Dec 31, 1997
The least appropriate option for investigation of abuses by the administration, at least if the President or those near him are involved, is to leave it to the Justice Department. The current debate illustrates the problem: the A.G. may be on firm technical ground in refusing to appoint, especially to the extent that any charges would be dependent on the Pendleton Act, but the conflict of interest is obvious, material and insoluble. Nothing short of an indictment naming the President as a conspirator could satisfy skeptics -and not just Republicans- that all was done which should have been done. In the meantime, a Cabinet office has been forced into a position of hostility to the President it serves, the FBI is in opposition to the department of which it ostensibly is a part and its Director threatens to release a confidential internal memo to demonstrate that he sees the point.
However, the record to date of the other two procedures is not encouraging .
Republicans have not always been fond of special prosecutors, which makes their current demand somewhat hypocritical. If the President were not a Democrat, they would be pointing out that the process has become perverted. After spending God knows how much, the Espey prosecutor gained an indictment charging him with receiving amounts roughly at the level of a cop taking a free donut, and even part of that bill has been dismissed. The Cisneros prosecution, although it involves a serious collateral issue, at its base even is even more trivial. Whitewater is a questionable subject for a special prosecutor because it involves pre-election events; in addition, to date it has been an expensive failure. The White House has kept it alive by evasion,
obfuscation and, to be kind, lack of candor in responding to requests for information, but that doesn't retroactively justify it. Other, post-inaugural, issues are more important, including the travel office firings and the delivery of FBI files to the White House, both of which suggest abuse of power. However, Mr. Starr seems to be no nearer to charging anyone than he or his predecessor were years ago.
The third approach, investigation by Congress, ought to present a viable option. Some of the issues are primarily political, such as the campaign funding mess. Even those which are more legal in nature may be appropriate subjects for Congressional inquiry; these scandals all involve some element of overreaching by the administration, and Congressional action is the best check on that. However, few recent hearings have been constructive. When Congress and the President are of the same party, there isn't much incentive. Even when they are opposed, investigations often have been useless or worse, as exemplified by the current crop and Iran-Contra. As with the special prosecutor, one has to go back to Watergate to find much success.
All of the alternatives raise a troublesome question: how much interference, by way of subpoena or Congressional demand, should an administration be required to suffer? There have been times during this endless process when it would have been appropriate, at least in response to Congress, for the White House to have said, "enough!" Instead, it has done the worst thing possible, give in by inches.
Another investigative and prosecutorial institution deserves mention. Although the media can't be considered as a formal alternative, they have some claim to equal status based on the Watergate experience. The media are close to Congress in approach: often unreasonably adversary, interested in headlines and short-term results rather than depth, and generally political in outlook. Republicans ought to love reporters, since they are, in effect, free-market, private sector prosecutors. Alas, they are not, on average, conservative enough.
An exception is William Safire, a one-man self-appointed justice department. Recently, in the course of explaining that he had not sold out by behaving in a civilized fashion upon encountering one of his targets at a cocktail party, he reassured us that he and his administration adversaries are not playing games.
...We are participants in a protracted struggle to get at the truth about what some reporters see as a power-abusive conspiracy to violate the election laws or what some officials call protection of the presumption of innocence and the efficacy of the Presidency.
It serves our serious, opposing interests to remain engaged and aware of what the other is doing.
The State Supreme Court has stuck down the portion of the term-limits initiative enacted in 1992 which applies to State offices. I haven't tuned in to talk radio, so I don't know what the reaction of the pseudo-populist right might be. In the papers, editorial response has been favorable and news reports have revealed only muted grumbling about the Court's reasoning and its indifference to the will of the voters. Assuming the Court's reasoning to be sound, the latter complaint is beside the point, as the holding is not that the people may not enact such limitations, but that they must do so by constitutional amendment.
The Times contributed the joke of the day in two sections. The first was in a column by the editorial page editor on an entirely unrelated topic, the assembling of a citizens' advisory board. Apparently this is fashionable, so Ms. Cameron felt it necessary to point out that the Times took this step for substantive reasons: "We're not a trendy editorial page...."
Alongside was the house editorial supporting the Court's decision, installment three in the Times' opinion by trend on this issue. In 1991, Ms. Cameron was "willing to risk the loss of some able legislators for the sake of joining a national movement...." The publisher, also part of the editorial board, said the term-limits initiative "is going to pass; let's have this newspaper join the mainstream in sending a message...." In 1992, the Times reversed course in part because "[t]he national term- limits movement...is losing steam." Its present conclusion at least is the same as the last, but its position still is one of testing the wind:
...Term limits are yesterday's solution to yesterday's problem. Term limits fever peaked in 1992, when voters, angry at aloof pols who seemed to own their posts, approved the initiative....***
...The best course now for [House Speaker] Ballard and other term-limit enthusiasts is to get on with their lives and stop beating this tired old drum.
[In this note, and in other local references, "Journal" refers to The Eastside Journal, a suburban daily paper.]
Bill Clinton really is a big spender, an old fashioned big-government liberal. Mona Charen revealed that in a column in today's Journal. The particulars: Clinton's proposals to extend Medicare to those under 65, restore eligibility for food stamps to legal aliens and fund child care.
Ms. Charen argues that it isn't prudent to consider expanding Medicare at a time when its fiscal health is suspect; that would be a valid point if the extension would increase the system's deficit, which she seems to assume. Whether that's true isn't clear from the little I've seen about it. She also complains that Clinton is rushing to spend a surplus which hasn't yet materialized, which assumes a subsidy. If that's the case, point made, but she omits mentioning the equally premature and irresponsible plans being discussed by Republicans.
Her final argument is that expanding Medicare would "inevitably eliminate all incentive for employers to provide insurance for these people." What employers? As she notes, the 55-to-62 eligibles would be "dislocated workers." Even as to the employed, the trend is toward less adequate medical benefits. The expansion may be beyond our present financial ability or for other reasons imprudent, but pretending that business will satisfy the need is naïve at best.
Providing food stamps to legal aliens is summarily dismissed as "retrograde." Need? Equity? Compassion? You jest. Let them find employers.
Ms. Charen's best shots are saved for child care. This is not merely retrograde but "insidious," exceeding the health care bill in "dangerousness." Subsidizing parents who use day care "is not a matter of need - it is a matter of policy." (Are the two necessarily unrelated?) There is no need because only
a small number of families (usually single-parent) are forced by economic necessity to place their kids in day care. The rest choose it for other reasons. As the Wall Street Journal reports, families in which both parents work earn an average of $56,000 annually, while male-breadwinner families earn only an average of $32,000 per year.
Her main objection is an example of the otherworldly quality of conservative social policy.
Besides, "quality" child care is an illusion and will always be. Paid caretakers will never equal the lavish love of parents, especially mothers. The wholesale contracting out of child-rearing that the Clintons would encourage is exactly the reverse of what the country needs....
What ever happened to the old Republicans? You remember, those dour types who thought that government borrowing was a sin. When they were in top form, they'd remind us that a family had to balance its budget and live within its means, and so should government. If the analogy still holds, modern Republicans must be up to their eyes in credit card balances.
The Governor has proposed that, as the state's highways are in need of work, we should raise the gas tax to pay for the necessary work. Yes, the gas tax is regressive, but that's the only kind of taxes we have so it's the gas tax or some other equally unattractive levy, or no repairs. Well, no; we can borrow. Reagan still rules.
The Republican chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee has proposed that the State sell $2.4 billion in bonds and retire them by diverting part of the automobile excise tax revenue to service the bonds. But wait! Modern Republicans not only don't make you take medicine, they give you a lollipop: the Chairman would also lower the excise. New HOV lanes and a tax cut; are these new Republicans great, or what?
The irony in the Republican highways proposal doesn't end with deficit financing. Initiative 601, passed in 1963, limits State spending. It was warmly welcomed by all manner of Republicans, including the paranoid small-government types and the more traditional fiscal conservatives. No longer could liberals simply spend as they wished. The aforementioned Chairman of Ways and Means was quoted as describing 601 as "the third rail of state politics." Apparently the juice has been turned off, as he now proposes to amend 601.
This is brought about by the diversion of excise taxes he advocates. As the excise now pays for criminal justice programs, they would have to be placed under the general fund, which is subject to 601. Hence his plan to ask for an exception to 601 to cover the diversion. At least this exercise in silliness has revealed which of two conservative fetishes, spending limits or opposition to taxes, is more powerful.
Washington is atwitter; ABC news is bragging that it was there first. Has something important happened? Certainly by the moralistic-degenerate standards of contemporary American politics.
