on 50th...," he keeps quiet and we have a tranquil if lengthy ride. Lately, Junior’s displayed an interest in American history, and so I’ve been telling him about the presidents and the various wars, always with my own spin lest some pinko teacher a few years down the road distorts actual events.

So while my son knows that Bill Clinton is the most corrupt president in a generation, perhaps even of this century, he’s also had a lecture on the folly of Vietnam and the reasons it was imperative that the Union prevail in the Civil War.

One occurrence was beyond his comprehension: How could the U.S. possibly defeat the Japanese in World War II. "But Dad," he said, "the Japanese are such excellent swordsmen. I thought they’d beat anybody." That’s the downside of the Power Rangers and Nintendo games. I explained that our Air Force, carrying superior bombs, would triumph over snazzy swords, jujitsu and karate any day, but he’s still puzzled that the Japanese could lose at anything.

Last Thursday, however, we drew a cabby who interjected himself into the conversation even before we passed Canal St. Uvan was from Romania and a big Clinton booster, which I didn’t get since he roared his approval for Ronald Reagan and how he "took care" of Qaddafi and "tore down the Wall." When I said Clinton was a crook and Uvan was just talking with his wallet, he admitted that might be true.

And he was a bit confused—he’s only lived in New York for 15 years—about current politics.

"But what about President Bush?" he asked. "He got his son [Neil] off from that money corruption and now he’s a governor." I had to explain that Neil’s never been heard from since, and that it’s Jeb and George W. who live in the executive mansions in Florida and Texas.

The chat quickly segued into child-rearing when I told Junior to sit upright. "That’s good," he said to my boy, "always mind your father because he’s always right. My son is 40 years old but he still remembers that big belt I used on him. I’d make his behind just a little bit red to show who’s in control. And when his grandfather walked into the room, even at 90 years old, he was treated like a general, just the way things should be."

This wasn’t going the way I preferred, so I tried to ignore Uvan and get back to the history lesson, but the man persisted. "Americans are too free. In my country, there’s no competition between boys and girls. No dating. A man chooses a woman and they get married. I told the man my daughter married: no divorce, because my girl has two strong brothers who will come after you. And he understood. That’s good!" Junior’s mind was wandering, fortunately, and then we got into a different conversation about what year FAO Schwarz was built, and before long we’d arrived at his school.

We wished Uvan a profitable day, I hugged Junior goodbye and got another cab down to 333 and thankfully this fellow didn’t say a word, except, "Thanks a lot," when I got out at Healthy Choice at 7th and 29th.

Actually, a few words from the driver would’ve been a welcome break from the rot I was reading in that day’s New York Times. First there was the story by Richard L. Berke (a shamelessly biased Washington reporter) and James Bennet (far superior) headlined "Clinton Vows Strong Drive to Win a House Majority, Advisers Say." The gist of the piece was that Clinton’s so pissed at Republicans, and the House managers in particular, that he’s going to wage a Carville-like war against targeted congressmen in the 2000 elections.

Clinton’s motivation? Reading objectively, as the Times Olympians direct readers to do, it’s a bit puzzling. On the one hand, the reporters paraphrase unnamed advisers as saying, "President Clinton is so furious at House Republicans over his impeachment...that he has vowed to mount an all-out offensive to knock out many of his foes and win back the House for Democrats in 2000." According to Berke and Bennet, Mr. Campaign Finance Reform has already scheduled fundraisers in nine cities to collect cash for the effort. In addition, advisers, said Clinton, "now viewed winning back the House as almost as important an affirmation of his legacy as electing Vice President Al Gore as his successor." Hail to the Chief: me, me, me!

However, five paragraphs later, the piece reads, "The President’s aides said that Mr. Clinton had always aggressively campaigned for House Democrats and that he was making no special effort because of impeachment." That’s believable. We can only hope that Clinton, who will campaign like a rabid rat in 2000, will be so unpopular by next year that he’ll sink not only poor Al Gore, but Democrats in general.

Later in the story another adviser is quoted as saying, "It will be a personal crusade. The man knows he’s done wrong. But he also knows they should not have taken it to the extreme they have. He says, ‘It’s the unfairness of this whole process—these right-wingers who tried to undo the election.’" It wouldn’t surprise me if Lindsey Graham, Asa Hutchinson, Bob Barr and Bill McCollum wind up the victims of mysterious "accidents" in the next year. As for Henry Hyde, the 74-year-old congressman, a hero in this travesty, he might have a special reward lying in wait. Should the maligned leader fall ill and require hospitalization, I’d recommend bodyguards around the clock.

And, big surprise, David Geffen is rallying behind the man "whose legal bills he’s helped pay" because "he’s broke." Geffen said, "After these years of Ken Starr, people are more energized than I’ve seen them since the 60’s and 70’s. Many of us are looking forward to spending time and money and effort to defeating [House manager] James Rogan." Geffen’s a billionaire crackpot, but how many times have you heard egotistical activists swear that they’ve never seen people more "energized since the 60s"—whether the cause is No Nukes, Anti-Apartheid, Take Back the Night, Gay Pride Day or Free Mumia—when it’s their pet cause?

