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Jewish World Review /Jan. 29, 1999 /12 Shevat


Mugger Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit

THE NEW YORK TIMES’ EDITORS ARE HAPPY. Or were. In the bulldog edition of the Sunday paper that I read on Saturday night—even though the news section had a long outtake on Monica Lewinsky’s sudden summons to testify before the House managers in Washington—the lead editorial was smug, delighted that its opinions had been justified. Sen. Robert Byrd, he the man!

The conclusion to its editorial read: "Once the case is dismissed, the trial is adjourned or Mr. Clinton is acquitted, the Senate can and should draft a resolution condemning Mr. Clinton. The time to conclude this case is surely at hand." But we’ll just see what Henry Hyde and Ken Starr have to say about that.

Maureen Dowd, the Times columnist who kicked Clinton almost every week in the early stages of Oralgate, but then found love in Hollywood and not-so-subtly changed her tone, is happy too. She was writing on deadline, so, reasonably convinced that the trial was near its end, she felt free to blast the President again, although with her Michael Douglas-tinted prose.

Although the premise of her "Liberties" column on Sunday is almost a direct lift from the conclusion of Primal Fear—a forgettable courtroom drama save Edward Norton’s dynamic performance—it was still pretty funny.

Under the headline "King of the World," Dowd gave Clinton’s reaction to the trial’s sudden conclusion. Sure, she employs the cliche of bongo drums and Cohiba cigars that every pundit will in the next two weeks, but read on.

"The celebration began the instant the Senate dropped impeachment charges against Mr. Clinton and took up a censure resolution against Henry Hyde and his House managers, condemning them as bozos who dared to waste the upper chamber’s valuable time with a persecution based on the bogus premise that low sex is a high crime.

"Mr. Clinton strode through the revelers to say a few words, ‘Now we know what the definition of "is" is,’ he roared with a grin. ‘I is off the hook.’ Let me begin by expressing heartfelt thanks to my friends and co-conspirators here—Geraldo, Whoopi, Barney, Betty, Vernon, Dale, Quintus Robertus Byrdus, Larry Flynt and all you Baldwin brothers...
"‘And I’m so happy I don’t have to fake remorse anymore. Now I can concentrate on real remorse—feeling sorry for myself... Starr was obsessed with me. But who isn’t? To tell the truth, he wasn’t completely off-base. I lied. Hey, that wasn’t so hard. I lied! I lied! Even spending $50 million, though, he did miss a few things. First, I did inhale. Second, I did evade the draft. I flat out didn’t want to be marching around some courtyard in Fayetteville when I could be up at Yale. And Gennifer Flowers? Yup, lots of times...

"‘My good friend Sidney Blumenthal is working on repealing the 22nd Amendment so I can have a third term. I not only want to build that bridge to the 21st century. I want to walk over it. It’s the least I deserve, after all the time those Republican meanies have stolen from me. I want my four years back.’"

And so on. Sadly, Dowd is right on the mark. The Luckiest Man Alive has probably done it again. Let’s just see if Hyde’s latest wrinkle can at least stall the inevitable and cause Clinton some pain to share with his pod Democrats.

It was a delight to see that other newspaper columnists, writing before the GOP’s surprise Monica card, were almost unanimously exulting in the prospect of the trial’s speedy conclusion. The Boston Globe’s Thomas Oliphant, toasting former Sen. Dale Bumpers’ cornpone-filled speech to the Senate last Sunday, quoted Clinton’s colleague from Arkansas. "‘I’ll tell you what [perjury] is: It’s wanting to win too badly.’ Bull’s eye."

Mary McGrory, in The Washington Post, was no less enthusiastic about Bumpers, who appeared after Clinton said, "You gotta do it, Dale." She wrote: "He scolded them about their lack of compassion for Clinton and his family... He talked about Hamilton and Madison as if he knew them well." McGrory says Bumpers humbly noted that it was "The most gratifying moment of my life."

Also in Sunday’s Post, a dissenting voice, that of David Broder. The veteran journalist believes that Byrd’s motion of an up-or-down vote is premature and will divide the Senate, and country, with party-line rancor. He wants to hear at least one witness: Betty Currie. "Everyone who knows Betty Currie knows she is honorable and upright to her core. Appearing before the Senate would be an ordeal for her. But she has the opportunity—and maybe even an obligation—to help her country end this mess with something other than a partisan vote."

