HOLY HYSTERIA If I remember correctly (and I’m sure someone will point it out if I’m wrong), in one episode of the 1970s Batman series, a nefarious villain threatened that through his machinations no cows in America would be milked. “Holy Cow!” cried Batman’s sidekick. “Yes, Robin,” replied Adam West sagely, “every . . .cow . . .in . . .America could . . .EXPLODE!”
What reminded me of this are White House arguments about a Senate impeachment trial. Charles Ruff, who did quite well yesterday, said a Senate trial would be a “horror” for the nation. Zoe Lofgren, Liz Holtzman, and a host of other Clinton defenders say the Senate, the Supreme Court, and they dare say, the whole country would be paralyzed by a trial in the Senate. Holy national rigor mortis Batman!
Why didn’t Blowfeld think of all this in the Bond movies?
William Safire debunks this notion nicely in today’s New York Times. Safire argues that the Senate will behave responsibly and end up censuring the President in short shrift. I think he’s right on that front and I think that’s what would be best for the country in the long run. He ascribes the Senate- will-kill-us-all argument to a White House tactic to scare the House away from impeachment.
But what if Safire is wrong? What if this isn’t a craven, cynical, deceitful, scare tactic? I mean, it’s possible these people are being honest, right? So if Darth Clinton and the White House gang think a trial in the Senate would be the Death Star to our planet Alderaan, why won’t the President spare us? After all, it is in his power to put an end to all of this right here. He is the one who at every turn has chosen to drag this out. If, as he believes, there could be nothing worse than a trial in the Senate, why wouldn’t he do the right thing and resign?
PIG OR LIAR In the same vein it actually is quite interesting to take the President and his defenders at their word on all sorts of things. Take for example the White House’s position on the President’s Paula Jones testimony. In an attempt to embarrass the Judiciary out of doing its duty, the President’s lawyers argue that a Senate trial would boil down to an inquest over whether the President touched Monica Lewinsky and with what intent. Cutting through the legalisms, the President essentially contends that he never touched Monica Lewinsky in a sexual manner or touched her with the intent to gratify. They aren’t clear whether they mean he simply never touched her, or whether he did but he didn’t care about gratifying her. So, take the man at his word. He is saying that an intern (whose name he did not know until the oral sex was old hat), would repeatedly visit him in the Oval Office. He would open his pants in order to be serviced. He would be serviced while he talked on the phone to Congressmen about Bosnia. But, in all of these encounters, he either never bothered to touch the girl for the purposes of gratification or just never touched her at all. Even when he did those things with the cigar, the President asserts, he was never concerned with her pleasure.
This is the President’s version of events. The President of the United States would rather have the world think that he treats young women in his charge as inflatable dolls, never once being concerned with their pleasure or satisfaction, rather than admit to what even they claim is just a white lie. Even if he did lie, the lawyers argue, it’s a tiny, wafer-thin lie. Under oath or not, it is a mere quibble, the White House claims. But the President would rather hide behind this quibble and say he uses women in the crappiest way possible.
And yet Arthur Schlesinger says the President is a gentleman and therefore should not be expected to talk about such things even in a civil rights lawsuit.
HEARING HILIGHT The most interesting exchange occurred very late in the day yesterday. Lindsey Graham pointed out the White House’s very deliberate trial balloon to paint Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This was a real strategy. The President shared it with Sidney Blumenthal and Sidney Blumenthal shared it with the grand jury and, according to quite a few people, with members of the press. The National Enquirer ran a long, anonymously sourced piece about how the President thought Lewinsky was a stalker. Rep. Charlie Rangel made the stalker case after the President’s State of the Union Address: “She’s fantasizing and I haven’t heard that she played with a full deck in other experiences.”
(In my opinion, they couldn’t play the card out for several reasons. The two most important were the stained dress and the fact that Monica covered for the President on the charges of obstruction of justice and suborning perjury). Ruff’s reaction to Graham was incredible. He acted as if he never heard of a spin operation. But he also offered, “I will represent to you that to the contrary, a very careful and well-considered decision was made to do our damnedest to ensure that in fact no such personal attack was ever made.” I believe him that the lawyers decided not to attack Monica Lewinsky as a matter of policy, though it does sound like even they considered it. But there was a political operation that the President and the First Lady were directly in control of, too. And on that front, I know from things Linda Tripp told me over a year ago that they were willing to attack Monica Lewinsky if they thought it would work. And it seems, as Lindsey Graham brilliantly illustrated, that they tried it out a few times.
So, the President was at least willing to go after Monica Lewinsky. After he never touched her with the intent to gratify her as she gratified him (according to his own testimony), he was still willing to paint this young woman in his charge as a deranged stalker. Not only are the young women working in his office his concubines, they are disposable. And, let us not forget, he signed a raft of sexual harrasment bills into law which frown on this behavior.
This may not be impeachable. But this emphasis on legalisms and technicalities obscures what I think is a perfectly legitimate line of inquiry: Is the President too reckless, too craven, too cynical, and most of all, too damned tacky to be President? Forget the perjury, the adultery, the obstruction of justice. Forget the lies and the stonewalling. Forget his betrayal of his friends and the sexual harrassment laws. Forget it all. Is the President just too damned tacky?
AS IF YOU NEEDED MORE REASONS TO DETEST THE FRENCH . . . People often ask me why I am so hard on the French (they actually know why, they just like to watch me rant). It is a theme I hope to return to often. The Washington Post reported a fascinating story yesterday. I was going to use it as a launching pad to lampoon our “partners in peace.” But the piece does just fine on its own, so below are a few excerpts. First, a little prep. The French people feel overworked. They currently have a 39-hour work week (not including overtime) and now they want it shortened. But the first rule of reform is tp make sure people are complying with current law:
“In the government’s zeal to make sure workers don’t overdo it, hundreds of labor inspectors have been counting cars after hours in parking lots, checking office entry-and-departure records, and quizzing employees about their schedules. The government has fined several large companies for allowing employees, including managers, to stay longer than the country’s various legal limitations on the regular work week and overtime allow.”
Post. “Some companies now sound bells at the end of the working day to get people out of the office, or close parking lots at a certain hour.”
“The basic problem is a growing excess of work,” said Claude-Emmanuel Triomphe, a honcho in the government’s labor-inspection office.