President Clinton is accused of having a fling with a young White House intern and of persuading her to deny it in an affidavit. The only possible significance of this to the public is the accusation of tampering with a witness, but the appeal is the sexual sleaze.
It is amazing that a country which has the sexual standards of Caliguala's Rome can be sufficiently moralistic about an affair between consenting adults that it can be considered plausible that a president would suborn perjury to hide one.
It is no less startling that an independent counsel appointed, presumably, to investigate major breaches of the public trust would consider it appropriate to use illegally obtained evidence, employ the lawbreaker as a spy and entrap the supposed paramour in statements which could lead to a charge of perjury against her, all to find something, anything, on which to base a charge against the President. In addition to the stale smell of desperation, this has the aroma of the sewer.
Support for the President came from a surprising source. In his column today, William Safire said, with entire truth, "Nobody can accuse me of being soft on this President; only the other day a letter came suggesting: 'Get help on your Clinton problem.'" The same thought has occurred to me. Therefore, it was noteworthy to find this:
...I think that he's lied about Whitewater, deceived us about Travelgate and Filegate, and deliberately violated campaign fund-raising laws to get re-elected - all abuses of power deserving scrutiny and prosecution.
But to take the senseless risk of abusing the trust of a young girl down the hall? I just can't believe that.
...It is not in the public interest for the Independent Counsel to procrastinate. If he cannot fairly file a criminal information with the House, he should clear the President with dispatch.
...If Clinton is innocent of this, as I hope, we can press ahead with the long-term exposure of the stealing of an election. If he did seduce a kid and tamper with a witness, as I doubt, then he would resign as soon as public knowledge rendered him ineffective.
This democracy can take any jolt. Let's just not drag it out.
Some random thoughts re the Clinton-Lewinski mess:
Clinton did himself a great deal of good by delivering a rousing State of the Union address. The tone, substance, the mere ability to do it under the circumstances combined to give him a boost in public approval.1 That won't save him if the alleged Lewinski testimony materializes and is believed. However it may well save him from some lesser variant, such as inconclusive evidence or the endless pendency of an unresolved investigation, Starr-style.
One group of supporters he should be worried about are feminists. They have been loyal backers and have given Paula Jones short shrift. He may not continue to be so lucky. Marrianne Means assumed his guilt in her column today, not a good sign.
Pundits have declared that, if the charges are true, Clinton should go because he has no judgment, no self-control, because he has thrown away his ability to do good things for the country and, of course, because he's suborned perjury. Our standards seem to have become more demanding than they were during Reagan's second term.
The character assassination is indiscriminate. Clinton, Lewinski and anyone else in any way involved all are targets of the prosecutor and the media, whose sense of propriety is identical.
1. 10/5/02: Richard Cohen described that ability today: "This quality of Clinton's - the sheer ability to get out of bed in the morning when you or I would have pulled the covers over our heads - is indeed one of Clinton's great attributes. Sometimes - in New Hampshire after Gennifer Flowers or in the White House after Monica Lewinsky - I could only marvel at his ability to keep going...."
The principals in the Clinton-Lewinski scandal are not providing enough material for the media, whose salacious interest in this matter far exceeds their concern for weightier subjects. One result is media self-examination: "are we making too much of this?" The question isn't meant seriously; it's merely the lead for a marking-time story, an excuse to review developments to date. As a column in the NY Times, itself an example of the phenomenon, put it, self-examination has appeared because "the story itself has lagged. Some appetite and a whole lot of
space on air and page remain, yet true developments, as opposed to embarrassingly false and soon-retracted statements, have been occurring more slowly.
The lack of reliable information has not impaired the ability of columnists to draw conclusions about Clinton's character or presidency; accusations and rumor will do nicely. Thus in Thursday's P-I, George Will declared that Clinton's presidency "is beyond resuscitating," that Republicans should not be shy about impeachment and that the people may have confirmation of their suspicion that the Democratic Party "is the incurable carrier of the 1960s virus of disdain for the civilized restraints and values of normal Americans."
On the same page, local writer Asta Bowen used the various stories about Clinton's sexual conduct as a vehicle for complaining about men's attitudes toward women. "I hate to say it, but whether or not there's been misbehavior here, in our culture it still is permissible - indeed profitable - to view women as sex objects." This leads her to a movie review. At least Will is aiming at Clinton; to Ms. Bowen, the stories about Gennifer, Paula and Monica are just pegs to hang an argument on.
I suggested that the periodic bursts of self-criticism by the media were insincere, a way of recounting the scandal on slow news - or rumor - days. The New York Times, however, takes the "mea culpa epidemic" seriously, and disapproves. This is "unwarranted self-flagellation," we were told by the house editorial on February 4. We must remember "the key fact that industrious, unintimidated reporting has brought to light the factual outlines of a situation that indisputably belongs before the public." Is that what one calls the publication of unsubstantiated rumors, the broadcasting of self-interested leaks? A slight variation on the theme was introduced on the 6th. "This is a time for withholding final judgment on the evidence and the
legal issues involved, but that does not mean that there has to be a freeze on concern and commentary." A more self-serving, hypocritical posture hardly could be imagined.
The second editorial blames Clinton for any fuzziness in the facts. "Cryptic denials" are not enough. The President's denial was a direct statement that he did not have an affair and did not ask anyone to lie about it. Brief, yes, but cryptic?
A more logical response to Mr. Clinton's dramatic statement was offered by Charles Krauthammer, not an admirer. He doesn't believe Clinton but recognizes that he's made the response editorialists like those of the Times and its Seattle namesake profess to have missed. Previous lies were
all but stagesetters for the big one, the one he told the country Monday - eyes to the camera, jaw clenched and finger pointed: I didn't do it. With that, Clinton raised the stakes immensely.... As Bob Beckel, a fierce Democratic partisan says, "If he's lying, he's gone. This is not complicated anymore."
Both Clinton's closest friends and deepest antagonists don't seem to understand that...
Clinton's fate does not rest on any obstruction of justice. It rests with the denial, issued not only on national TV, but also, apparently, under oath in his Paula Jones deposition. That lie alone will do it.
Kenneth Starr finally has gone too far. Hauling everyone in sight before a grand jury, often with only the flimsiest of connections to any legitimate inquiry, was ok with the media; how could they argue with nonstop muck-raking? But now he has committed lèse magesté: he subpoenaed Sidney Blumenthal and compelled him to identify reporters with whom he discussed matters uncomplementary to Mr. Starr and his office. This is only a step away from an invitation to the journalists to drop by for a chat.
The New York Times carried two expressions of indignation on February 25. Maureen Dowd thought that seeing "supercilious Sid sweating under a naked light bulb" was a pleasant thought, but the subpoena "raised the specter of Mr. Starr calling reporters to testify, and using the grand jury to intimidate his own critics.... [I]t is chilling to have government lawyers with subpoena power prying into communications between reporters and the officials they cover." The house editorial told us that the decision to call Blumenthal
...undermines important legal and constitutional principles. On the tactical level, this move by the Independent Counsel is bone stupid. As a matter of principle, it is an attack on press freedom and the unrestricted flow of information....***
...Like any newspaper, we have an obvious interest in the confidentiality of the reporting process. But you do not have to be a journalist to see that Mr. Starr has committed an ignorant assault on one of the most distinctive and essential elements of American democracy.
In a column in today's P-I, Mark Shields pointed out the hypocrisy in this
attitude. He noted that other White House employees, including a steward, had been
subpoenaed without outcry
....But when Blumenthal was to be asked under oath about conversations with the media, the decibel level of media outrage turned earshattering. Suddenly, we had a grave constitutional crisis, abuse of power, a power-hungry prosecutor and a Starr chamber.
...Why did we not protest with equal vigor when an unknown media assistant in the Office of National Drug Policy was summoned before a grand jury to explain a private phone call he made from his home to a Maryland public official?
...[t]he Watergate experience produced the idea of an established system for special prosecutors to look into charges of illegal conduct by the President and other high officials. But the Independent Counsel Act has had consequences few envisaged: a prosecutor with unlimited resources and time and no effective accountability sitting over a President year after year, stripping him of privacy, even wanting to question the Secret Service agents who protect him.
Someday soon, when the Clinton-Lewinsky crisis is history, this country is going to have to rescue the Presidency from that legal swamp. Congress should legislate to allow postponement of civil suits against a President, and let the Independent Counsel Act die. Then we can go back to the political system -the constitutional system- for holding Presidents accountable.
Lawrence Walsh also criticized Mr. Starr, in the current New York Review of Books. Mr. Walsh may not be the best judge of prosecutorial excess, but he offered a quotation from Justice Jackson which deserves attention.
