President’s Sycophants Are Blaming the Victim

But that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead. It is one of the all-time great heartless dismissals in all of literature (soon to be joined perhaps by “You ought to put some ice on that”). To be accurate, it’s a satire of heartless dismissal. Was it from Marlowe’s Jew of Malta ? No matter: That was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead.

No, Juanita Broaddrick is not dead, but she might as well be for Bill Clinton’s defenders. For the Friends of Bill like Lanny Davis, her story just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t give them pause. It was so long ago it might have been in another country. She might as well be dead for all they seem to care about whether or not she was raped by their friend our President. After all his other lies they don’t have time to look into this one. It’s “too late in the day.” It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to know the truth, so why care? It’s time to move on. We have scandal fatigue. Let’s talk about saving Social Security.

I don’t know whether it’s true. I hope it’s not. Nobody knows for sure except Juanita Broaddrick and Bill Clinton. But the Friends of Bill don’t know either. And the difference is that they just don’t seem to care. They don’t care enough to hesitate for a nanosecond before going on the talk shows and telling us it doesn’t really matter, it was all so long ago, it was in another country-and besides the wench is probably lying.

I think the time has come for the Friends of Bill like Lanny Davis to be held to account. Their Bill has come due. Three issues ago in these pages [Feb. 15], when the Juanita Broaddrick story was still being held by NBC, I suggested the Friends of Bill were making themselves hostages to fortune. That their disingenuous claims that their boy was being persecuted only for “consensual sex” ignored the more serious charges of nonconsensual sex from Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Jane Doe No. 5. I dislike Bill’s puritanical inquisitors as much as they do, but attacking them, attacking the charges of sexual harassment and rape as “immaterial” to his impeachment, isn’t going to cut it anymore. That’s avoiding the real question, to which these charges of nonconsensual sex are material-the question of who Bill Clinton really is .

But they still don’t seem to care. The Friends of Bill who so pathetically, obsequiously vouched for him until the stained dress of his lies was virtually rubbed in their faces, didn’t even seem to blink when faced with this latest unproven but serious charge. You wonder: In their heart of hearts, when the MSNBC and CNBC cameras go off, don’t the Friends of Bill entertain just the slightest doubt, after all the lies, after all the false denials, that this latest denial might not be the full truth? Or would such a doubt, even a tiny one, be fatal to their entire belief structure? Their perk and status life. Could the Renaissance Weekends be that great? Could the beds in the Lincoln bedroom be that soft?

I think about Lanny Davis, former chief of staff and now chief cable-news talking-head Friend of Bill. “Friend” in the sense Bill Clinton has friends: People he can lie to shamelessly, whose lives and reputations he can ruin callously and still count on to go on TV and defend him. I think about Lanny Davis attacking Juanita Broaddrick before he even got to see her tell her story . “How do we know she didn’t lie to all her friends?” Lanny Davis asked in The Washington Post before the Lisa Myers interview aired.

Amazing! An absolutely astonishing revelation of the mindset of the terminal sycophant Friend of Bill. We don’t know whether she didn’t “lie to all her friends,” he suggests. But we do know someone with a proven record of lying to all his friends. A proven record of lying to Lanny Davis, lying about Gennifer, lying about Paula (remember his first response: never heard of her, never in a room with her?), lying about Monica.

But now, without knowing the facts, without pausing for a moment to wonder “Gee, he’s lied to me so many times before and I’ve looked like such a fool so many times before for defending him, wouldn’t it be a good idea to hesitate for just a moment before smearing a woman who says she’s been raped and calling her the liar? Don’t I have any responsibility to think twice before mouthing off, just this once ?” Even if he (apparently) doesn’t care whether Bill Clinton screwed Juanita Broaddrick, he knows Bill Clinton’s screwed him repeatedly. But there he is lining up, assuming the position so eagerly, so readily, once again.

In some ways the case of Lanny Davis is special, more egregious, but perhaps more explicable. I blame Yale. Well not Yale University, precisely, but the Yale Daily News and the culture of Establishment suck-uppery it cultivates. When I arrived, an alienated outsider at Yale, Lanny Davis was already on his way to becoming the ultimate Insider, the chairman of the Yale Daily News , an exalted position that is not attained without strenuous sucking upward to the upperclassmen who hold the striving Yale Daily candidate’s fate in their hands. I think it is not insignificant that the initial heated competition for a coveted place on the ladder to the chairmanship of the Yale Daily was, appropriately enough, called “Heeling.” It is, you will notice, a term adopted from dog training. And not for nothing. Good dogs, compliant dogs, go far, although that may be Lanny’s tragedy: so much heeling, so little to show for it on his own-until, relatively late in his career, his being a Friend of Bill, chief sycophant to the Commander in Chief, gave him a shot at the gold ring.

