Clinton Saga Finally Takes a Serious Turn

Good thing the DNA took down the Danny Williams story. President Clinton’s approval ratings have gone up every time bad news comes out. If he had turned out to have a love child by a black whore, would they have reached 100 percent?

So Mr. Clinton’s Decency Patrollers (the ones who ask Ken Starr-Joe McCarthy–their voices shaking with shame and anger–”At long last, have you left no sense of decency ?”) can go back to promoting Larry Flynt. Those who wish to study the media food chain of the vast left-wing conspiracy need look no further than Hustler . Strange ally for the team that mocked Paula Jones as “trailer-park trash.”

Let us stipulate that both sides have trafficked in murk and muck. “There is not one that is righteous, no, not one.” But can we compare the traffickers? On one side, there is Matt Drudge, who does not double-source his rumors. On the other is Mr. Flynt, who once gave America a naked woman’s body churning through a meat grinder. In an acrid mood, I coined the term “fellatio feminists” to describe Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and all the other sisters who have been looking everywhere but belt level to identify the source of Mr. Clinton’s problems. Now, in the extended family of Clinton loyalists, they become Flynt feminists. Which cut would you like, ladies? Flank, or rump?

But this is to keep the matter on the President’s level, the level of arguing that the story is all “about sex,” when in fact the story is about all the derelictions of duty that sex, guilt and convenience have caused. Perjury and obstruction of justice made it into the articles of impeachment. Do the derelictions also include frivolous bombing runs?

Attentive critics may wonder why a supporter of the Gulf War should concern himself now with the sufferings of Iraqis. President Bush made the Highway of Death; President Clinton has inflicted the equivalent of a Dinkins-era homicide rate. But the purpose of war is not to kill foreigners, but to accomplish certain ends. The Gulf War accomplished less than it seemed to have done at the time: Saddam Hussein held on, though he was driven from Kuwait and internationally isolated. What ends were contemplated before the last bombing of Iraq? Scott Ritter, the former inspector for the United Nations Special Commission who months ago left his job in disgust, charged that snooping and threatening had become pointless exercises, so little was Saddam Hussein inconvenienced by them. If he was right, why bomb? If he was wrong, and periodic raids still hobble Iraq in the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, why did the last raid have to happen at the precise moment when it gave House Democrats a talking point in the impeachment debate? If five days later, or three months before, would have done just as well, then we face the possibility that our own weapons of fairly massive destruction are being driven by David Kendall. Let us be accurate: We face the possibility, not the certainty. But then the question becomes: Is the best thing that can be said about Bill Clinton that he may well be doing his duty?

But now that the trial in the Senate has begun, these questions have been taken out of all our yakking mouths, and put into a realm of seriousness. There was a moment of seriousness before the Senate trial, on Dec. 29, when the White House sent a bouquet to commemorate the birthday of President Andrew Johnson. Remembering Presidents’ birthdays does not mean that Bill Clinton, or any President, jots the 40-some birthdays in the “To Do” columns of his appointment book. But the machinery is in place, and the bouquets go out. So reporters went to wherever Andrew Johnson’s bouquet arrived–birthplace? deathbed?–and there on the plaque, the phrase describing him as the “only” President to have been impeached had been taped over–presumably, as a makeshift until the day when the plaque is unscrewed and redone, 10 or 20 years from now. That was a moment of seriousness.

The trial before the Senate is a realm. This has nothing to do with the senators themselves; everything to do with their peculiar role. A 212-year-old document, written by men who were better than any of them, says that under certain circumstances they must do certain things, and now, for only the second time, they are doing it to a President of the United States.

Some of the seriousness was manifest in the initial swearing in of the senators as jurors. It issued in part from the odd act of administering oaths (how appropriate for what is, in part, a perjury trial); in part, from the robe of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. (G.K. Chesterton wrote that men wear robes when serving as judges to borrow the primal authority of women.) Some seriousness was also imparted by the Old Senate Chamber, the room last used for day-to-day business in 1859, where the senators briefly caucused. That’s a resonant date. Politics goes on and politics goes on, and then sometimes something happens. Even if, incredibly, President Clinton were convicted, it would not be anywhere near as big a thing as the Civil War. But it would be something; so is trying him.

While serious things happen, politics continues. Wheelers will deal, self-love and self-interest will shake hands, pollsters will huddle the idle into the two-way mirrored interview rooms of focus groups. Hustler will continue. If there is a copulation by a Republican senator that the White House can sniff, and Larry Flynt pay for, we will read about it. And we will be reminded, as an extra little bit of self-vandalism, that the same DNA testing that cleared Bill Clinton caught Thomas Jefferson.

But the serious thing will also continue. At this point, it almost doesn’t matter how it ends. The standards for judging this event are imposed by the form, not by the actors. It is good, finally, to be here.