Pity the poor Democrats. They stood by their man in 1998 and sold their souls in the process. OK, maybe they got away with it, but it was embarrassing to watch. And it’s embarrassing to remember. Still, the Democrats played their cards right, and Al Gore almost won the election. He even took the popular vote.
Then disaster hit. Not just Florida and the Bush victory, but the slimy pardon scandals – which left even the most rabid Clintonoids drop-jawed. A devastating one-two punch. And if you add Jesse’s “love child” to the mix, it was just plain ugly. A knockout for sure.
The Dems were down for the count. George W. Bush was the ascending prince. One Washington columnist called the transition practically biblical in proportions. With blinding speed, Bush’s enemies had been made his footstool.
Yes, it was a dark winter for the Democrats. People were even canceling Clinton speaking engagements. Presidential gifts went missing. “White trash in the White House” wasn’t just a partisan slogan. It started to look like sober historical analysis.
Still, the Dems are nothing if not resourceful. …
All of a sudden, Sen. Jeffords bailed. Daschle reclaimed his crown as Senate majority leader. And Clinton got new life by “movin’ on up” to Harlem. The big mo was back. It was springtime for Clinton and everything bloomed. The people still loved him as anyone could tell by the Harlem rallies organized to celebrate the “first black president.” The speech dollars started rolling in again. And Clinton’s most important weapon came into play: the media’s short memory for all Clinton scandals. Once again, it saved the day. Pardons shmardons. That boy can give a speech. Besides, he’s one of us.
So there are the Democrats, smacking their lips at their new prospects in 2002, with visions of 2004 dancing in their heads. Looking back, you gotta feel sorry for them. How could they know what was coming? How could they predict that summer would bring … Gary Condit?
That’s right, just when the Democrats thought it was safe to go back in the water, another sleazoid captured the headlines – not for a week or two, but for a whole news-slow summer. What’s a Democratic Party to do?
They were so close to the integrity thing, too! Everyone had forgotten the devil with the blue dress. “Monica” was becoming a handbag-designer label. And now another intern scandal comes along? And the similarities between the two scandals didn’t stop with 25-year-olds. You got your sex. You got your lying (OK, maybe not under oath, but lying nonetheless). You got parsing of words, overall dishonesty and other women – plenty of other women.
This was one long Democrat nightmare – and maybe one where you don’t wake up. How can you spin a story that might involve the death of a young woman – somebody’s daughter? You can’t.
The Dems were perplexed. You can’t do the “I’m so bored with this story” act. You can’t do the “personal behavior” thing. You can’t make the “above the law-below the law” point. You certainly can’t convince anybody that he did it “to protect the family” – after all, family feelings are not more important than Chandra’s life. So what can you do? Get James Carville and open up the war room? I don’t think so. Get Larry Flynt? …
Well, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.
The public knows too well from other murder stories that an abducted woman is in great danger. The first few days are the most crucial. Anyone keeping her alive has less and less reason to do so. And the more publicity there is, the more dangerous the situation. Therefore, a serious effort to find Chandra was essential. And Condit’s effort wasn’t serious. This is Mary Jo Kopechne all over again. Save your political career and let the young lady be damned.
So, now, refocus on the poor Clinton Democrats. Here they are trying to revive their No. 1 fundraiser – who’s been scandal-free for four whole months. Here they are trying to be the traditional-values party (seriously). And this guy Condit gets firmly stuck in the news cycle. They don’t want to force him to resign now since the district would likely go Republican. Stalling is the best option. Redistricting is the best hope.
But that means the Democrats are stuck with Gary, banging around in the news cycle, with the whole country thinking about Clinton. What can they do? They look bad if they forgive Gary. They look bad if they condemn him. It is a mess, a real conundrum.
And doing nothing is not an option.
Each passing week that Condit stonewalls digs the Democrats deeper into the hole they made for themselves by stonewalling in ’98. Maybe the way out is to separate from Condit and “let the voters decide.” If he survives – good. If he doesn’t survive – OK. But there’s a problem with this neutral tactic. It still makes the Dems look like hypocrites. After all, they stood by Clinton. Why back off Condit?
One obvious answer is that Clinton’s cover-up didn’t cost an intern her life. But this opens up a different can of worms. The Democrats would have to convince us that if Monica had been missing in 1998, Bill Clinton’s first priority would have been to call the police. I’m sure we can all guess his thinking on that. So what if his presidency was on the line! So what if a lifetime of ambition would all go down the drain! So what if his legacy will forever include the word “intern.” Hillary would understand, wouldn’t she?
OK, maybe not. So this tactic was not an option for Democrats. Gary Condit would have to go. But how? Certainly not on principle.
The answer in the Machiavellian world of beltway Democrat politics is simple. Go with me on this. Remember the Dems had all summer to strategize. Since you can’t attack Condit for the scandal, attack him for how he’s handling the scandal. Condit would have to do something so outrageous, so unexpectedly brash and so “uncaring” that no one could blame the Democrats for turning on him when previously they stuck with Clinton. The party needed sympathy – pity the poor Democrats for having to put up with this guy. The lout wouldn’t even apologize. Who can blame the Dems for being fed up? We’re fed up too!
Welcome to the Connie Chung interview.
Don’t you think it’s irrational that Condit didn’t come clean about the affair with Levy? Connie Chung thought so. She was stunned. But either it was amazing incompetence – or perhaps that was the plan. One day, he’s a “man of honor” and the next, he’s “disturbing.” Perhaps Gary needed to go down looking weird in order to save the party.
As mentioned, they couldn’t really condemn Condit, and if they protected another intern-molester, it might well establish – fully and finally – that the Clinton Democratic party is the un-values party, the un-moral party and, definitely, the un-family party. Even loyal suburban women would have to take a second look. Figure it out. No suburban women, no 2002-2004.
So the gambit is simple: Make the deal, Gary. We’ll protect you. We’ll give you a soft Modesto landing. Just piss everyone off. You can’t act compassionate, so just act like a cold-hearted bastard. No confessions, no apologies – so we don’t have to stand by you.
Just make everyone mad so we can get mad too. Save the party, Gary. We’ll just declare you a security risk (as if Clinton wasn’t), pull you off committees, and you can fade away like an old soldier.
Your constituents may turn on you, Gary, but we won’t. That’s the deal. On the other hand, if things go like they did with Bill – if adoring crowds still turn out for you in Modesto – if the polls start to swell … well, then run, and run hard. We’ll back you no matter what!
OK, sure all this is pure speculation – maybe even outright hallucination. On the other hand, that any of this is even plausible is what makes the American political scene so sad.
Forget the poor Democrats. Pity the poor Americans.