(ArtVoice, 22 December 1998)
The Dogs of Winterby Bruce Jackson
"Scumsucking dogs," my friend Andy said, "scumsucking dogs is what it was."
He had watched an afternoon of the Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings and was giving me his summary of what had gone on. Andy was dispensing with specific behavior and going straight to character. He reminded me of Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde who said there was no need to be specific about what perjury Clinton did because we all know he's a liar.
I'd never heard of a scumsucking dog but I imagine it as a dog that doesn't protect the house or play with the kids or get happy and be your pal when you get home. It just does its own evil and nasty stuff and bites any hand at all, even the hand that feeds it.
Immediately after Bill Clinton announced that we'd bombed Iraq on December 16 several prominent Republicans attacked him for diverting attention from their impeachment process. It wasn't so much that they thought Saddam shouldn't have been bombed; of course they thought Saddam should have been bombed; they're good patriotic Americans every one. What they were angry about was that Clinton ordered the bombing just before their big vote to impeach him, which had been sure to get a huge amount of television coverage both during the "debate" and afterwards in one-on-one quickie interviews in the Capitol corridor and, for the very lucky, later in the night on prime time with Ted or Barbara or Geraldo or Larry. Not only was Bill Clinton all the evil things they'd talked themselves into saying he was; he was also the Grinch who was trying to steal the talkshow Christmas.
They quieted down only when incoming Speaker of the House Bob Livingston promised that after Thursday's pro forma vote sending moral support to our troops abroad, they'd get back to their real business: they'd get to make televised statements from the well of the House all day Friday, then on Saturday they'd get to approve the four articles of impeachment. It would all be done in plenty of time to make the evening news on both days, to say nothing of Sunday morning's power triptych of "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" and the "Cokie and Sam Pontificate" show.
Into a Switch
Again and again the Republicans managing all of this have put Bill Clinton into what my Texas friends call a "switch." You're in a switch when you must chose among two options, either of which gets you into trouble. (Social scientists call this a "double bind.") There's a brilliant and cruel elegance to it. The people controlling the switch say "We're giving you the opportunity to make a choice. It's up to you. Your fate is in your hands." Then you get nailed whatever you do or don't do.
Clinton was in a switch when he got the 81 questions from Judiciary Committee chair Henry Hyde. If he answered the way they wanted he was putting his head on the block where it would be cut off: if he didn't answer the way they wanted or if he didn't answer at all he was evasive and therefore they would be forced to cut off his head.
Kenneth Starr had used the same device months earlier: in a grand jury session he had his assistants ask Clinton if he'd had sexual relations with Monica Lewinski. If Clinton answered yes he was immediately in trouble with the judge in the Paula Jones upward mobility lawsuit, as well as with his wife and the public at large. This was a secret grand jury proceeding, but Starr and his staff seemed to have a groundrule that let them make everything detrimental to Clinton public within moments, sometimes even before the testimony was given. If Clinton denied it, then it was "Gotcha!" because Starr knew about Linda Tripp's illegal tapes. It wasn't until Starr submitted his report to the Judiciary Committee that Clinton learned Starr had given up on all the imagined felonies that had gotten him his special prosecutorship in the first place and had decided to focus entirely on extramarital sex. For Starr, the case against Bill Clinton came down to successful entrapment or nothing at all.
It was also a switch when Republicans pressured Clinton to admit he'd perjured himself. Not even Starr was willing to flat-out accuse Clinton of that. Every prosecutor called to testify before the committee said there wasn't sufficient evidence for any prosecutor to charge Clinton with perjury. Evasion, they all said, wasn't perjury, nor was having a different definition of a key word than the person asking you the questions, nor was answering in terms of a definition specifically provided by the other side. Clinton admitted that he didn't say everything he might have said to lawyers who were in the process of suing him or to the prosecutor who was out to destroy him, but (they all pointed out) there is no obligation in law to provide suicidal service. The defendant is never required to make the prosecutor's case.
The Republicans kept saying that if Clinton only apologized they might go easy on him. He did that twice, but the Republicans said it was too late or he hadn't quite groveled enough. There was no way in the world Bill Clinton could apologize enough, grovel enough, kiss ass enough to satisfy them. Every time he got off his knees he found they'd raised the bar one more time.
