READING THE ENTRAILS Election data are like a giant lump of clay that will only remain wet and malleable for a day or two. So, in that limited time every pundit, journalist, politician, and analyst has to take a whack at the results, to make their impression before the clay dries and the shape holds. Once the clay hardens, we call this sculpture “Conventional Wisdom” and it is carried around like a golden calf for two years. Of course, the Conventional Wisdom is invariably a false god. And, after the next election it will be smashed at the feet of a new one.
This morning the newspapers and the airwaves are crammed with people trying to mold this false god in their own image. The Weekly Standard has a special issue. C-SPAN is filled with panel discussions pouring over the data like Roman priests looking at the entrails of a goat.
So what does the a-borning Conventional Wisdom say? Well, Bill Clinton is going to get away with it. George Bernard Shaw observed that “An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for the blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it.” It looks like everybody is dirty. Richard Cohen, Bill Safire, George Will, Robert Novak, and David Broder all argue in one form or another, happily or glumly, that the electorate thinks Ken Starr is the villain and Bill Clinton the (sinful) victim.
As for Clinton, he’s already made it clear that the electorate is for “progress over partisanship, unity over divisiveness.” This is his market -tested buzz phrase. I’ve heard him say it a half-dozen times already, including this morning. Historians might think it odd, considering the message he delivered to the black community, which basically said Bill Clinton is the last bulwark against the KKK. Unity indeed.
Regardless, the pundits may well be right that for the good of their party, Republicans should ditch the “impeachment tar baby” as Broder calls it. But whether that would be good for the country is another issue. Henry Hyde is on the tube right now, and it sounds like he’s giving away the store, but more on that tomorrow.
THE OTHER CONVENTIONAL WISDOM The hyperactive architect of the Michael Dukakis juggernaut, Susan Estrich, laid out the DNC spin last night on CNBC. The Republican gubernatorial victories reflect local elections while the national agenda is reflected in congressional races. This, of course, is what Gephardt, Gore, and the rest of the gang that comprises America’s real Y2K problem want people to think.
Not to diminish Gingrich’s blunders, this CW has it largely backwards. America’s policy agenda is profoundly Republican. Policy is what matters. In state after state, lower taxes, curbed welfare rolls, and aggressive crime prevention are the most popular policies. And they are distinctly Republican. The proof lies in the overwhelming victories of Republican governors, which as Michael Barone points out in the Standard, went under-reported because they were such predictable blow-outs.
Washington is the nation’s capital, so the CW is disproportionately driven by the glamor set at Washington cocktail parties and fundraisers. These are political stars in Washington’s celebrity culture. Therefore, people like Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer, and even Congressmen like John McCain, Phil Gramm, and John Kasich, as good and honorable as they are, are given inflated chances of actually becoming President. Meanwhile, personalities off the radar in Washington are written off. Remember, in New Hampshire, during December of 1991, former do-nothing Governor, cocktail-party (amoral) philosopher, and current “Whatever Happened To?” poster boy, Mario Cuomo was getting 31% in the polls in. Bill Clinton was getting 3%.
BYE-BYE MARION Brandon Walsh has left BH 90210 and Marion Barry has left DC 20001. For the good of the city, Barry did not run. His administration manufactured no-work patronage jobs the way Bill Clinton spits out lies: unceasingly and shamelessly. The night of his last election victory some friends of mine and I decided to devise a new cocktail — a shot really — in honor of hizzoner, the mayor for life. The ingredients are Jaegermeister, Khalua, bourbon, and Coke, because we wanted a drink, “So black, not even the man could keep it down.” Indeed, there are bartenders across the nation’s capital who know how to make it, thanks to me and my depraved friends. We thought of retiring the beverage. After all, I’m getting a little old for novelty shots, and the thing produces unbelievable headaches. But since Toni Morrison (and Chris Rock) think Bill Clinton is black, maybe we should re-name it after him. Besides, Clinton produces terrible headaches too.
“PAINTER’S PRIVILEGE” Richard Cohen declares in today’s Washington Post that Ken Starr is the real loser in this election. Others say that too, but Cohen is the only one who is deliriously happy about it. Cohen says that Clinton’s “behavior was wrong, but it did not involve abuse of power. The President did nothing your average painting contractor would not have done. You don’t have to be a Commander-in-Chief to have an affair.” When was the last time a painting contractor was entrusted to be the chief defender of our constitutional regime? When was the last time a painting contractor invoked “Painter’s Privilege” about sex? When was the last time the nation’s agenda was back-burnered because of a painting contractor’s decision to saturate the Executive Branch in lies? My guess is Rich Cohen is paying his contractor too much.