Fun_People Archive
18 Dec
A kinder, gentler lynch mob

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 98 10:19:26 -0800
To: Fun_People
Precedence: bulk
Subject: A kinder, gentler lynch mob

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649
[I try to keep the straight-out politicking down to a dull roar in
 Fun_People, but when the radio wakes me up with an endless sequence of
 people making 3-minute speeches in which they maintain that pulling down
 the President's pants in public is a part of equal justice for all and
 disagreeing only on whether he should be beaten or made to stand in the
 corner as punishment for actually having a wee-wee like everyone else, well,
 it clouds my judgement.  I've seen dozens of interesting and clever articles
 on this case, this is just the first one I came across after having my
 judgement clouded today.  You can see I still have the good sense to be
 embarassed about including any of this stuff, so there's hope for me yet

 Forwarded-by:  (Salon)

	A kinder, gentler lynch mob



I grew up believing that Republicans were the incarnation of all evil. This
was a harsh and unsophisticated judgment, but the political discourse of
1960s Berkeley, where I grew up, lacked a certain refinement. In fact, to
be honest, it was pretty much taken straight from Saturday morning cartoons.
In our righteous view, "the people," whoever they were, were always being
"oppressed" by The Man, a bloated GOP plutocrat mouthing pious moral maxims.
It went without saying that Republicans were self-righteous, mean-spirited
rich white men who secretly napalmed Cambodian villages, turned loose the
dogs against civil rights marchers and dug the Carpenters. They were Bad,
and if we could somehow get rid of them -- meanwhile taking lots of acid
and listening to Hendrix -- Good Things would happen.

Later, like many of my co-religionists, I became embarrassed by these
sentiments. Such crude beliefs were unseemly. Sophistication demanded a more
nuanced view. Republicans, I now realized, could be decent men and women
who were just parroting the country-club line. Even the Reagan Age -- that
endless period I as a Californian was forced to spend under the Great
Communicator's genially callous thumb, while the Woolly Mammoths died out
and Ice Ages came and went across the globe -- couldn't make me return to
the wooden Stalinist sloganeering of my youth. I even reevaluated the

And then came the _Starr referral_ and _Henry Hyde_ and the House Judiciary
Committee vote, and I realized I had gotten it right the first time.

When the Republicans in the full House vote to remove President Clinton from
office, as they will almost certainly do, they will prove that those
brain-dead radical stereotypes about them really do apply. They will be
revealed as mean-spirited, partisan hacks, hypocrites, moral absolutists
hiding their craven desire for vengeance and power beneath a ridiculously
transparent facade of pious "deliberation" and "respect for law." The GOP
will stand exposed before all of America as the party of vicious, petty
ideologues who, in their outrageous desire to undo the results of two lawful
elections, seized upon a grotesquely acquired legalistic evasion that falls
so far short of meeting the constitutional standard of high crimes and
misdemeanors as to be laughable.

Or, let's give them the benefit of the doubt, as the ever-generous New York
Times did in a recent editorial. Let's assume that some of them are actually
sincere in their belief that lying about sex -- in an obvious vendetta case
brought by a biased and obsessed "independent" counsel who, after utterly
failing to find any serious misdeeds, connived to lay a perjury trap --
constitutes an impeachable offense. But if they really believe that, then
we must conclude that either their grasp of the Constitution is so weak that
their fitness to sit in any elected office is highly questionable, or that
they are so rigid in their moral purity as to be Torquemadas in power ties,
quasi-theocratic inquisitors who would turn America into a frightening Bible
Belt version of 15th century Spain or 20th century Iran.

Why are the Republicans doing this? Why, defying the express wishes of the
American people, are they trampling on the Constitution, weakening the
presidency and inaugurating a hideous new political world of blood feuds
and true hatred? And why are they ignoring the warnings from the business
community -- to which they used to listen -- that impeachment is dangerous
and destabilizing?

The answer is simple: This is who they are. This action reflects the GOP's
true nature. This is a party so desperate to burn a president they dislike
at the stake that they'll incinerate the Constitution to get the fire
started. All that hoo-hah a few weeks ago about how Robert Livingston was
going to bring a new "moderation" to the party now that nutty professor
Gingrich was gone stands revealed as empty verbiage. The truth is that this
is now a party of zealots and ideologues, obsessed crusaders who have
completely lost touch with the common sense, fairness and decency of the
American people. Like Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, who declared a purifying "Year
Zero" when history's slate was to be wiped clean (and all nonpeasants were
to be killed), these high-minded crusaders want to restore America's sense
of moral purpose -- and if they have to trash the country in order to do
it, well, extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice! To the tumbrels
with the parasites, citizens, while the Times and the Post knit their stern
editorials! GOP "moderates"? What moderates? The few "moderates" who are
trotted forth on TV to be shown to the mob, like condemned Chinese
dissidents with signs hanging around their necks, seem barely sentient.

