House of adulterers

Unless the GOP is able to convince voters the impeachment proceedings are based on more than disapproval of Clinton's private sexual affairs, revelations like Bob Livingston's will continue.

Published December 18, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

This is all getting too weird. Just when it seemed that the news coming out of the nation's capital could not possibly get any stranger, it did. Already reeling under the pressure of two huge news stories -- the bombing of Iraq and the impending impeachment of the president -- the nation learned Thursday from incoming Speaker of the House Bob Livingston, R-La., that he had carried on his own extramarital sexual affairs, and he offered to resign.

Livingston's GOP troops rallied to his defense, so he didn't have to resign, after all. Once again, throughout media spin land, there arose the theory that all this might be part of some grand "scorched-earth" policy, presumably coordinated by nefarious operatives in the White House.

This all has a familiar ring to us. After all, Salon broke the original stories that revealed that certain people in the Clinton camp were discussing such a strategy last summer.

In September, when Salon published our exposi of Rep. Henry Hyde's affair, in which he admitted his now-notorious "youthful indiscretion" with a woman named Cherie Snodgrass, it was widely speculated that the White House had planted the Hyde story. Only when reporters followed our tracks was it confirmed that the Hyde story came from Snodgrass' ex-husband -- not from shadowy White House operatives.

Similarly, Livingston's confession appears to have been triggered by press outlets searching into the heretofore obscure politician's past once he was elected to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker. In fact, Salon reported just last week that some in the White House were considering another round of "scorched-earth" revelations about Republicans, but Livingston was not among those whose indiscretions were being peddled to reporters.

It is regrettable, but the current polarized political environment inside the Beltway, revolving around the impending impeachment of President Clinton for allegedly lying about a sexual affair, has unleashed a wave of curiosity among the press corps -- and to some extent among constituents -- about whether those who would judge the president are themselves free of "indiscretions" in their past.

It turns out, of course, that many of them are not without such blemishes, and Livingston's embarrassment is only the latest in a string of revelations that seems likely to continue until or unless congressional leaders can somehow convince a skeptical public that their proceedings against a popular president are based on more than disapproval of Clinton's private sexual behavior.

The Republicans have failed to accomplish this, and the fallout that has ensued is therefore both logical and inevitable. This isn't about scorched earth. This wave of revelations is being driven by the press and the public. You might say the GOP has brought it on itself.

By David Weir

David Weir is Salon's Washington bureau chief.

MORE FROM David Weir

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

Bill Clinton