Right up to the end they said that if he confessed to perjury they might ease up. Not 'would', just 'might'. It was just another switch: They can't let up because Clinton won't admit he committed perjury, but if Clinton admits he committed perjury his admission is immediate and prima facie evidence of a felony and they'd have no choice but to impeach him. And Kenneth Starr, who has already said he intends to hang on in there for a couple of more years, would be waiting at the White House gate with a felony indictment in hand the day Clinton left office.
My friend Henri called from Paris. "I don't understand this," he said. "You're going to expel your president pour un pipe?"
Pipe is French for blowjob. It's pronounced like birdy-talk: peep.
"No," I said, "not pour le pipe. For not admitting he'd done it."
"He didn't do it," Henri said. "Even your Congress doesn't say he did it. He had it done. That's not the same thing. You're an English teacher, you should know that." (He's right: she blew, he was blown. Passive voice. There's some argument whether or not he reached down and fondled Monica's opulent poitrine when she was gamahuching, which would have been active, but, as one of the Democrats on the committee pointed out, "That's a he-said she-said question and there's no point arguing it.")
"That's Clinton's position. But the Christian fundamentalists are upset about it."
"No, his not admitting it."
"Why would a married man in public office admit he had un pipe in his public office?"
"I can't imagine."
"This is truly absurd. This couldn't happen in France."
I got defensive, patriotic. "Lots of bad things have happened in France." I tried to think of some.
"That's not what I said," Henri said. "Of course bad things have happened in France. I said THIS couldn't happen in France. It's a madness."
A 92-year-old woman I met at a wake in Washington said almost the same thing. "They're mad at him because he didn't admit he'd had sex with that woman. No gentleman would tell other people with whom he had sex."
"We're not talking about gentlemen," her companion said.
"No," the 92-year-old woman said, "we're talking about congressmen."
Why are those Republican congressmen so rabid? Why do they hate him so much? Getting even for Watergate and Iran-Contra? For Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas? Punishing Clinton for his early stand on health care for people without money? His support of abortion rights? The fact that Black people like him? That women like him? The horrible fear that he's getting more than they are? That his wife isn't content to spend her time redecorating the White House and directing Easter egg hunts? All of the above?
The more compelling question is why did he do it? He knew he was a target, he knew they were drooling to get something on him. He couldn't have forgotten the sorry fate of Colorado senator Gary Hart (who denied rumors of extra-marital affairs and dared the press to catch him doing it; they did exactly that and his political career was immediately over). Why did Clinton unzip for a 21-year-old JAP from LA? How could he convince himself that she who had her mouth so open in the Oval Office was going to put a zipper on it once she got to her apartment telephone? If what he needed was sex outside of wedlock why not do it with an adult woman who also had something to lose if word of the affair got out?
Maybe he just trusted history. Nobody ratted on FDR or JFK. When he was in the Senate, Lyndon's sex life was legendary (though he seems to have cut back almost entirely once he reached the White House).
Maybe it wasn't the quickie orgasm but getting serviced in the holy of holies, the place where the major decisions of the most powerful nation on the face of the planet got made. Maybe he liked the idea of transgressing in the space that had been occupied for so long by starchy George Bush and addled Ronald Regan and squeaky-clean Jimmy Carter. I'm king of the world: suck my dick.
His teenage hero was Jack Kennedy. Jack who shared a hooker's affections with a mafia don. Who was rumored to have done the nasty with Marilyn Monroe in the Oval Office.
Maybe it's that he thought no one would care, that with all the heavy stuff they were trying to nail him for--murdering Vince Foster, Whitewater, whatever else--who other than Hillary would give a hoot about him getting his joint copped by a willing member of the support staff?
The Conversion of the Moderates
Bill Clinton is more Republican than any Democrat who's held national office in this century. He's as cynical as any of them: once opposed to capital punishment, he executed a brain-damaged murderer in Arkansas on his way to Washington. He was willing to do anything to get that job, and did. He's probably astonished that anyone would try to take it away from him over ten quickie blowjobs. He never even unbuckled his belt. The economy is good. We're getting along with most other countries. Employment is up, the price of gas is down. People are dancing in the streets. And the Republicans want to send him back to Hope.