The facade of "judiciousness" and "bipartisanship" that the pious media,
ever cowed by the musty aura of Historic Constitutional Events, dark-wooded
chambers, invocations of "our national honor" and other useful fig leafs
for skullduggery, tried to sell us has vanished without a trace. Hyde, the
Iran-contra apologist and wisecracking GOP attack dog who was elevated to
Solomon-like heights of wisdom by the media before the disgraceful House
Judicial proceedings began, has now taken up final residence in the trash
can with unsavory American byproducts like our anal home-grown Robespierre,
Kenneth Starr, and the maniacal _Bob Barr,_ who apparently believes that
Clinton should have been impeached at birth. There was Hyde this weekend on
the talk shows, saying that Clinton should resign. This paragon of
impartiality apparently modeled his jurisprudential approach on the Red
Queen in "Alice in Wonderland," who, as a witness departs in the trial of
the Knave of Hearts, says under her voice, "And just take off his head
outside." But, gosh, he sure sounds courtly talking that parliamentary talk.

In fact, Hyde may have been taking those groveling Times setup pieces a
little too seriously, for this weekend he began to invoke no less a figure
than Jesus Christ. Asked by Cokie Roberts why he advocated impeachment and
didn't think censure should be an option despite popular opinion, he
replied, "If Jesus Christ had taken a poll, he would never have preached
the gospel." This is a wonderful addition to the great American tradition
of reactionary invocations of Jesus, who after patriotism represents the
best refuge for scoundrels. (The all-time winner remains that English-only
advocate who declaimed, "If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good
enough for me.") With all due respect to the pious motivations behind
Chairman Hyde's religious parallel, however, it may not be a good strategy
for him to go there. Somehow, when one looks at the faces of Clinton's
judges -- the pig-eyed ex-exterminator _Tom DeLay_; the robotic, hate-filled
Barr; the snidely, vitriolic David Schippers; the priggish choirboy-judge
Bill McCollum -- the loving face of the Savior does not exactly rush into
one's mind. In fact, these worthies recall somewhat less inspiring figures
from the New Testament -- namely the Pharisees, those vengeful, legalistic
Jews who denounced Jesus. (The "moderates," who will doubtless be washing
their hands avidly in the days to come, conjure up that noted Northeastern
GOP fence-sitter, Pontius Pilate.) Admittedly, the mushy-souled escape
artist President Clinton makes a truly terrible Jesus, but the imagery still
isn't good.

The Republicans are zealots, but they're crafty zealots. Their attempt to
take Clinton down may blow up in their faces, but they have reasons for
thinking it won't. They think they can get away with this without being
punished at the polls, even if they don't kill Clinton.  But they cherish
a secret hope that they will kill him -- that once impeachment is a fait
accompli, with all the previously mentioned flag-waving, invocation of the
Founders, gravity of the charges blah blah blah, public opinion will turn
against Clinton, leading either to his resignation or to his conviction and
removal by the Senate. And that hope is based on their belief that Clinton's
support is inch-deep -- that once the American people realize he's in
trouble, they'll desert him like rats abandoning a sinking ship.

It's the self-fulfilling prophecy strategy, and it is astonishingly
contemptuous. It presumes that the American people have no memory, no
spiritual or moral consistency, that they are incapable of holding onto any
position any longer than a jittery kid with a remote can watch one TV
program. The GOP believes this for several reasons.  First, they too are
children of our Warholian society of the spectacle, in which everything that
flickers across the screen has equal weight and nothing stays on the screen
for more than a few seconds. As such, they too have been seduced by the
belief that, in Marx's words, "all that is solid melts into air."
Yesterday's Clinton supporter is today's impeachment supporter.