It is in this realm - in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views, or being personally obnoxious or in the way of the prosecutor himself.
By any normal measure, Kathleen Willey’s testimony should have buried Bill Clinton. Other stories could be discounted as gossip, self-interested leaks, distortion or outright fabrication, but Kathleen Willey told her story on national television.
In addition, Mrs. Willey’s story introduced a new and more serious accusation. Instead of consensual sex or a rejected proposition, as in the other cases, here we have a claim of an unexpected and unwelcome advance, a pawing, an assault.
Mrs. Willey also is a different sort of accuser. Gennifer and Paula have been dismissed as bimbos, Monica as a fantasizing child. Paula Jones’ case is tainted by the source of her funding, Monica Lewinski’s story by the illegal means of its recording and the prosecutorial abuse employed to intimidate her. Kathleen Willey is a mainstream complainant, middle-class and middle-aged. As one political figure put it, she’s someone the women in my part of the country can identify with.
Finally, simply adding one more accusation should have a cumulative effect; believing his denials becomes more difficult with each variation on the theme.
There is some indication of erosion of support. Feminist groups and Democratic women have made some tentative but menacing steps away from the President. However, polls indicate that this does not reflect a general trend.
Several polls taken a day or so after the broadcast showed Mr. Clinton’s approval rating unchanged. Substantial numbers believed Mrs. Willey, but more women than men demurred. All of this may evaporate, but it is striking, even as a temporary reaction.
The recent polls echo earlier ones in revealing that, though people support Mr. Clinton now, they might well abandon him if it is established that he lied, especially if he asked others to lie. This seems to reflect both a statement that private sexual behavior is less important than public veracity and an ability to suspend judgment, both of which editorialists could do well to emulate.
The awful events in Jonesboro, Ark. have prompted the usual quest for answers. One columnist wondered rhetorically whether severe punishment, not the usual protection of juveniles, was an answer, only to stumble over the report that one of the prisoners had cried himself to sleep asking for his mother. Opponents and defenders of gun possession are equally baffled by the circum-stances of the killings: all of the controls which gun-rights advocates have claimed are the answer to irresponsibility were unavailing; but what more can gun-control advocates expect short of confiscation?
The root problem is, as should be no surprise, the culture. In this case it has two aspects. One is deadly combination of the worship of the gun, the pseudo-macho, don't-look-the-wrong-way-at-me attitude, the loss of respect for the sanctity of life and the utter immorality of so much of contemporary society. The other is the cancellation of childhood. Somehow we have forgotten not only that innocence is, at least in tender years, a virtue, but that children are not ready, whatever one's philosophy, to act with mature, safe, responsible judgment. Only an idiot, or only a society determined to experiment with all forms of idiocy under the guise of freedom, would consider it acceptable or safe to encourage children to have the means of carrying childish fantasies into deadly action. When I was a child, these fantasies were worked out with toy soldiers. Whatever one may think of the ideas, they didn't, in that form, pose a threat. We were, knew ourselves to be, and were treated as children, no menace to anyone. That, however, involves setting limits, making value judgments and paying attention, none of which fits the current model.
Time had two pictures of the younger of the boys. On the cover, he was shown in fatigues, cradling a rifle. That's frightening enough. Inside was the truly appalling picture: a posed photo of Andrew Golden, aged perhaps four, dressed in a cowboy hat and a long coat, holding a shotgun. It was eerily reminiscent of the pictures of JonBenet Ramsey: a beautiful child, dressed up as an adult, striking a pose bizarrely, disgustingly, frighteningly inappropriate to the age. For JonBenet, it led to manipulation, vulnerability and danger, for Andrew to mad aggression.
Role-playing is unacceptable today because it implies limits. Rejection of role-playing is an absurd conceit in any context; civilization is impossible without it. To liberate children from the role of children is the most destructive form of this delusion and the one which most clearly illustrates the weakness and fatigue of our society.
When I lived alone, the refuge sometimes was a physical one, a place to go to get away from, or have the illusion of getting away from, the most recent affront to one's integrity. That's more awkward now; somehow "I'll be in the San Juans for a few days - my soul needs restoring" would seem a little silly. Also, I have needed fewer and shorter restorations since I was rescued from my self-enforced solitude by one whose soul dwarfs mine on its best days.
Now, soothing my bruised feelings - I think that's all that it really comes down to - is accomplished mainly by a brief application of entertainment, by audio or video. This shows how shallow I've become. If I had any depth, I'd read the Bible or Shakespeare or Plato in Greek.
The Times' comments expressed hostility not only toward the claim of privilege but also toward the President’s response to the Lewinski mess and toward his personal behavior. The tone may reflect the attitude of the editorial page editor, one of feminist-moralist disapproval of Mr. Clinton, or it may be part of a retreat from the liberal stance of the editorial page of recent years.
As to the former, the Times and editor Mindy Cameron have been consistent. In January, 1994, Ms. Cameron said, in response to the stories in the American Spectator about Clinton’s alleged amorous adventures, that the "doubts which linger with so many of us will seriously undermine any future moral pronouncements by Clinton." On May 9, 1994, commenting on the filing of the Paula Jones suit, the Times declared that consistency requires that people who believed the accusations against Clarence Thomas, Robert Packwood and others not ignore the Jones complaint. A few days before the recent house column, Ms. Cameron, staking out a feminist position, criticized Gloria Steinem’s more forgiving attitude toward Mr. Clinton's behavior.
However, the issue isn’t consistency in moral judgment, nor is it Mr. Clinton’s morals. There is reason to wonder whether he has demeaned the office, but the immediate question is whether it is to be weakened. Subjecting the Secret Service to questioning about the President’s activities will destroy confidence and impair the protection the Service must provide; for that reason, the privilege should be recognized in all but the most extreme cases. The allegations here are so trivial, so beneath notice that it is absurd even to contemplate forcing testimony. If anyone but
Kenneth Starr were in charge of the investigation, the risk of creating such a dangerous precedent would not be considered.
Whether or not the recent editorial was influenced by a general rightward move, such a move is evident. There have been numerous mild indications of a retreat from the rather doctrinaire, almost academic sort of liberalism which the Times adopted as its editorial stance a few years ago. A more emphatic example is found in a recent series of editorials on tax reform. In three columns, the Times advocated changes in the tax treatment of estates, capital gains and charitable contributions. Reexamination of these areas may be in order and the suggestions by the Times may be worth considering. However, they can't be evaluated in isolation, as the Times advocates. For example, an argument can be made for reduction of the estate tax, but only if combined with a meaningfully progressive income tax: a much better case can be made for allowing wealth to be passed without major dilution if its accumulation has been fairly taxed.
It is difficult not to suspect a yuppie aspect to the Times' recommendations; these editorials read like the product of people who have just noticed their advancement to another tier in the economic order. Having got theirs, they are determined not to let nasty government take any of it and give it away: "[T]he socialist doctrine of redistributing a set pie of wealth has been relegated to history's dust bin. Someday, the capital-gains tax may join it." Even Steve Forbes is subtler.
A column by Mark Shields in today's P-I laments the lack of leadership on liberal issues: "...President Clinton is incapable of summoning us to personal sacrifice or even inconvenience for any greater, common good." Among the potential subjects for such a call is
the ever-swelling and indefensible income gap between the lucky few and everybody else in America. The fact that, since 1979, average executive salaries in constant dollars have gone up by 330 percent while workers' wages have fallen by 9 percent ought to be unacceptable to liberals.
Shields thinks that conditions are such that a liberal program could succeed with leadership. I wonder. The Seattle Times has been a political weathervane and it certainly isn't pointing toward personal sacrifice.
Kevin Phillips has written as much as anyone about the widening gap in income and wealth. The Politics of Rich and Poor and The Boiling Point described the development and the role of government in allowing or encouraging it. His most recent book, Arrogant Capital, builds in part on their economic themes, but more on their mildly populist attitude, in proposing solutions to what he thinks ails America. Unfortunately, his solutions not only are several steps beyond
anything Mr. Shields might dream of in terms of boldness, they are addressed in large part to subjects other than income distribution, as to which the virtue of his arguments isn’t as obvious. Some of the solutions are so strange that they appear to be offered mostly for shock value.
Arrogant Capital was published in 1994. Although I bought it not long after it came out, I finished it only this week, having abandoned it half-way through as a waste of time. Both in style and substance, it reads more like a Perot campaign tract than a serious work of political science, adopting Perot’s pseudo-populist stance and his tendency toward simplistic solutions. The title’s play on words aptly expresses the author’s disdain for Wall Street and for Washington. All of this is displayed in the framework of supposed fin-de-siècle parallels: late twentieth century America v. Britain in the late nineteenth, Holland in the late seventeenth and Spain in the late sixteenth.