The Baltimore Sun’s lead editorial on Sunday was perplexing, as usual, urging the Senate to dismiss the House impeachment the following day. It goes on to say: "Senators should do what is right, not what is popular. But House managers have been urging Senate Republicans to do what is wrong, inviting voter retribution in the next election." I agree that the Senate should do what is right, which means bringing the trial to a fair conclusion; if it were following popular opinion, which inexplicably favors President Clinton, the trial would’ve been short-circuited by now. As for "voter retribution," c’mon: This exercise won’t be remembered a year from now, even if another Clinton scandal doesn’t explode, which is unlikely.

In Mort Zuckerman’s Daily News, the owner got his money’s worth in protecting his Hamptons pal Clinton. Stanley Crouch, a sillier and sillier writer, called the Republicans "dinosaurs," and Lars-Erik Nelson, who urged the President to resign just months ago, said that Henry Hyde was engaging in "suicidal zealotry." That commentary should ensure Mort a seat at Clinton’s thank-you dinner for compliant publishers.

Also in the News, Michael Daly offered a different take. He wrote about Buffalo’s Republican Rep. Jack Quinn, who watched the Super Bowl with Clinton in ’97, "eating pizza and quesadillas as they laughed and talked football and politics." But Quinn voted for impeachment last November. At the State of the Union Address, as Clinton made his way to the podium, Quinn stuck out his hand: The First Liar snubbed him. According to Daly, Clinton was heard to say on the day of his impeachment: "Our friend Jack Quinn—let’s see how he enjoys it when we go to Buffalo the day after the State of the Union." And indeed, Daly writes, local Democrats last week in Buffalo were handing out "Impeach Quinn" bumperstickers.

Bill Kristol had recovered his equilibrium by the time of his appearance on the Sam & Cokie show on Sunday, and made the obvious point that short-circuiting the impeachment process is a miscarriage of justice; whether or not Clinton is acquitted, the trial isn’t a joke and shouldn’t be treated that way. Al From Baltimore e-mailed me shortly after: "Kristol was brilliant. He articulated the reasons for my unease—that the Clinton way may endure beyond his Oval Office tenure through a combination of Wall Street-economics and left-wing identity politics. Republicans don’t have a clue how to respond. Unlike Kristol, George Will, while making the point that the GOP has to learn to combat Democrats stealing their ideas, has all but thrown in the towel on impeachment. Too bad. As for Maureen Dowd’s column in the Times, I read it and puked. She’s everything that’s wrong with pundits: on the one hand, but on the other... The column was shameless given what she’s written in the past three months."

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked eight senators their reaction to the infamous tape of Clinton wagging his finger at his fellow Americans last year, claiming he didn’t do it with Monica. Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, said: "He should resign. He should have resigned months ago, but he will never resign. He doesn’t respect the presidency." Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, on the other hand, was more forgiving: "You know, Tim, I think the American people are so far ahead of us on this. It’s been said the American people can abide sin but not hypocrisy, and I think the American people say, ‘Look, don’t focus on the sin, focus on repentance.’"

When George next gets around to one of its tired "10 Most Stupid Senators" roundups, if there’s any justice Harkin will be number one. Clinton is the most hypocritical president this country has ever elected. Even Hillary would agree with that.

It bears repeating for the umpteenth time that the impeachment trial is not just about sex or petty lying. It’s a culmination of all the misdeeds, many criminal, that President Clinton has committed in his six-year administration. That the country in general, and Congress in particular, is anesthetized to his behavior is lamentable, but surely not a reason to jettison the process. It’s about the law and how one president, accompanied by eager-to-please aides, has sullied it. No, Bill Clinton is not "below" the law, a line that a partisan media feeds to a bored public, but his criminal acts are so egregious he must be held accountable.

Does it not matter anymore that Clinton traded missile technology to the Chinese for campaign funds in the 1996 election? Is it irrelevant that more than 900 FBI files were in the possession of a low-level government employee no one seems to remember hiring? Or that "missing" documents sought by prosecutors suddenly appear in the First Family’s living quarters at the White House? Is it safe for the nation that a health-impaired attorney general has gone mute on investigating numerous allegations against her boss and his subordinates? These are all questions that must be examined before the country "gets it all over with."

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on Monday: "Senator Byrd, like others, professes to believe that dismissal would ‘promptly end this sad and sorry time for our country’ and begin a ‘process of healing.’ What planet have such people been living on these past six years? This is not a matter of a President happening to fall for a 21-year-old temptress, but an ingrained habit of lying. Bill Clinton conducts politics at the level he does because it has never occurred to him to do otherwise... [T]he Senate will end nothing by sweeping the current mess under the rug. It has to go to the source of the problem, which is not the House managers or Kenneth Starr or a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy.’ The source lies in the psyche and personality of William Jefferson Clinton; there is only one way the Senate can promptly put ‘it’ behind us. To wit, render an impeachment conviction and hope that President Gore will take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

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


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