The scary thing is, they just might be right. There have been very few tests
of our national consistency in the channel-changing age. The public might
be influenced by the media, which has begun running this-is-a-whole-new-
ballgame-now stories. The Times, much of whose Clinton coverage continues
to appall, splashed on its cover a thin reaction story (ominous headline:
"Gravity of the issues sinking in for a public weary of scandal") that
featured two or three people in that multicultural mirror of America,
Tarrytown, N.Y., saying they were now leaning toward impeachment.  (How odd,
considering nothing in this story has changed in months except the vote to
impeach.) But it would be bitterly ironic (although perfectly consistent,
considering their fealty to the most ephemeral and history-destroying forms
of commodity capitalism) if the Republican Party, which at its best
represents community and continuity, were to use postmodern public amnesia
to flick a president off the screen.

The second reason the Republicans think they may be able to change people's
minds is that their own Pharisaism, their residence on the Gothic side of
America's great cultural divide, makes them incapable of understanding that
the American people's so-what reaction to Clinton's sexual escapades and
subsequent lies about them is not mere empty situational ethics, not a
debased version of a '60s "whatever, man" ethos, but is a coherent and
_reasonable moral vision._ That vision represents the pragmatic spirit of
one of our culture's great achievements, the English common law, whose
guiding word is reasonableness.  And it also reflects the lessons most of
us learn from our parents. You should never lie, our parents teach us when
we're young, and that is an essential lesson. But later they also teach us
to understand why people lie, to distinguish between different kinds of lies
-- and to forgive when forgiveness is called for. We learn that the real
world doesn't entirely correspond to the black-and-white moral universe our
parents taught us. In the real world, for example, we learn that politicians
make moral compromises -- and flat-out lie -- all the time. We also learn
that august politicians, and even men with the word "judge" before their
name, can be hatchet men. That doesn't mean we don't strive to do the right
thing, or expect that our leaders do the same, but that we realize that
sometimes it isn't clear what that is. And we learn that often the people
who are the most certain what the right thing is, the people with the
answer, the really moral people, are the most dangerous of all.

Because the moralists who have hijacked the Republican Party don't
understand that the American people's morality, as evidenced in its reaction
to Clinton, is deeply rooted and coherent, they think it's shallow, a mere
cover for selfishness or laziness. They believe that once America grasps
that high moral "outrage," to use William Bennett's word, is called for, it
will condemn Clinton and reach new ethical heights.  We must again, we hear
over and over, become a country of laws, not of men. They ignore the fact
that no one wants Clinton to be above the law -- people just don't want him
to be below the law, to be prosecuted for things no one else would ever be
prosecuted for. And they conveniently forget the fact that Clinton has been
prosecuted for four years not by "the laws" but by a highly flawed man.

In this vicious partisan climate, in which appeals to high moral purpose
cloak the intent to commit political assassination, the incessant demands
by the New York Times' editorial page that Clinton admit he lied under oath
-- say "those missing magic words," in the words of the headline of Monday's
leader -- are positively bizarre.  Demanding that Clinton fall to his knees
in an act of national self-abnegation that might sway those fabled
"moderates," the Times insists that the most important issue facing the
nation is not the unprecedented and stunningly irresponsible action taken
by the House Judiciary Committee, not the likelihood that the GOP rank and
file will follow its jackbooted leaders and shut the country down, but
whether or not Clinton says "uncle." This is ridiculous.  There's no reason
to suppose that the rabid GOP dogs who have been calling for Clinton's head
all along would suddenly become docile, censure-amenable laphounds if he
admitted to perjury. There's a lot more reason to assume that the long
knives would come out in earnest, whether now or after Clinton left office.
(Republicans who are now saying they won't consider censure unless Clinton
admits he lied are using the issue to hide: They know he can't admit that
for legal reasons, but it gives them an excuse to vote for impeachment.)
Clinton has set the world record for public humiliation, but apparently that
is not enough for the Times. Out of some inexplicably punitive and
moralistic impulse, it pays less rhetorical attention to the appallingly
partisan Judiciary Committee proceedings (which it criticizes almost in
passing) than to whether Clinton has groveled low enough.

Maybe the go-for-the-jugular Republican strategy will work, and the American
public will be won over to impeachment. But it probably won't. And there is
reason to think that the day of the impeachment vote -- most likely Dec. 17
-- will be a day that will live in GOP infamy -- that it will be remembered
as the day that the party lost its moral standing, became a marginal home
for dogmatists and cranks and cynical political opportunists willing to
ignore the wishes of the majority to satisfy the ravings of true believers.
The Republicans thought they could get away with spitting in the face of
the American people, but they may be spitting against the wind.

SALON | Dec. 15, 1998

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