Tainted pride...

...and fear of a fall

By Andrew Ross

Published November 5, 1996 11:32AM (EST)

It was with trepidation more than enthusiasm that I voted for Bill Clinton for a second term as President of the United States.

Not that I have any doubt that he is far better fitted for the job than Bob Dole, who may go down as perhaps the worst presidential candidate in American political history. If he wins  God forbid  Dole would be a pathetic president, rubber-stamping the most extreme and noxious notions sent up to him by a Republican Congress owned lock, stock and barrel by the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association. It would be a ghastly and frightening end to the American century.

But will four more years of Bill Clinton be that much better?

It could be, if the president and Congress seriously get down to addressing the nation's business -- improving education, weaning the middle class off welfare (i.e. reforming social security and Medicare), closing the chasm between rich and poor, finding work for the millions we are about to throw through the federal safety net, and so on.

But that is a big, big "if."

Much will depend on what happens in the congressional elections.
In the best of all worlds, either party will have a narrow majority in both chambers, allowing a coalition of centrists to do business with the White House while warding off, respectively, the wild men and women on the extreme right and the fat-cat, business-as-usual pols on the Democratic side of the aisle. One reason to hope that the Democrats regain the House is the prospect of getting rid of Newt Gingrich and his equally dreadful henchmen like Dick Armey, R-Tex., not to mention the militia-minded crackpots like Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Steve Stockman of Texas and Robert Dornan of southern California.

Still, one feels little comfort at the prospect of Democratic trough-feeders like John Dingell of Michigan taking up the reins of congressional power once more. Fortunately for those harboring such fears, the Democrats may have once more, and with exquisite timing, shot themselves in a vital organ, thanks to the shenanigans at the Democratic National Committee  news of which sent both Clinton and the party into reverse in the polls in the final days. As a result, one of the first things one is likely to see in a GOP-controlled 105th Congress is fresh hue and cry, accompanied by special committees and independent counsels to look into crimes, misdemeanors and sleaze, real and imagined.

This is where real queasiness sets in. It isn't enough to point fingers at the hypocrisy of Republicans who have taken British tobacco money and Australian media money (remember Rupert Murdoch's advance for Newt Gingrich's book?), or at that tinpot tyrant Ross Perot who, in business, didn't see a government handout that he didn't lobby real hard for, or to remind the media, which seems to have forgotten, that the Federal Elections Commission has filed suit against the Christian Coalition, accusing it, in essence, of being a fraudulent front for the Republican party.

The fact is, there is something really rotten in the Democratic party  and in the White House  and if President Clinton does not move, and quickly, to root it out, then he may get everything that William Safire and editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal say he deserves.

The first thing to do is to kill all the lawyers, to coin a phrase. That is, all those lawyers in the White House and at the DNC who told Clinton to stonewall, whether it was about Whitewater, Travelgate or the "Asia Connection." That's been tried before, and, duh, it doesn't work. Next Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. and Donald Fowler, co-chairmen of the DNC should be politely thanked and relieved of their posts. Less politely, B.J. Thornberry, the DNC's executive director, should be shown the door. It was she who came up with the classic explanation for the fish-like odor: that the DNC was so awash in cash that no one had the time to check whether the money was clean or dirty. Also recommended for the instant dismissal list: the infamous John Huang; James C. Wood, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan; fellow Arkansas lawyer and old friend-of-Bubba Mark Middleton, who  shades of E. Howard Hunt  has a White House telephone number, even though no one knows quite what he does there. Sic the Justice Department on these three for good measure.

For Clinton to unhook this albatross from his neck seems a no-brainer from this distance. One would also think he had learned the lessons from the giant holes he dug for himself in the early part of his first term. Yet the manner  rather, the arrogance, the "terminal self-infatuation" in the words of Newsweek columnist Meg Greenfield  with which the President and his courtiers have dismissed this and any other concern is deeply disturbing. It's called hubris, and President Clinton, once an avid reader of the classics, might want to spend a little time with the Greeks, to be reminded of its consequences.

Who did you vote for today? Join the election day discussion in Table

Quote of the day

Exercising the right

"Sometimes I've gone into the booth and not voted for anyone. But I go because I
don't want to lose the privilege."

 Anesti Vangel, 68, outside a polling booth in Boston. (From "Dole Wins in Early New Hampshire Voting," an Associated Press story carried in Tuesday's online edition of the Washington Post)

Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

MORE FROM Andrew Ross

Related Topics ------------------------------------------