THE CANCER SPREADS The cancer of Clintonism is claiming two more vital Democratic institutions — the Democratic party’s most esteemed Senator and its most venerable Senator. “Hannah Arendt had it right,” declares Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to New Yorker correspondent Jeffrey Toobin in the February 8 issue. “She said one of the great advantages of the totalitarian elites of the Twenties and Thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.”
But even though he praises Arendt’s trenchant observation, Moynihan also says that there is “budding triumphalism” in the Democratic party. “It’s true that we thwarted a coup, and that’s a good thing.”
A coup? More of that in a moment.
Senator Byrd — never nearly so admirable as his recent press clippings suggest — admitted on ABC’s This Week that the president was indeed guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. “Who’s kidding whom?” he asked about the apparently ludicrous idea that Clinton was innocent.
Now, their oath-defying colleague Senator Harkin has long since revealed himself as a man of little intellectual content or backbone. But Patrick Moynihan is indeed an intellectual of the first order. Senator Byrd is and has always been the real Senator Pothole, but he has a long memory and often such a memory can be confused for wisdom.
So how to decipher these observations? Senator Moynihan freely concedes that the president’s conduct was impeachable and that the president “started” this whole mess. Last summer he called this a crisis of the regime — whatever that meant then and whatever that means now. And Senator Byrd! On Sunday, Senator Byrd hinted that he might even vote to convict the president. Or at least, that a vote to convict would be a hard thing for a Senator to avoid in good conscience.
He also was the man who voted to dismiss this case against the president. Dismiss.
This is exactly the equivalent of a juror at the outset of a murder trial simply deciding that because his fellow jurors seemed to have made up their minds, there is no point in going on. Or, if Baby Harkin wants his bottle and we have to call the Senators judges, rather than jurors — so be it. That’s an even worse prism through which to look at these proceedings. Senator Harkin, who swore to uphold “impartial justice,” called the case a pile of dung before hearing the case. Imagine how quickly a real judge would be removed if a he were to pronounce a case “dung” in advance? Or, like Senator Byrd, what if a member of a three-judge or nine-judge panel argued that a trial should be stopped simply because he knows his colleagues are predisposed one way? In the totalitarian regimes that Hannah Arendt referred to, legal proceedings were decided long before the gavel struck even once. The trial of President Clinton is as close as America has ever come to a show trial. The Democratic party decided in advance that no facts would change their minds and that all presenters of fact shall be questioned for their motives.
For that is the absolute disgusting brilliance of this White House. Far more that Josephy McCarthy, this White House and its allies are glibly comfortable with dismissing facts by demeaning anybody who reveals those facts. Linda Tripp? You can’t take her word for it, she betrayed a friend. Ken Starr? He’s guilty by his association with conservatives and, besides, he hasn’t denied it when he’s been called a sexual deviant and prude. Monica Lewinsky? Well, we have recently learned that the president and his now-exposed henchman Sidney Blumenthal were certainly prepared to say “Monica Lewinsky? She’s just a deranged stalker.” And there are the innumerable lesser assassinations. Last summer, president Clinton dismissed a sitting judge’s ruling because of the judge’s purported politics. Henry Hyde, David Schippers, Trent Lott, Bob Barr, William Rhenquist, Lucianne Goldberg, and many more have been attacked for the people they know, the things they’ve said, the places they’ve been, or affairs they’ve had. Occassionally these assaults have been fair and accurate. More often they’ve just been accurate. But they have never been legitimate defenses against any of the charges leveled at the president.
Senators Moynihan and Byrd are now complicit in sanctioning this repugnant form of politics. By making this a show trial, and by rationalizing it in bizarre and intellectually untenable ways, they have made this process acceptable in American life — no matter what some censure bill might say. In The New Yorker, Toobin writes “To [Moynihan] character is based on intellectual integrity, on describing the world as it is, regardless of the political consequences.” Toobin then lists numerous examples of Moynihan’s willingness to deal honestly with public policy. (On Senator Moynihan’s honesty in regards to public policy, I refer you to Jay Nordlinger’s excellent article on Moynihan in the February 9, 1999 issue of National Review.)
But is Moynihan “describing the world as it is” when he calls this a “coup”? Have illegitimate forces tried to depose the president? Was Moynihan’s “crisis of the regime” a fraud? Was the House vote nothing but the smoke of right-wing hate? And, is Senator Byrd showing integrity when he admits the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and yet simply claps the dirt off his hands and says, let’s dismiss this anyway? Or are they merely the latest people to be infected with the culture of smears and lies that this president perpetuates? I think they are honorable men, who have been forced to deal with factors outside their programming. This is the most charitable way to explain that they simply make no sense when they talk about the leader of their party.