He was stunned when the moderate undecided Republicans began announcing that they too were going to vote for the impeachment resolutions. Jack Quinn of Hamburg, who read the Starr report and announced that he was going to vote against impeachment, changed his mind after the Judiciary hearings. He knew most of his constituents opposed impeachment but, he said, he was forced to change his position because of the new evidence that had been presented. What new evidence for impeachment? There wasn't any. The hearing was just a lot of bombast, flag-waving and narcissism.
We all know why those heretofore undecided Republicans snapped into line last week: they looked ahead to contributions to war chests for future campaigns, to federal funds for projects in their districts (all of which have to be approved by Ways & Means), they thought about the consulting jobs and board appointments that come to all good congresspersons when they go back into the potentially lucrative arena of private life, that wonderful world of rewards where you don't have to tell anyone but the IRS how much you made last year. You want to go back to being the middle-class working stiff you were before you got elected, go ahead and vote no on impeachment. Otherwise reexamine your conscience. You can hear the heels snapping together: click, click, click.
Jack Quinn said there were no calls pressuring him to change his vote. I believe him. This sort of thing needs no individual phone calls. The leadership lets it be known that it wants you to vote this way. You make your choice. One rare exception is Republican congressman Amo Houghton, who said there wasn't sufficient evidence to support an impeachment resolution so he wasn't going to vote for one no matter what the leadership said. Amo Houghton is a good man. He's also very wealthy.
On the same day he told the nation that the impeachment process was so important to democracy it couldn't be delayed until the current military operation in Iraq was over, Speaker-elect Bob Livingston admitted to the Republican Conference that, um, he too had several extramarital affairs in recent years. It wasn’t conscience that prompted the confession: Hustler publisher Larry Flint uncovered the affairs and the information was almost immediately available on the web. Livingston’s fellow Republicans listened to his confession and gave him a standing ovation. When asked why they applauded Livingston for doing what they were impeaching Clinton for, one Republican congressman said it wasn't at all the same thing: Clinton denied it while Livingston told all. But he told all only because it was leaking out in the press, the reporter said. Yes, said the representative, but he never testified about his adultery under oath. That's what made all the difference. Livingston, you see, lacked his guiding Starr.
The rationale didn't hold. On Friday the radical right let Livingston know that he was no longer a suitable leader and was now himself a target of the sex police. Livingston, who had earlier announced that he was leaving Congress because he wanted to make more money in the private sector and had stayed on only when he was elected speaker, threw in the towel. On Saturday, early in the impeachment vote, he announced he was giving up both the speakership and his seat in the House. He claimed this was as an example to Bill Clinton, who should also resign for the good of everyone. He didn't mention the pressure from the right or his previously-announced desire to get out there and make money if he couldn't be speaker.
Each of these major political brouhahas has People-We'll-Remember. Iran-Contra had Senator Daniel Innoue slobbering over Ollie North and his wife. Watergate had H. R. Haldeman and G. Gordon Liddy. These are some I'll remember from this one:
--Monica Lewinski, the most famous fellatrice since the porn star Linda Lovelace inserted the term "deep throat" into our vocabulary 25 years ago. Monica's about to make a fortune not for giving head but for talking about it. Television stations here and abroad are pouring out the bucks, she's even got a book contract. What can she possibly say that's of interest? What is there to add to the vapid conversations with Linda Tripp or the transcripts of her grand jury testimony? How long it took him to get off?
--Kenneth Starr with his Elmer Fudd grin and his Jack Hornerish testimony. He spent $40 million dollars of public money and managed to entrap a married guy who didn't want to admit on candid camera that he'd had his joint copped during office hours. Oh, my, my.
--Linda Tripp and Lucianne Goldberg getting it all going not because of any commitment to truth or even because of grungy partisan politics; they just wanted a book deal with a lot of commas and zeros in it.
-- The terminally indignant Cokie Roberts pretending to report neutrally. Once she went on about the awful message Clinton's behavior sent children. Well, how often do any of us talk to our children about what we put in our or other people's mouths? She said nothing about the anteaters who sucked that data out of the dirt.
