START THE ENDGAME NOW The chances of Clinton’s removal are nil, say the people who have predicted everything else incorrectly. But, like the monkeys who bang on typewriters, this time they may have stumbled onto something cogent. So, what to do?
Be prepared to exploit the Clinton backlash. No not the one coming from angry Manhattan liberals willing to sacrifice their Café Vienna moments to re-elect Jerrold Nadler by an even wider margin than before. No, the Clinton backlash will come from the millions of Americans who bolster the other side of the coin of Clinton’s “approval ratings.” Unlike the liberal base we usually hear from in the press, most Americans actually think the president — like a rock star or some professional athletes — is a terrible person who’s doing a good job. If Bill Clinton gets away with it, which is in his nature, he will be arrogant, which is also in his nature.
Americans will hate that, because Americans know the guy is guilty. Once he is no longer the persecuted underdog, he will become the O.J. president — the guy who, despite DNA evidence and obvious guilt, got away because his lawyers were clever enough in the end to sway the jury but not the American people. Every Democrat defender of the president (which has become, in effect, a redundancy) cites polls saying that the American people want Clinton to finish his term. For some reason Republicans are shy about pointing out that the same polls reveal that Americans also think Clinton is a perjurer, obstructer of justice, a sexual pig, and an unmitigated liar.
Just because those polls are less advertised doesn’t mean the sentiment they reflect is less real. Republicans need to chew gum and walk at the same time — they need to press for a full and fair trial with witnesses, and they need to plan how they’re going to spend 1999. If Republicans fail to draw from the rich well of resentment against the president, they deserve minority status. There really have been only two kinds of Washington Republicans in this scandal: those convinced the president should be removed and those convinced that the Constitutional process should work itself out. If you think the moderate House Republicans who voted for impeachment did so because of a profound hatred of the president or out of fear from the Right Wing, you don’t understand how these precious creatures work. More often than not, these mother-of-pearl statesman think they are doing right when they anger the Right.
Assuming the president is not removed, what we need is a third kind of Republican. We need Lee Atwater. The late Republican warlord would see this as a perfect opportunity to shape popular perceptions of the parties. By paying a price now, Republicans are paying tribute to the precedents of future generations. In the words of John Buchan, the statesman and writer (of among other things The Thirty-nine Steps), “We can only pay our debt to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves.” Hyde is catching on a little bit when he says things like “Equal justice under the law is what moves me and animates me and consumes me. And I’m willing to lose my seat any day in the week rather than sell out those issues. Despite all the polls and the hostile editorials, America is hungry for people who believe in something. You may disagree with us, but we believe in something.”
But he’s too much of a gentleman to point out the corollary that Democrats essentially believe in nothing. Last summer, Senator Daschle and Representative Gephardt thought impeachment might be a reasonable way to go. Now, no way. Democrats have not once shied from the idea of scoring vicious partisan attacks on the Republican party. Virtually every talking point is about the Republican party being out of touch. The Republican party is trying to appease its base. These Right Wing, partisan, Republicans hate your dog and think your kids are ugly. Meanwhile Republicans almost never take any manly shots at the Democrats. This is partly because they’ve wanted to sway Democrats to their argument. But it’s also because they’re stupid and fearful. Republicans need to point out the partisan nature of Democratic behavior. Republicans need to denounce the fact that Democrats never gave the process a chance. Republicans need to show that Democrats are voluptuaries of power. How else to explain their near unanimous inability to think obstruction of justice and perjury warrant removal from office? That is a powerful statement and it needs to be fully exploited. America knows the Republican party tried to remove the president. You could make some fine points about it, but in the end that’s the God’s honest truth and it has been hammered home by every spinner imaginable. No sense in running away from it now; it is the deep-rooted conventional wisdom of the last year. As we enter the presidential elections, what Republicans need to do is shape the deep-rooted conventional wisdom of the coming year.
The Democrats will sacrifice any principles, listen to the diktat of any pollster, say anything if it will help them at the polls and help them retain power. Say it once, say it often.