Phillips’ best argument, lost in an unsorted mass of dubious prescriptions, is the obvious one that the very wealthy should pay more in taxes than they do. Phillips wants to raise the tax rate on the largest incomes, but (at least in one of his proposals) he wants to draw the line below the top bracket at a much higher level than we have done recently. He points out that, although physicians or business executives making $300,000 to $400,000 per year are in the upper one percent of incomes, there is a huge difference between them and people making multiple
millions. He thinks that the distinction must be made as a matter of equity and seems to imply that a high rate would be easier to enact if it applied only to the very few very rich. The former may be true, although his solicitude for the upper middle-class at times seems overdone. The latter also may be true, as it would eliminate the basis for the usual Republican argument that Democrats think anyone earning a decent wage is wealthy. However, the smaller the upper bracket becomes, the more obviously targeted it is and, logically or not, a fairness issue might emerge. On balance, though, I think that Phillips is on the right track here.
However, proponents seem to be afraid to put that choice to the voters. Advertisements urging approval reportedly have been made bland and upbeat, rejecting pictures suggesting the alternative. I hope that the decision-makers have a better insight into the mind of the people than I do: it seems to me that their approach allows voters to think that this is only one choice among many, that they can reject this proposal and expect a better package from another round of talks.
Such a conclusion is more likely to be drawn in the North, where Protestants believe that they have the most to lose and that, in fact, they are losers under the agreement. Die-hard unionists have reason to feel that the plan favors the republicans: Sinn Fein, to them no more that the IRA in suits, will be recognized; terrorists will be treated as political prisoners and released; Eire will be given some influence in the affairs of Ulster. Maybe negotiations would resume after a negative vote, but it is more likely that the killing would. Protestant skeptics need to understand that the opponents have nothing to offer. The opponents' position was aptly described in a recent news report: they’ll refuse any proposal which Sinn Fein finds acceptable; in other words there will be no negotiated solution. However, if they’re counting on Britain for support and protection, they need to pay more attention; the Brits are leaving.
In addition to simply hating each other because of religion, ethnic origin or history, the combatants in Northern Ireland have been fighting over sovereignty: will the Republic or Britain rule? The Republic and Sinn Fein have had the sense to recognize, or at least to state, that there will be no reunification without the consent of the majority in Ulster. Unionists have yet to grasp that British rule no longer is a long-term possibility. If they refuse to accept that and to act accordingly, they may find that life after the British withdrawal may be much the same in Ulster as in Palestine.
There was extensive coverage of the agreement in both papers, more so in the Telegraph, which is not surprising as the outcome will have far more impact in Ulster. In the Republic, there seems to be a good deal of apathy, and attention is divided between this referendum and one concerning the European Union.
The only serious issue in the Republic is whether the Constitution should be amended to eliminate the claim to sovereignty over the northern counties. To the irreconcilables in the IRA, this is surrender, ratification of British oppression, abandonment of part of the homeland, a part which is of special symbolic importance. To most, though, it appears to be a recognition of the facts: Ulster may have been the most Irish part of Ireland, but that was almost four centuries ago.
There was a forceful expression of this realism in a column by Garret FitzGerald in the Times.
That the violence of the past 30 years has set back the prospect of Irish unity is self-evident. I could not with any seriousness today write the kind of book that I published 26 years ago - Towards a New Ireland - addressing in practical terms, as a serious, albeit not immediate, possibility, the emergence of a federal Ireland. And if I did, in contrast to 1972, no one now would take it seriously.
Coverage of the Agreement, in both content and tone, was generally positive in the Telegraph. The lead article on page one reported a meeting between representatives of the Orange Order and the Prime Minister. The P.M. is, of course, for approval, so his comments were upbeat. One Orange Order official was quoted as saying, "There are many Orangemen who are open to be persuaded to vote Yes." He went on to express concern about one of the major issues, the proposed release of prisoners, but then added: It's a great opportunity for peace. Let's see that people's fears are allayed so that they can vote Yes.
Also on page one, there was a report of a campaign by the Ulster Union for a vote of approval. David Trimble described the opposition arguments as "neither credible or achievable," and added, "With the union safe in our hands, we must look with confidence to the future." The latter comment illustrates another irony: those in favor of the agreement on both sides profess to see it as an aid to their aims: preservation of the union for one side, reunification for the other. Dissidents see the opposite: for the Protestants a threat to union, for the Catholics surrender in the battle for a united republic.
Inside, the Telegraph carried an article in which former Prime Minister Major expressed his strong support and two extended question-and-answer pieces in the first of which Mr. Blair did the same. The other was a series of questions from readers with objective and technical answers by a professor at Queen's University. The opposition point of view was reflected in a few comments in the various articles, but mostly in some of the letters to the editor and in one article about a father and son, both local government officials, who hold differnt views on the referendum. Surprisingly, it is the younger man who is in opposition. His comment is revealing,
although I would have expected it from the older generation:
In my head, I do realize that this is probably the best deal we could get and, in five years time, there may well be even less crumbs on the table.
But in my heart, I find that I cannot accept it, and I think that is the case for most unionists, and my father would see that too.
To the Ulster Unionists, it represents a formal withdrawal, by Dublin, of the territorial claim in its constitution and an acceptance of the principle of consent. To republicans, it offers a chance of moving from a military campaign for Irish unity, now suspended, to a political campaign. To everyone, it provides an opportunity for Northern Ireland to regain some control over its own affairs, allowing for some trust to grow between the unionist and nationalist communities.
The Times referred to "British and Irish officials" who thought the appearance of the prisoners would help win over reluctant delegates. At the time, it was justified as an indication that even these IRA warriors were for the agreement & for peace. Whatever the motivation, it was a stupid, insensitive move, a blunder as Gerry Adams is quoted as admitting.
The latest Belfast Telegraph available, of May 14, made some reference to the episode in its page-one article and it was denounced in two editorials. However, the house editorial again announced support for the agreement and there were articles in favor by representatives of labour and the Women's Coalition. All but one of the letters to the editor were critical responses to an article expressing opposition.
The other was signed "Victim's Brother" and began with a statement that the author's brother, a member of the RUC, was killed by an IRA terrorist. He went on to express disgust at the spectacle at the Sinn Fein convention. His conclusion seemed obvious. However, he went on to heap scorn on those, like Ian Paisley, who used his brother's death for propaganda. More or less as a plague on both houses, and in the hope of peace, he will vote yes:
To Mr Paisley, Mr Smyth, Mr Robinson and all the other pro-union "grave dancers" who would prefer I voted No so that they could continue their, petty, blinkered, devisive politics for another 30 years, my answer to you is no. I will be voting Yes.
To Mr Adams and Mr McGuinnis and all the other republican "grave dancers" who probably would prefer I voted No so that they could have an excuse to get off the sharp hook of democratic politics, my answer to you is no. I will be voting Yes.
I will bury my pain and my hatred. I will vote Yes on Friday May 22 and hopefully help to provide the young people of Northern Ireland with a chance to live in peace so that they don't have to bury their loved ones.
reported; it was. After the wife had a few minutes to demonstrate that she was abused and that she had neither pride nor dignity, the other woman was announced. At this point the adversarial relationship promised in the title was fulfilled, as the two launched into a punching, kicking, hairpulling fight from which they were separated, after a suitably exploitational interval, by the stage crew. They then were plumped down in chairs separated by half the width of the stage from which they abused each other in language requiring constant bleeping. (Interesting that the show maintains only that standard among all others). The man in question was to appear later, possibly leading to more fights, but at that point I had seen all that I could tomach.
I find it somewhat puzzling that anyone would make a career of presenting this sort of garbage, but no doubt there’s money in it and everyone has a price. It is even more astounding that, assuming these confrontations not to be entirely phony, people can be found in sufficient numbers to debase themselves for our entertainment. The most disgusting element, though, is the audience. The more violent or humiliating the show became the more raucously enthusiastic they were. These are people who, given half the chance, would attend public hangings.
An article in the New York Times today reinforced my impression that the tobacco lobby is out of touch. The campaign theme for this year is experience. Incumbency is no longer disqualifying, knowledge of the workings of government no longer suspect, indicating that railing against government may not do the job. However, campaign-finance reform also is dead, so Tobacco can fall back on good old vote-buying.