Flipping to the editorial pages, William Safire was disturbingly sanguine about the results of the trial, writing, "The System worked. What a great country." Safire is aglow that the House actually succeeded in impeaching Clinton—"an ineradicable mark on his record"—and that the Senate fulfilled its promise in dispatching the trial with speed.

It’s true that Clinton will never erase the impeachment mark from the legacy that’s so dear to him, but Safire was surely stoned when he wrote, "Clinton and his allies, in reacting to acquittal, will not be so foolish as to repeat the pep rally after the House impeachment. No champagne corks will publicly pop; sobriety with a pinch of contrition will be the message of the day." Safire’s nuts. Clinton’s statement after his acquittal showed little contrition; it’s just not in his nature. Once away from the podium, I assume he resumed plotting with James Carville. Whether Sidney Blumenthal is still in the loop is debatable: On the one hand, he’s awfully adept at smearing presidential enemies; on the other, this unfortunate flap with Christopher Hitchens probably makes him as expendable as the scores of other loyal Clintonistas who’ve been dispatched once their worth to the President has been extinguished.

The Times’ lead editorial last Thursday, "After the Verdict," drums the same theme the page has worn out over the last three months: censure, censure, censure, as if that will mean anything to Clinton. Conceding that his December pep rally was "repugnant," the editorialist writes: "This time Mr. Clinton needs to step alone before the cameras and tell the American people he knows he was not faithful to the law and understands that his Presidency has been tarnished. Only then can he try to regain the trust of the people."

One question: If the Times admits he wasn’t "faithful to the law," then why didn’t the paper advocate his removal from office? And another thing, while I’m at it: If the Democrats are so goddamn self-righteous about a censure, why don’t they convene a caucus of their own and issue a condemnation? Because that wouldn’t be "bipartisan," a word that I hope will disappear in the next year as it’s been rendered meaningless in the current political climate.

Michael Kelly, in his Feb. 10 Washington Post column, exhibited more intelligence than his sorry colleagues in the mainstream press. "In a few days," he wrote, "President Clinton will be acquitted and the verdict among the Washington chattering class has been determined in advance: The House managers, a bunch of blunderers from really not the better schools, overreached with a weak case, which the president’s brilliant superlawyers destroyed, and the Senate just disposed of the wreckage.

"Well, what began in lies, should, I suppose, end in lies."

Jack Newfield, a liberal who’s slammed Clinton in the New York Post for years, is a similar advocate for a toothless rebuke of the President. In his Feb. 10 column, "Censure the Radical Right," Newfield doesn’t understand why many Republicans won’t accede to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s soft censure. Newfield is not a stupid man, and yet he writes: "Bill Clinton did lie, cover up and shame his office. This has to be made clear for every parent, child, and historian. Yet Gramm, Lott and a few other Hezbollah Republican senators are maneuvering to frustrate the will of a majority of senators, and a majority of the American people... Bill Clinton should not have a single night to gloat and celebrate. He should not have a single day to feel vindicated or exonerated."

Jack, I don’t understand your logic. Acquittal by the Senate is exoneration. It’s vindication. A slip of paper saying words to the effect of "You did some really naughty things, Mr. President, and you shouldn’t do them again" won’t mean anything to Clinton. If you really believe that Clinton lied, covered up and shamed his office, then why haven’t you advocated his conviction? Because, Jack, you’re just as political as the men and women you castigate. The President’s removal from office would’ve been a victory for the conservatives you detest, and even if Clinton is guilty, which based on your columns you surely believe, denying the enemy a victory is worth his acquittal.

I have no idea why any pundit thinks Clinton has learned his lesson. They’ve certainly realized over the past six years that when he’s "The Comeback Kid," he’s most prone to political errors. That’s why Dick Morris’ advice to Clinton in the Feb. 11 New York Post is so futile. He writes: "His self-image of dignity makes it hard to share his feelings. Now he has to. Finally, he must not attack Ken Starr or the Republicans. He should, indeed, say kind words about the commitment of the House Republicans to purity and principle as they saw it. He must be generous in describing their motivations and specifically absolve them of the suspicion that they put America through this anguish only to score partisan points."

It’s hard to figure the slimy Morris’ role in this scandal. He was publicly banished from the White House after revelations of his dalliances with a prostitute back in ’96—although he and Clinton still spoke in private—yet he was one of the first people the President called when Oralgate was about to break in the press. Clinton took Morris’ advice to conduct a poll. Apparently, as Morris started writing columns for the Post and appearing on Fox tv, Clinton had no use for him. Leon Panetta, Clinton’s former chief of staff, told Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz in a Feb. 3 article: "[Morris] is the consummate mutation of a political consultant. He’s a bright guy, lot of talents—but has this fundamental sense that almost everything is determined by the latest poll, as opposed to conscience... In his own way, he represents the dark side of politics."

Panetta, of course, inadvertently gave a dead-on description of Clinton himself.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/12/99:The Man Who Owns the World
02/10/99:The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero
02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith