Bigger Creeps

Clinton Seduced and Abandoned by the Right

Contrary to Clinton's spin doctors, a trial in the Senate won't be easy. The indictments are harshly drawn, and Democratic senators concerned about the political fallout will not fall in line for Clinton reflexively. For starters, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the senior Democratic member, who has for some time made it clear that he believes the president's actions are serious, could become the "conscience of the Senate"— and a harbinger of trouble for Clinton.

The president, left high and dry by the ravenous right he tried to woo, must be feeling a little like Monica did when she finally realized the score. After all the heavy petting with the Republicans, he thought they would be there for him. Instead, he has been seduced and abandoned by the Big Creeps.

Although Clinton promotes himself as a post­New Deal "New Democrat," since becoming president he has prided himself on espousing traditional Democratic values. Initially, he supported the welfare net, embracing equal opportunity for minorities and protections for the poor— especially in the failed first-term campaign for universal health care led by Hillary. But following that defeat, and particularly after the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, Clinton abandoned much of his liberal posturing and got in bed with Newt Gingrich's resurgent right.

Byrd's eye view: The "conscience of the Senate" waits.
Byrd's eye view: The "conscience of the Senate" waits.

The signs of the president's equivocal nature were there early on for anyone who cared to look. At the first hints of contention, he backed away from equality for gays in the military with his typically Clinton "don't ask, don't tell" solution. He then deserted the poor with "welfare reform," turned his back on habeas corpus, boosted prison construction, and tried to co-opt the Republican "family values" campaign by incorporating many of its goals in his reelection campaign. In this term, he has acceded to the right's demands for Social Security privatization.

In Congress, Clinton has been practically a lap dog for right wingers, which is one reason many congressional Democrats sought to keep their distance from him. Of course, some Democrats in the Gephardt-Bonior wing of the party fought the president, notably on trade issues.

Now that the Republican right has left Clinton to twist in the wind, the irony is that the president's most effective defenders have been the very people he arrogantly scorned as president— the congressional black caucus, Dick Gephardt, and the liberals around John Sweeney's AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, like the Eveready rabbit, the Republican Right keeps going and going. Far from sinking into moral decrepitude, Bob Livingston seems to have emerged from the outing of his numerous extramarital affairs as a sort of hero, ready to retire to the Republican backbench, which is now HQ for the Republican revolution. The backbenchers, who pride themselves on right-wing "principle," eye the curtailing the federal government, and principally the executive branch, as hungrily as ever. Their true leader now is Tom DeLay, even though the low-key Illinois Republican, J. Dennis Hastert, has emerged as a consensus choice for the Speaker's post.

But the present center of power for House Republicans is the backbench, where, as the leadership which is now decamped there has repeatedly discovered, it can't function without support from a growingly fractious junior contingent.

Down & Dirty in the Senate
Chamber of Impeachment Horrors

Senate Democrats plan to throw the chamber into gridlock all year if the Republicans push for impeachment.

Although Majority Leader Trent Lott had hoped to run a "dual track" effort, with senators doing regular business in the morning, then sitting as a jury in the afternoon, a top Democratic aide told Roll Call that "we will close the place down."

Other Democratic staffers threaten to try to shut down the Supreme Court if a trial takes place. However unlikely that is, it's possible that if the Senate spends a protracted period on impeachment, Chief Justice Rehnquist might have to recuse himself from court for part of the year.

In the House, new members might even introduce legislation to revisit the impeachment issue on the grounds that the articles were wrongly drafted. Alan Hirsch, a constitutional scholar who has written a Citizen's Guide to Impeachment, argues that they should not include specific punishment. That, he says, is the job of the Senate.

Then there is politics. Nineteen Republican Senate seats are in play, while Democrats must defend 14.

Key to Clinton's Senate strategy are two former majority leaders: George Mitchell and Bob Dole. Both are partners in Verner Liipfert Bernhard McPherson & Hand, the big Washington lobby shop that represents the tobacco industry. Dan Coats, Dole's former Senate colleague from Indiana who is retiring, recently signed up to join the firm. Texas Democrats Lloyd Bentsen and Ann Richards also are members.

Is Clinton Crazy?
How To Replace an Incapacitated President

The massive bombing of Iraq, announced suddenly on the eve of the impeachment vote, again called into question the president's use of military action to distract attention from his personal problems— as was the case in August when he bombed Sudan and Afghanistan in the midst of testimony in the Lewinsky case.

Since the abbreviated attack will have little military effect and ended any chance for arms inspections, it raises questions as to whether the administration actually has a serious policy on Iraq. But beyond the lack of a coherent policy, Clinton's penchant for sudden military action when his personal turmoils reach crisis points raises questions about his sanity.

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