James Vesley, having demonstrated in his initial column several years ago that he was somewhat to the right of dominant thought in Seattle, has been relegated to writing about life on the Eastside. There are those who would consider the last phrase to be an oxymoron. Mr. Vesley apparently runs into this opinion; in today’s column he quoted someone referring derisively to the type of people who move there, an unnecessarily offensive reflection on our backward political, social and cultural condition. This attitude is unenlightened in varying degrees - as to politics a rejoinder takes some imagination - but pervasive. When we moved to Bellevue, one
of my colleagues lamented that we never would go to the theater, as if gates closed at the east end of the bridges at 6:30 p.m.
Charles Krauthammer devoted his column to asking for sympathy for the dire financial condition of physicians, another fairly hard sale. One of his proposals was to permit doctors to charge for telephone advice. That seems reasonable enough, and perhaps it would make one’s call to his doctor somewhat less like asking for an audience with the Pope.
Two of the letters to the editor rounded out the picture. One attacked a column which gushed over a Democrat running for Congress in the Eighth District, emphasizing that the candidate is a "gun foe." "As a citizen," the letter-writer said, he "cannot tolerate her diverting attention away from the crisis we all face - namely, deliberate murder, particularly teenage murder...." His solution to teenage murder is abandonment of "the shopworn tactic to deny citizens ownership of firearms...." This is hardly an original view, except for his comment that the shopworn tactic was repudiated by the voters in the defeat of Initiative 676; we'll hear more of that refrain. His letter must have been prompted by general disdain for any comments favorable to gun control; surely he can’t be worried that a Democrat might be elected from the 8th.
It has been said that the last remaining Marxists are found on American faculties. If so, the writer of the other letter has escaped (or has chosen not to so identify herself). In responding to a column about developments in China, she gave us a primer on communism: Marxism is not "rigid, insensitive economics," but "the theory of egalitarian sharing of socially created wealth...." Leninism is merely putting that ideology into practice, not a repressive one-party political system. Lenin was forced to adopt defensive measures, such as the one-party system, because of attacks by the capitalists. He looked forward to abandoning the one-party system as soon as possible. The repressive police state that developed was a creation not of Lenin but of capitalist antagonism and the Stalinist bureaucracy, which had to wipe out an entire generation of revolutionary leaders to come to power. The collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s movement toward capitalism are the result of the impossibility of competing on an uneven playing field dominated by hostile capitalist giants. Since Communism can’t survive such competition, we should have international socialism. Except for the last point, a rather pathetic retreat from the
old view of communism’s inevitable triumph, this is really quaint.
However, his focus was not on inevitable indirect effects but on direct assault. Heaping scorn on Kenneth Starr and comparing his obsession with destroying the President to Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick, he said, Captain Ahab versus the American Presidency: if Mr. Starr’s quenchless feud continues, he may well do permanent damage to the American system of government.
I have to confess that, in 1973 when The Imperial Presidency was published, I was more interested in seeing President Nixon impeached than in preserving the institution, and regarded warnings on that score as merely another installment in the coverup, so my opinion of Mr. Starr’s actions may carry with it some measure of inconsistency. Dr. Schlesinger has better credentials: even as the sordid details of Watergate were emerging, he cautioned against going too far. In the foreword to The Imperial Presidency he said,
This book is written out of a double concern. The first concern is that the pivotal institution of American government, the Presidency, has got out of control and badly needs new definition and restraint. The second concern is that revulsion against inordinate theories of presidential power may produce an inordinate swing against the presidency and thereby do essential damage to our national capacity to handle the problems of the future.
This is not to say that an independent counsel never should pursue the president; The Imperial Presidency included this comment: "If the Special Prosecutor established incriminating facts, these could serve as the basis for impeachment.
Dr. Schlesinger’s focus in his Times column was the Lewinski mess, which he considers to be unimportant: it involves Mr. Clinton’s private life, whereas Watergate included Presidential sanction of burglary, wiretapping, political dirty tricks, forgery, hush money, perjury and obstruction of justice. He wondered why there is such indignation over Clinton’s false statements, noting that President Reagan never was punished for untruths about Iran-Contra: Mr. Reagan’s falsehoods had to do with his official duties and were a gross dereliction of his executive responsibility.
Mr. Starr’s defenders tell us that the issue is not Mr. Clinton’s private life but his alleged false statements about it, one under oath, and his alleged involvement in Ms. Lewinski’s alleged false statement under oath. Dr. Schlesinger treated this with contempt: If Mr. Clinton is not being truthful, his deceptions have to do with his sex life, a type of lie which many Americans consider to be only a venial sin.
You lie to protect yourself, your spouse, your lover, your children. Gentlemen always lie about their sex lives. Only a cad will tell the truth about his sexual affairs. Many people seem to feel that questions no one has a right to ask do not call for truthful answers.
Assuming any of the case to be proved, arguably we would be faced with perjury and obstruction, presenting an apparent resemblance to Watergate. However, leaving aside the nature and seriousness of the underlying events as well as the dismissal of the Jones action, there remains a major distinction. In Watergate the Special Prosecutors started with known crimes, including the burglaries of the Democratic- Party and Fielding offices, and followed a trail that led to the White House. In the present case, Mr. Starr inherited an investigation of the Whitewater project which, so far as anyone can tell, has not led to the President, and other matters clearly involving the White House but which seem to have been equally unproductive. By the beginning of 1998, he had a target but no weapon. Enter Linda Tripp. Her story suggested that Mr. Clinton or someone on his behalf might have induced Ms. Lewinski to give a false affidavit, but that was not enough. Ms. Tripp, after being interviewed by Mr. Starr's forces, provided information to Paula Jones’ attorneys which enabled them to ask about Mr. Clinton’s relationship to Ms. Lewinski. This created the basis for the claim that he lied under oath, thus giving Mr. Starr something to prosecute. This may not qualify as entrapment, but it is the moral
equivalent, the manufacture of an offense.
In the New York Times a few days ago, Elizabeth Holzman suggested another aspect of crime-creation in the investigation of the president. Her theory is that the demand that he testify for the grand jury, a demand he cannot finesse as an ordinary citizen could, is setting him up to commit perjury. His only apparent way around that would be to confess to earlier perjury. This, of course, assumes that he has not told the entire truth about his relationship with Monica, something few people are any longer prepared to doubt. I think that her point is valid: an offense will be created by the investigation; it no longer seems relevant that the investigation was designed to determine if a crime had been committed before it began.
In today's Times, a column by a Midwestern editor reported that people are weary of the mess; they long ago chose sides about Bill Clinton.
That is why the Lewinski matter has seemed to change so few minds. People on both sides see the sex scandal as a ploy to drive our elected president from office. The only difference of opinion is over whether that is a good or bad thing.
Mr. Starr finally has been asked to justify his incessant babbling to the media about supposedly confidential matters. Judge Johnson has required him to show cause why he should not be held in contempt, as to which one only can say better late than never. The demand for an explanation came from the President's counsel, perhaps one not fully qualified to cast the first stone, but probably no one else would have had the incentive or standing to raise the issue.
Mr. Starr has offered the - from anyone else - incredible explanation that his forces were not leaking, but using reporters as a source of information. Even he should be able to distinguish between talking and listening.
The case against Mr. Starr is based in no small part on an interview he gave to Steven Brill in which he candidly admitted that he and his chief deputy had briefed the press repeatedly, although never for direct attribution; hence the unending stream of references to knowledgeable legal sources. In the interview he offered this excuse, startling in its implications: leaks would be
unethical except...where what we were doing is countering misinformation
that is being spread about our investigation in order to discredit our office and our dedicated career prosecutors.... I think it is our obligation to counter that kind of misinformation.... We have a duty to promote confidence in
the work of this office.
This of course is really only a milder manifestation of the sense of mission which led Starr to summon White House aides to the grand jury to grill them about their conversations with reporters. If Starr talks to the media, it's promoting confidence in his office. If the suspect or his friends do, it's undermining that confidence. Because confidence in his office is the ultimate good, the legal and ethical violations inherent in his leaks and the abuse of power in punishing others’ are justified: a convenient world view.
One version which has circulated for the past couple of days is that Mr. Clinton can admit to whatever he did with Ms. Lewinski without risking a perjury charge because the definition of sexual relations approved by Judge Wright for use at his deposition is narrow enough that he may not have engaged in any of the listed acts. This would be a perfectly Clinonesque answer, on the level of yes, I smoked pot but I didn't inhale or yes, I had sex with Gennifer Flowers but only once. Not only is the man not a saint, he's pathetic as a sinner.