--Maureen Dowd of the New York Times: when she tired of flogging Bill Clinton she started in on Hillary. Hillary's sin? She was looking good, seemed energetic, was going around doing lots of important stuff and was hanging out with famous and interesting people. Maureen was in a snit that she wasn't looking down in the dumps and sticking to the house.
—Every single one of those Republicans on the Committee but especially Bob Inglis (the guy with no upper lip from South Carolina who kept pointing his finger and repeating himself). And Sonny Bono’s widow, Mary (who traded her hippie-length bright blonde hair for short proper brown hair; her official biography says she’s a “certified physical fitness instructor”). And Bob Barr (the slow-talking guy from Georgia with the little moustache who looks like Porky Pig; he’s a life member of the NRA and led the drive to rename National Airport in Washington for Ronald Reagan).
--Henry Hyde, whose own middle-aged peccadillo wrecked a marriage, who solemnly moaned at the start of the full house hearing on Friday, "The flag is falling! Catch the falling flag!"
--And there were good guys. It wasn't all ideology, craziness, vindictiveness and hypocrisy. Barney Frank, Charles Schumer, Maxine Waters, Zoe Lofgren, Sheila Jackson Lee and John Conyers kept trying to introduce reason, law, and proportion to the discussion. But they were in the minority: they won no votes, nor shall they.
The Will of the People
I keep hearing people say that the members of the committee were ignoring the will of the people. It's true that national polls are clearly in favor of something far short of impeachment. Hardly anybody thinks Clinton should get off scot-free, but hardly anybody thinks he should be put up against the wall and shot either. But members of Congress don't represent the nation. Each one represents a single district. Most of the Republicans on the judiciary committee are from districts that are quite happy to have Bill Clinton run out of town on a rail. They represent districts where there are no strong women's groups, where there aren't many people of color who vote, where there aren't many families below the poverty line.
What about the larger harm all this squandering of resources and denigration of institutions does to us all? They don't care about that. They're beyond that. This is kamikaze government. I said they're in safe districts but that doesn't matter to the most rabid of them: they don't care if they self-destruct on the way to glory.
The really rabid right wingers in this are like the people who drive explosive-laden trucks close to buildings and stay with them to make sure they blow up at precisely the right moment. They're not punky terrorists like Terry Nichols, fleeing the blast and not fessing up to what they've done. They're doing the lord's work, and they'll take you and me and our friends along with them. You tell them they're fucking up the country, and they say yesssssss. You say it'll be years before people trust anyone in government after this, and they say yesssssss. You say do you know what you're doing and they say yessssss.
Tom DeLay, the Republican whip is the individual who has done the most to keep this impeachment process alive and boiling. He's a born-again Christian still fuming over his inability to shut down the National Endowment for the Arts. According to the New York Times his office plaque-"This could be this day"--isn't about getting Clinton's head; it's about the end of the world. Tom DeLay is a guy who takes the long view.
When this is over nobody will fuck with them. If it takes time to get what they want, well, it'll take time. Some things take time. Ten years ago you could get an abortion nearly anywhere in the country. How many doctors do abortions now? You can't even learn how to do them in most medical schools any more. Twenty-five years ago the death penalty was a thing of the past; thirty-seven states now have it on the books and more than half of them are killing people regularly. The National Endowment for the Arts is still there, but it no longer gives grants to individual artists. Just hang in there. Chip away. Give no points. Wear 'em down. They know the Senate won't convict Clinton. They also know they've poisoned his life and made life miserable for all of his friends and associates. Hang in there. Chip away. Yeah.
Thus, on Saturday the nineteenth of December nineteen hundred and ninety eight, William Jefferson Clinton was impeached on two counts on what was just a hair away from a perfect party line vote.
At heart, at a deep level, I suspect this isn't about Bill Clinton at all. He's just the horny fool that let them loose to do what they've been wanting to do anyway. It's not just a coup d'état. It's a holy war.
They're mean, they bite, they don't care who or what they drag down. They've got the call, they've got a mission, they've got god on their side and if you're not with them you better get out of the way because they fear no one and no thing. They're mean. They bite. Yeah.
copyright 1998 Bruce Jackson
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