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I have a confession to make. I figure I better make it now, because it’s only a matter of time before the Clinton administration does it for me.
I was arrested once. The date was May 1, 1971, the location, Washington, D.C. The circumstances surrounded a massive act of anti-war civil disobedience. In my misguided youth and the drug-induced haze that frequently accompanied it, I was convinced that the Viet Cong were the good guys and the U.S. soldiers fighting Communism were on the side of evil.
In an effort to “bring the war home,” my companions and I overturned cars, set bonfires in the streets of the nation’s capital and generally created a nuisance intended to “shut the government down.”
Somewhere in Dupont Circle, the law caught up with me. I was locked up on a charge of “disorderly conduct” along with thousands of other miscreants, first in a prison yard and later in a juvenile cell. I was 16 years old.
For the record, I still think the Vietnam War was a huge mistake for the United States, but for entirely different reasons. My gripe now is that the politicians in Washington had no intention of allowing our troops on the ground to win the war and liberate Vietnam from the oppression under which it still lives today.
So why the confession? Why now? Well, I started thinking about my arrest of 27 years ago following the March 23 New Yorker magazine article, “Portrait of a Whistleblower,” by professional Clinton apologist Jane Mayer. It was in that piece, a hatchet job on Linda Tripp, that Mayer reported that Tripp had been arrested at the age of 19 for grand larceny.
Apparently, two men had accused her of stealing $263 in cash and a watch valued at $600 from their rooms at a New York inn. In court, the charge was reduced to loitering when it was learned that the money and watch had been stuffed in Tripp’s purse as a prank.
What really hit home with me about this incident was the fact that the judge in the case told Tripp there would be no record of her arrest. Yet, here she is, 30 years later, facing national humiliation over a bogus arrest charge. Why? Almost certainly because people working within the federal government made it their business to find out dirt on Linda Tripp.
I relate to this invasion of Tripp’s privacy because I, too, was told by the court that there would be no record of my arrest — even though, in my case, it was a righteous bust. People in such circumstances are routinely told by the courts that when asked on a job application if they have ever been arrested they are under no obligation to say yes.
But, knowing the character of this administration, there is not a doubt in my mind that — given the right circumstances — they would dredge up this dirt on me. So, of my own free will I open the closet door on this old skeleton — beating Big Brother to the punch.
Perhaps the worst part of the Linda Tripp disclosure is the role of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was the ACLU, ironically, that beat the government case against the rioters with whom I was arrested. It was the ACLU which demanded successfully that none of the thousands of arrests made during the May Day demonstrations of 1971 would be part of the criminal records of the participants. And it has always been the ACLU, love it or hate it, that has championed privacy rights — sometimes even taking it to the extreme.
Yet, it is that same ACLU that is currently running radio commercials in New York, Los Angeles and other major markets targeting Linda Tripp as the gravest threat to civil liberties facing the nation today because of her role in taping Monica Lewinsky’s conversations.
Funny, isn’t it? The ACLU does not mention the way Tripp was victimized by the Pentagon leaking her confidential personnel file to apparatchik Jane Mayer. Nor does it seem particularly concerned with a host of other threats to civil liberties posed by the current administration — political audits, enemies lists, abuses of power, misuse of FBI files, etc., etc.
This administration has an uncanny knack of turning everything upside-down and inside-out — all the while convincing a surprising number of people nothing has really changed. But something has changed — profoundly. A group of people without conscience, without scruples, without principles and without respect for the law or common decency have seized power and refuse to let go.
The nation has never been at greater peril. Where’s the ACLU when you really need them?