...As you know, at a deposition in January, I was asked about my relationship with that woman, Monica Lewinski. My answers were legally accurate when I said that I never had sexual relations with her. "Sexual relations," as you probably know, is a technical term that often causes undue confusion. Under the legal definition of sexual relations that I was using at the time, I was not having sexual relations with her, though it turned out that she was having sexual relations with me. So while there was an inappropriate relationship that one might describe as sexual, she was involved in it, but I wasn't....1
... I must admit that it constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible. It would be wrong to lay the blame on others. However, it is clearly all Ken Starr's fault....***
...Now that I have cleared everything up, it's important for all of you to rally behind me and turn your eyes from the spectacle Monica Lewinski and Ken Starr have made of themselves for seven months....
1. 10/30/01: The evasion that drew the most derisive comment was Clinton's answer to a question by Starr, "It depends on what your definition of 'is' is." However, Mr. Clinton could cite precedent: Aristotle's Physics rejects a conundrum posed by Parmenides by observing that "His assumption that 'is' is used in a single way only is false, because it is used in several." Complete Works of Aristotle, Quoted in Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason. (The translation of that sentence in The Great Books is different, but give Bill a break).
11/16/01: The Oxford Companion to Philosophy tells us that, according to Bertrand Russell, common speech "confuses, in the word 'is,' existential quanitfication ...identity... and predication...." So there, Ken.
We have a primary election next Tuesday. No one has mentioned Clinton or that woman, although Rick White, in telling us that he wanted to discuss a scandal in Washington (misuse of Social Security funds), did manage to say no, not that one. It's surprising that no Republican filed in the 7th District. To be sure, it's a Democratic stronghold, but if the Clinton scandal really is such a millstone, a Republican might have has a chance, especially since Rep. McDermott still is battling his own scandal.
The only interesting partisan primary race is between Chris Bailey and Rep. Linda Smith for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat occupied by Patty Murray. Bailey was given little chance early on, but his ads attacking Ms. Smith's somewhat quirky record seem to have had effect and the Seattle Times has endorsed him.
The other spirited primaries, although they haven't yet descended to TV ads, are in several of the judicial races. Every two years we are treated to another and still more depressing illustration of why judges should be appointed.
It is difficult to find anything in Mr. Clinton's behavior in this affair which does not engender feelings of dismay, disdain or disgust. Perhaps outrage is warranted; even those who have no use for his attackers or the process have expressed that emotion. The fact that neither the Jones deposition nor the Starr investigation of the Lewinski affair should have been allowed doesn’t excuse or eradicate Mr. Clinton’s misconduct. However, there is something false about the righteous editorials and speeches in Congress.
Most of the adverse comment and even much of that which is more tolerant is marked by great impatience with the tendency of Mr. Clinton and his lawyers to offer technical excuses. Up to a point, this is understandable: there is a natural desire to get to the heart of the matter, and quibbles over semantics don't do that. However the notion that Mr. Clinton shouldn't offer technical defenses is a little strange, given that he is faced with the equivalent of a criminal prosecution and that some of the offenses are claimed to be statutory crimes. This criticism is no more than a variation on the line that Mr. Starr has been peddling all along: any defense is a new crime.
One of the most prevalent -and to me one of the oddest- features is the relationship with Mr. Clinton which many of the hostile editorials imply. These commentators have such a personal, intimate connection to our President that his behavior elicits feelings of betrayal. My relationship to him or to any elected official is somewhat more distant, and I think that most people share that view. This may explain in part the gulf between the elite and popular reactions. There may be those who can claim betrayal in the sense of having been misled into providing a defense; this seems to be the motivation behind some of the announcements of moral superiority by Democratic members of Congress. However, the one person with a true claim to betrayal hasn’t made it, and has been rewarded with criticism for failing to do so.
Even many supporters see a need for punishment because of what he's put us through. What is that, exactly? The worst event for most of us during the past few months was the fall in the Dow and even that has rebounded a bit which, assuming any rationality in the behavior of traders, signals the financial world's preference to leave well enough alone.
Surprisingly little attention is being paid to the fact that all of the charges are created offenses, made to measure by the Independent Counsel. The initial reaction to the release of Ms. Lewinski's testimony, which shows how Starr distorted it in his report, has refocused attention on his abuses, and eventually someone may wonder whether the Founders had entrapment in mind as a basis for impeachment.
Anthony Lewis described all this as "the illegitimate process that has come to a hysterical climax in Washington this week: a prosecutor breaking the rules to destroy the President, a television corps acting as the prosecutor's chorus, partisan Republicans in Congress making a mockery of the notion that conservatives respect institutions." There does seem to be an element of hysteria in the overreaction, the anguish, the demands for public confession. Critics of the process see parallels in medieval witch hunts or in the Inquisition; one, detecting a religious element in the attacks, described them as sanctimonious. However, the driving force doesn't seem to me to be a demand for punishment for sin so much as the Drudge-Springer syndrome: there are no private matters; all is grist for the journalistic mill; public humiliation is the test of whether we have been sufficiently thorough.
The most appropriate penalty to assess against Mr. Clinton would be to refuse to vote for him next time. The demands for resignation are expressions of frustration that he can’t run again: if we can’t reject him in the next election, let’s undo the last.
It is entirely possible that I simply am missing something, that Clinton's offenses are as serious as they say; perhaps my moral sense has atrophied or perhaps my dislike for Mr. Starr and his methods causes me to reject his case, to confuse the messenger with the message. That may be so, but I still think that this outpouring of indignation is peculiar, especially since many of the specific complaints - that Clinton has undermined the rule of law, that he's corrupted public morals, that he's exposed youngsters to concepts heretofore unfamiliar to them - range from the dubious to the ludicrous. What has led to the overwrought tone of he editorials?
It can't be that Mr. Clinton has done something completely unexpected, that we're disappointed in someone we thought was much better. His libido and his evasions have been on display all along. Perhaps it's the opposite, a feeling that he's been given enough chances, that we've overlooked his lack of character too long. He's made fools of us and we're embarrassed.
Part of it may be reaction at an invited level. He always was a smarmy operator, feeling our pain, wearing his heart on his sleeve. An exaggeratedly emotional response - outrage, anguish, feelings of betrayal - may be poetic justice.
Doonesbury summed up the Starr investigation perfectly. A reporter asks, "Judge Starr, if you had nothing on Clinton after three years, why was your office even open when the Lewinsky affair surfaced?" Starr: "Well, my staff and I knew from the very beginning that Clinton should be impeached... But for the first three years, we didn't know why. We couldn't fugure our what he had done." Reporter: "But that's because he hadn't done it yet!" Starr: "Who knew? Hindsight is 20-20."
The same thinking may lie behind the editorial conclusions that the Lewinski affair is an impeachable offense: it's not really that bad, but he's guilty of so much and here's one we can prove.
The Repository endorsed Mr. Clinton in 1992 and renewed its endorsement in 1996 despite misgivings about "the character issue." "I'm frightened," one of the editors is quoted as having said in October, 1996, "that we will be embarrassed as a newspaper if we endorse Clinton and have a huge scandal break out." One did. The editors were disgusted by the Lewinski affair and the fact that it had become "part of a national discourse." When the Starr report was released, the editor said, they were appalled. "Our patience broke. I read excerpts....It put us over the edge." The same day, September 11, the paper ran an editorial calling for resignation.
The Report has stylistic peculiarities which make one wonder whether it was proofread. For example, a list of players at the front is presented in an all-cap, comma-free format, leading to entries such as "Andrew Bleiler Former Boyfriend of Monica Lewinski." Does she have a boyfriend named Andy Former or a former boyfriend named Andy Bleiler? Some quotes are set off by quotation marks or indented, but other material which apparently is quoted is not. Facts are cited which seem to have nothing to do with the charge being discussed.
The main body of the Report, which argues that certain acts are the stuff of impeachment, appears to have been drafted by committee. It has eleven sections or counts; each is organized differently than the others. Some of the counts which involve multiple charges number them; others do not. One count uses one numbering scheme, the next uses another. Different parts of the same count use different schemes. The first count, perhaps the most crucial, describes two of its five charges differently in the preamble than in the summary and does not present them in the same order.
None of this determines whether the charges have merit, but it reflects a level of disorganization and haste which would make me cautious if I were a member of the Congressional prosecution.
As I read them, the eleven counts contain twenty-seven separate charges, but ten people probably would come up with six totals due to the ambiguity of the presentation. I've read Count XI three times and have decided that there are one, three and five charges. It is, in any event, an absurd claim and the hint that it may be jettisoned hardly is surprising.