Yes, I think it must have something to do with the heeling process and the enormous sense of self-importance and entitlement the Yale Daily chairmanship inculcates; debasing oneself so profoundly demands profound recompense. And there is profound recompense: the coddling and cuddling by the silvery patriarchs of the Eastern establishment, the shining future assured by the old-boy network, the unspoken blandishments of promised power that waft through the nostrils of the triumphant heeler like fragrant incense so that an exaggerated sense of self-importance grows to proportions vast and fathomless, like the caverns of Kubla Khan, “measureless to man.”

Even when an exalted News chairman would gesture at dissent from the Establishment, write a mild editorial questioning the War in Vietnam, say, the embrace by the silvery patriarchs would just grow warmer, more passionate. There would be the special little off-the-record chats with the Bundy brothers, who raced up to New Haven to reassure the exalted heeler that his voice was heard in the very highest circles, that his opinion was respected , that off the record, they even sympathized, but, even more off the record, there were very serious plans afoot to end the war in an honorable way and vulgar public protest was only helping the troglodytes dig in their feet. Better to leave it to the enlightened insiders. They all shared the same values, didn’t they? It was just a difference over tactics . It was so flattering to be taken so seriously, if one didn’t trouble oneself to look too closely at the lies of powerful people. And so one learned not to look too closely at the lies of very powerful people. An important lesson in getting ahead. You could call it self-heeling . Curbing the instinct to question those with White House passes, to bite the hand that pets you.

But the heady days of triumphant heeling didn’t seem to pay off as well for Lanny Davis as they did for other News ies. Henry Luce, founder of a global media empire; Potter Stewart, Supreme Court Justice; William F. Buckley, influential ideologue; Joseph Lieberman, influential senator; Strobe Talbott, Secretary-of-State-in-waiting. And then there was Lanny Davis, Beltway lawyer, lobbyist, mid-level Democratic Party functionary and failed candidate for Congress. As it turned out, his only ticket to the exalted entitlement his heeling seemed to promise was the friendship he cultivated with Hillary and Bill that began at Yale Law School.

That really paid off, didn’t it? You know I feel a bit bad talking this way. I wish I hadn’t read Lanny’s ugly quote in The Washington Post . I know friends of Lanny Davis think that there’s at least a semblance of principle in his slavish defense of Bill and Hill. That it grows from a genuine antipathy to the Christian right who’ve fueled the anti-Clinton crusades. But as someone at least as distrustful of the Christian right as he, I can’t help wondering: Just how long can the liberal Friends of Bill use that as a fig leaf to dismiss in a knee-jerk way any charge without examining it, even if it’s rape? They risk destroying liberalism by making it mainly about the defense of Bill Clinton. I thought liberalism was about standing up for the powerless, rather than sucking up to the powerful. (And speaking of sucking up to the powerful, Senator Chuck Schumer should spend less time holding Hillary’s coat and respond to repeated requests that he co-sponsor a resolution condemning the racist Council of Conservative Citizens. As the estimable Stanley Crouch reported in his Daily News column recently, such a resolution has been introduced in the House, and I’ve gotten Henry Hyde on record in support of it. If Henry Hyde is on board, where’s Chuck? Too busy being a Friend of Bill?)

But being a Friend of Bill has been berry berry good to Lanny Davis, why start questioning it now? Why let the irritating claim of a woman like Juanita Broaddrick get in the way of savoring the impeachment acquittal triumph? It’s so inconvenient, her coming forward. It’s so over, so five minutes ago, to care about it-after all, it was in another country and maybe “she lied to all her friends,” as Lanny Davis suggested to The Washington Post . After all, if you’re deciding who’s a liar about illicit sex, why look in Bill Clinton’s direction? Why not smear a woman you’ve never met who can’t help you get passes to White House dinners?

But if he had hesitated when The Washington Post asked for a comment, if he had declined the limelight of MSNBC to give the matter a moment’s independent reflection, what would Lanny Davis have left? Being a Friend of Bill had given him a certain cachet as a Beltway lawyer, but being Defender in Chief had made him a virtual celebrity in his own right. An object of curiosity, yes; was there anything he wouldn’t defend in a knee-jerk way? Now we know: No. But still a celebrity. He wasn’t Commander in Chief, but sycophant in chief is something .

But it’s unfair to pick on Lanny alone; I focus on him because he didn’t even wait to see Juanita Broaddrick tell her story on TV before smearing her as a possible serial liar. But if Lanny’s effusion was the most premature and egregious, what about the silence of some of the other, more conspicuous Friends of Bill?

What about his rich Hollywood friends? Will they continue to bankroll him-and the First Lady if she runs-unquestioningly, without bothering to know or to care whether the Juanita Broaddrick rape allegation is true? Will they hide behind, Well-it-was-20-years-ago-and-we-really-can’t-know-so-we-won’t-bother-to-think-about-it? That was in another country , wasn’t it, that alleged rape, a country far from Hollywood with its self-congratulatory, unquestioning, indiscriminate Friends-of-Bill mentality. Where mental giants like the Baldwin brothers are elevated to statesman stature for their sycophancy.

And what about all the liberal defenders of Bill who opposed, say, Clarence Thomas? Consider a counterfactual situation for a moment: What if it had been Clarence Thomas? Let’s imagine the bruising confirmation fight is over. Despite Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations (which, by the way, I believed) the Senate has confirmed Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court Justice. But late in the process, while the debate is still raging on the Senate floor, word leaks out that a major network was sitting on a far more explosive story than Anita Hill’s. An interview with a woman who claims that 20 years earlier Clarence Thomas raped her in a hotel room.

But the network keeps the story in the can until the confirmation vote is over. Most of America doesn’t know about it until a week after Clarence Thomas dons the robes of the nation’s highest court. Then the woman’s story comes out; she seems credible, but it’s hard to prove one way or the other. So much time has gone by. She didn’t report it at the time, she even denied it at one point because she didn’t want her life further traumatized. How would Bill Clinton’s liberal defenders have acted in that situation, how would they have treated an old rape allegation against Clarence Thomas? Would they have said, well it’s so old we don’t care, we’re not going to look further into it, we’re tired, we’re fatigued by all the controversy, let’s just pretend the allegation isn’t there. Let’s move on.

I don’t think so. I don’t think the liberal defenders of Bill Clinton would have given Clarence Thomas a pass. Would have dismissed a rape charge as irrelevant without looking into it just because it was old. But Bill Clinton, it seems, gets a pass on a rape allegation because, unlike Justice Thomas, he’s good on the issues . (Good on the issues for those who don’t care too much about the plight of the welfare mothers whose difficult lives he’s made more desperate.) How comfortable can they feel, the Clinton defenders, telling us to chill, cool out, it was all so long ago, when they are, in effect, miming in their unthinking sycophancy the chilling phrase attributed by Juanita to Bill Clinton: You ought to put some ice on that.

Must we look upon the most brilliant skeptical minds among liberal democrats through the lens of the “beaten dog” metaphor I wrote about three weeks ago? The phrase was suggested by The Washington Post ‘s Michael Powell when speaking to me for a story he was doing on liberals like myself who don’t trust Bill Clinton. He suggested that many liberals are acting like “beaten dogs,” losers kicked around so long they will continue to fawn over Bill Clinton no matter what he does because he’s given them some moderate electoral success. Are they so grateful that they’ll continue to heel when he gives a silent whistle, no matter what the charge is?

And what about the Vice President: Will he continue to avert his eyes in fawning fidelity without even asking? Doesn’t Al Gore, in some deep recess of his mind, wonder at least who’s the real liar in the Juanita Broaddrick case? Doesn’t he have a responsibility to ask? Or does he just accept Bill’s word on faith? Has he, like the other Friends of Bill, adopted a policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

And finally, what about the ultimate Friend of Bill, the Ultimate Voucher in Chief whose support for the President, no matter what the charge, has enabled and empowered her supporters to defend her husband, no matter what he does? Doesn’t she, at this point, with a charge as serious as this, however unproven, have a responsibility to look into it a little more deeply? Just so she won’t be shocked, shocked , if it turns out to be true, the way she was so shocked, shocked , when she found out the Monica story was true. At what point, after so many lies on lesser charges, after so many violations of her trust, of her privacy, of her dignity and faith, does she finally say: I’m not going to take his word on faith this time. I’m actually going to take it seriously. I’m actually going to look him in the eyes and see what I can see when I ask him if it’s true. He no longer has the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. She’s so smart, so wise in many ways (except thus far when it comes to him), I have a feeling she could get the truth out of him. After so much vouching, so much enabling, so much standing by her man, she owes it to herself, she owes it to us. All the Friends of Bill do.