I attempted to evaluate whether the charges are supported. At this point, I haven’t yet read any of the separately published evidence, so I had to make two basic assumptions: the Report fairly describes the evidence (i.e., it doesn’t misstate it, doesn’t select only the useful data, doesn't overlook something critical) and Monica Lewinski is a credible witness. Within that framework, my tally is that out of twenty-seven charges, six are supported, one cannot be evaluated because not enough information is given, one is too close to call and nineteen should be discarded before reaching stage two. This doesn't mean that the six can be proved; it means only that, in the statutory language which the Report uses as a talisman, there is substantial and credible information to support them. Whether any of them deserves to be discussed as a ground for impeachment is still another matter.
There are several recurrent tendencies in the presentation of the charges. One is a willingness to invoke the letter of the law or other authority when it suits, and to ignore it otherwise. The first count is an example. This contains the bedrock allegation that Clinton lied in his Jones deposition and adds an allegation about answers to interrogatories. A definition of sexual relations was adopted by the court for use at the deposition. One of the five charges in Count I relies on that definition in finding that Clinton lied. The basis for that charge is that, although Clinton denied
that any of the acts included in the definition occurred, Ms. Lewinski testified otherwise; this is substantial evidence. However, another charge is based on arguing with the definition, in effect complaining that it gave Clinton wiggle room. It did, and it doesn't engender confidence in this Report to base an impeachment count on the fact that the prosecutors are unhappy about that. The other three charges are quarrels with Clinton's interpretation of terms which were not defined. The prosecutors may think that his interpretations are dubious, but the charge here is
perjury, an offense which cannot be based on quarrels over definitions. The rationale for these three charges is no more than an argument that Clinton should have confessed - told the entire truth, if you prefer. This is a legitimate ethical argument but not ground for impeachment.
This belief that Clinton is impeachable because he did not confess runs through the entire Report. It is found in the assertion that there is an impeachable offense in declining invitations to testify before the grand jury, in invoking privilege. The hubris which characterized Mr. Starr’s investigation was not set aside when he sat down to compose.
Many of the arguments are, in one way or another, unpersuasive; some are simply plucked out of the air. For example, in Count V, it is contended that
President Clinton endeavored to obstruct justice by engaging in a pattern of activity to conceal evidence...from the judicial process in the Jones case. The pattern included:... concealment of a note sent by Ms. Lewinski....
Even as to charges which are supported, the prosecutors can't resist adding "grounds" which are simply arguments. An example is the second charge under Count II, that Clinton lied to the grand jury about the details of the relationship. This is a rerun in a different venue of the charge pertaining to the deposition. After listing four factual reasons for believing Ms. Lewinski on this issue, the prosecutors add three more, one of which is that Clinton had a motive to lie. In their view, that motive equates to proof of an act. I think that this charge is supported, but overkill
justifies skepticism as to any which are more marginal.
A list of fifteen charges proposed by the chief counsel was published on October 6. It appears to include the first ten counts of the Starr report or, in some cases, parts of them, and to restate some of their facts as different offenses. It adds charges of conspiracy and misprision of felony, but the new charges appear to be nothing more than reinterpretations of the Starr material. However, if the committee doesn't engage in independent fact-gathering it will not be surprising. Congress' record in that regard is not impressive and there is a precedent as to impeachment: the proceedings concerning President Nixon were criticized at the time as being a compilation, not an investigation.
When I read the Starr Report the first time I skipped the footnotes. There are 1,660 of them1 and, for various reasons, many are obscure to the casual reader. Some refer to interviews of Ms. Lewinski not contained in "The Starr Evidence," which includes several interviews and claims to contain "Complete Testimony from...Monica Lewinski...." Nevertheless, reading the footnotes is enlightening.
Some are comments on or expansions of discussions in the text and have the same character: partisan, exaggerated, illogical. The most ludicrous example is, not surprisingly, part of Count XI. In support of a contention that the President failed to faithfully execute the laws by stating on TV that he didn't have a relationship with Ms. Lewinski, the prosecutors speculate that "several aspects of the relationship could have raised public concerns." One of them is this:
Third, in late 1997, the President saw to it that Ms. Lewinski received extraordinary job assistance. Such assistance might have been tied to her involvement in the Jones case, as discussed earlier, as well as a benefit to an ex- paramour....
This possibility prompts the prosecutors to outdo themselves: If the latter was a factor, then the President's actions discriminated against all of those interns and employees who did not receive the same benefit. The President failed to faithfully execute the laws by covering up the fact that he was discriminating in favor of an ex-paramour. The people, had they but known, would have been outraged that he wasn't offering job-hunting assistance to non-paramours. What category of discrimination does this fall into? Perhaps reverse sexual harassment? It's surprising that there's no charge that he violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by having Monica perform services on weekends without paying her overtime.
The footnotes also are blatantly salacious. Some commentators accused Starr of including unnecessary detail about sex in the Report. I was prepared to give him a pass on that issue after reading only the text; there was more about sex than was absolutely necessary, but it wasn't irrelevant as Clinton had denied having sexual relations with Ms. Lewinski. The footnotes are another matter; they go into details which are completely immaterial and which have been included solely for prejudicial effect. They reveal to us things that we did not need to know about Bill and Monica, but also reveal something about the Independent Counsel. If I were a member of Congress, I’d be more ashamed to consort with him than with the defendant.
1. 7/3/00: There are 1,692; I didn't count the 32 footnotes to the Introduction.
Last night's Seattle Times informed us (via the Washington Post) that one Dolly Kyle Browning has filed suit against Mr. Clinton.
Browning, a friend of Clinton's from high school, contends that Clinton defamed her by denying her public contention that they once had a sexual relationship. By casting doubt on her credibility, Browning and her lawyer, Larry Klayman of the conservative group Judicial Watch, contend that Clinton has hampered her efforts to publish a semi-fictional book about the affair she alleges....
Mr. Clinton's lawyer responded that the action should be dismissed as frivolous or stayed until he leaves office. Adding a perfect coda to this tale from beyond the looking glass, Mr. Klayman asserted that this shows "a lack of respect for the courts."
Another revealing feature of the Starr footnotes is the relatively small number of citations to Monica Lewinski's grand jury testimony. In many cases, including some of the most crucial, the authority offered is her deposition, her interviews by the prosecutors or her proffer.
The "deposition" is actually testimony for the grand jury under grand jury rules (no counsel for the witness present) but taken in private. The ostensible reason for this was to minimize her embarrassment, but the effect was to insulate the testimony from intrusion by the jury.
At least the deposition is available as a verbatim transcript. The interviews (at least those I've seen) are presented in the form of notes taken by the prosecutors. They are, at best, paraphrases of Ms. Lewinski's statements and in many cases it is not even clear whether the statements are hers. The proffer was written by her, but in her grand jury testimony she seemed unsure whether some of the statements in it were accurate.
Apparently because the deposition was planned in advance, the questioning at Ms. Lewinski's grand jury appearances was bland and for the most part pointless, almost as if the prosecutors were going through the motions for the jury. The most interesting exchange came on the second day when a juror asked about the interrogation on the day Linda Tripp delivered Monica into the hands of the Independent Counsel and the FBI. If anyone harbors any doubts about the police-state mentality of the OIC, he has only to read this passage.
A further oddity about Ms. Lewinski's testimony revealed by the footnotes is the prosecutors' doubt about her veracity. We are told that they were unwilling to make a deal based on the proffer unless Ms. Lewinski submitted to an interview, "which the OIC deemed essential because of her perjurious Jones affidavit, her attempts to persuade Linda Tripp to commit perjury, her assertion in a recorded conversation that she had been brought up to regard lying as necessary, and her forgery of a letter while in college." After the interview the prosecutors either decided that Ms. Lewinski was, despite all of the above, truthful or decided that they didn't care.
Let's be generous and assume the former. This requires adherence to the theory that one can tell whether a witness is telling the truth by watching her testify. Although not without foundation in fact, this is one of the more seductive myths of the law. Good lawyers and judges have been fooled countless times and I don't see any reason to assume that the OIC is immune. In addition, it's difficult to see how the interviews enhanced Ms. Lewinski's reputation for veracity as she told the prosecutors during one of them that she lied to Linda Tripp in January, 1998 about various aspects of her job search.
Last Tuesday night the resident pollster on CNN informed us that the election results, while reflecting an almost unprecedented defeat for the Republicans, were not a referendum on impeachment. He and the majority members of the Judiciary Committee appear to be alone in that belief. Newt Gingrich was made to walk the plank for concentrating so narrowly on impeachment that Republicans could not get their message out. The speaker-presumptive has made noises sounding like the call for retreat, as have others, and pundits have declared that it’s over. However, Hyde and Co. are pushing forward, doing their duty to the rule of law, unconcerned about political implications, unintimidated by the voters’ displeasure.
If there had been any sentiment on the Committee for a lesser punishment it was diminished by the testimony yesterday of experts on impeachment (are there such beings?) condemning half-measures such as censure as being inconsistent with the Constitution. Unless this advice is ignored -and I certainly would do so if I were Mr. Livingston- the Republicans face the unpleasant choice of backing down ignominiously or pushing ahead and facing the not inconsiderable risk of being reminded in 2000 that they were told in 1998 to desist. They might, of course, do such a good job at the public’s business over the next two years that they could have it both ways; given their political skills of late, it wouldn’t be a good bet.
The local election was no less interesting. Washington contributed two-fifths of the net gain for the Democrats in the House and the state delegation has a majority of Democrats again. Several of the ballot measures are significant in various ways, but from the standpoint of political dynamics the stunner was Initiative 200.
This measure, which will eliminate gender and race preferences in public employment, contracts and education, was opposed by every respectable opinion-maker in the state as well as some from outside. It was opposed by the present and three former governors, both Seattle papers, business groups, church groups - you name it. It was sponsored, at and times it seemed to be supported solely, by John Carlson who, until he was fired for too blatantly promoting the initiative on his program, shared KVI’s conservative talk-show lineup with Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved and Michael Reagan. Carlson is more of a target than a recommendation, so
that wouldn't seem to bode well. The opposition ran slick TV ads; the proponents ran only one, which was clumsy and unconvincing. The only hint of weakness -unless, of course, one read the polls - was in the last ad by the opponents, which in effect told voters to disregard what the initiative said and to accept their version of what it meant. This epitomized their campaign: the best people were telling ordinary folks how to think. The folks said no, thanks, by a margin of 58 to 42.
Whatever the merits of the initiative, the campaign is another example of the gap between elite opinion, suffused with a sense of righteousness, and the popular variety.
Today’s New York Times editorial page offers two interesting comments on the issue of censure as an alternative to impeachment, one by Senator Arlen Specter, the other in the house column. They are in accord that there must be some expression of disapproval of the President’s actions, but there they part company.
The Senator is of the opinion that impeachment hearings would be a distraction from important business and a waste of time given the unlikelihood of conviction. However he rejects the alternative of censure: it would be relatively meaningless even if accompanied by a negotiated fine, loss of pension and forfeiture of his license to practice law. Unless I’ve missed some proposal, he’s rejecting two penalties not under consideration. In any case, it’s fair to conclude that he would like to see Clinton impeached and won’t accept any outcome of lesser magnitude.1
He therefore proposes that impeachment be dropped, noting that Clinton could be prosecuted after leaving office. Of course, Congress can’t ensure that the latter will occur, so the point of his proposal seems to be that impeachment be dropped lest an acquittal in the Senate influence a criminal jury.
The Senator speculates that the prospect of prosecution might prompt Clinton to make a deal, resigning in exchange for a Congressionally approved plea bargain in which the President would promptly exit the White House with his liberty, his pension and our recommendation that he keep his law license. The proposal that someone allegedly guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice be allowed to practice law is a little odd, but apparently the only concern here is to restore purity to the government; the public can fend for itself. However, it’s only a recommendation, which any state could ignore, so it’s really window dressing.
Senator Specter claims to be drawing on his experience as a prosecutor in predicting that Mr. Clinton might well be sent to jail, but is this realistic? Public opinion, as measured by polls and the recent election lends little support to that assumption. He concedes that conviction in the Senate is unlikely, where the President is faced with a majority of political opponents and the standard of proof is whatever the senators choose to make it. Why then is a criminal conviction a probable outcome? As the Senator concedes, Mr. Clinton isn't likely to accept this offer.
The Times editorialists think that censure is an appropriate sanction, one that respects the political consensus against removing the President unless the evidence changes, and the high civic importance of rebuking him for his failure in his constitutional duty to uphold the law. They differ with the majority of the scholars who advised the Judiciary Committee that censure isn't sanctioned by the Constitution. Acknowledging that there is the danger of setting a precedent for Congressional meddling, the editors claim that there is a greater danger to the nation’s constitutional system if Congress gives the President a pass for his lying under oath and knowingly allowing others to testify falsely to protect him.
The Times has the right approach. There is a problem to be solved and the Constitution isn't that rigid - indeed not even explicit - on the point. In addition, as a censure is meaningless, where is the risk to the system? However, the practical need isn't that the President must be condemned, it’s that this farce must be brought to a close. If Congress can’t be redirected toward the business it was elected to conduct without first making a statement of principle - without, as the Times puts it, expressing its anger and disapproval - by all means let it do so.
1. Apparently I misinterpreted Senator Specter’s comments on this point: he voted not proved, which caused confusion among the Senate clerks, but finally was recorded as not guilty.
News reports today tell us that sentiment in the House is swinging toward impeachment. One stated reason is that moderates who might have voted "no" are angered by the evasive nature of Mr. Clinton's answers to the Committee's 81 questions. The same fate may befall the defense being offered to the Committee today and tomorrow by the President's lawyers.
Some of Mr. Clinton's answers were almost provocatively evasive, but I still find it strange that otherwise reasonable people expect him to confess while charges loom. The strangest comment along this line was from a California Republican Representative who criticized Clinton's "'it's not my fault' adolescent attitude" and then added, "There are a lot of us who are more outraged at the tactics than the charges themselves." Impeach because of evasion; impeach because of refusal to admit perjury. If this is the moderate line, I might prefer the moralistic conservative
approach. Probably Clinton should have declined to answer the Committee's questions - the first one was sufficiently silly to have given some cover - and perhaps should have passed the opportunity to present a defense, especially as there apparently is no intention to challenge the basic facts. Maybe there is a plan, but I have to confess that I don't see it and the White House seems to have squandered the advantage given by the election and the disarray in the Republican ranks.
Another possible reason for the change in mood is that Mr. Starr got high marks for his performance. No one other than conservative Republicans takes the substance of his presentation seriously, but apparently some of the public and perhaps some of the House expected Mr. Starr to have horns, so his low-key, professorial delivery was reassuring. We have here another triumph of lowered expectations, but the White House may have brought this on itself by its constant attacks on Starr's bullying methods, unethical manipulation of the media and prurient preoccupations. That one can appear scholarly and still have all those failings is too subtle a point to be grasped.
The snatches I've seen or heard of Starr's testimony and today's defense demonstrate, if there were any lingering doubt, that minds are made up and the hearings are a farce. A Republican Committee member asserted today that no one has challenged Monica Lewinski's credibility, overlooking the fact that Starr did so both in the report and in his testimony. In the latter, he said that Ms. Lewinski "was encouraging others to join her in committing perjury. She was, as the information came to us, a felon in the midst of committing another felony." "...Ms. Lewinski
made it quite clear that she knew how to lie. She was encouraging others to lie...." The former was in reference to the January "interview"; the latter seemed to be a more general observation.
It's clear now that the impeachment drive is, after all, just about sex or, to give it the most important possible cast, about lies about sex. It isn't about Whitewater, FBI files, Travel Office firings, Vince Foster and his files or campaign financing. It isn't even about Kathleen Willey, just Monica. It can't be about Presidents not telling the entire truth: we'd have impeached most of them, many on grounds relating to the office. Is it because poor dumb Bill allowed himself to be put under oath? Maybe, but we keep hearing a lot about his deceiving the people in his famous televised denial. It comes down to this: should the House vote impeachment of a president
based on his not telling the truth as to the specific acts which took place in an admitted sexual dalliance? Is he fit to continue in office only if he says, "Yes, I fondled her breasts?" I look forward to having someone explain to me how that serves the public interest, how it enhances the power and authority of the United States to be revealed as a nation of fools.
It's always interesting to see what the media slant was on a controversial subject at an earlier time. If one does not have ready access to back issues of magazines, he only has to visit his physician: doctors' waiting rooms are a treasure trove of outdated opinion. Yesterday I could have tested my recollection of January's reactions to the Monica mess, but settled for reading Time from November 30.
What a difference two-plus weeks have made. Time then still offered the same conclusion as the post-election analysis had, that the only majority for impeachment was on the Judiciary Committee. The common wisdom now is that impeachment is certain, a conclusion buttressed by numerous reported conversions among moderate Republicans, and warnings are heard that conviction is not out of the question.
Time's report on the Starr visitation to the Judiciary committee evaluated his performance about as I did: prissy, pedantic, evasive and defensive. It regarded the standing ovation by the Republicans as evidence of their blind partisanship, which is accurate enough, but the swing of opinion to impeachment has demonstrated that the Committee is more representative of the House majority than many of us thought.