Post-Partnum Blues
Jude Wanniski
February 17, 1999

 

Memo To: Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Explaining Maureen Dowd

The year-long impeachment process really was far more draining on the nation's emotional energies than any of us realized. You've known me for 20 years as a man of boundless optimism, yet even I faltered in the first days after Friday's vote. I've been down many times in my political life, but never for more than a day or two, and never with the feeling I should just give up. For the first time in decades I turned the television set off after the vote and did not worry that I was missing something on the Jim Lehrer "Newshour," or "Capital Gang" or "Hardball" or "Evans&Novak" or "Fox News Sunday" with Tony Snow or "Meet the Press" or "Face the Nation" or "Sam&Cokie" or The McLaughlin Group. I just shut it all down and curled up in a fetal position.

Just so you will know I have not committed political suicide, Trent, I assure you I did read a bit of The New York Times in the last few days. I was glad I did, too, because I saw you gave an interview to a small gang of reporters right after the vote and kicked the President around and kicked around your Democratic colleagues too. I think everyone who counts knows you ran a good show keeping your personal feelings to yourself in a way that made you one of the few men who came out of the process with a higher standing in public esteem than when it began. You deserved to blow off a bit of steam, especially at the stupefying partisanship of the Democrats who swore an oath to impartial justice. Before their lives are over, many of them will wish they could come back and vote again, I think, and I just don't mean the Republican Arlen Specter, who really did make an historic ass of himself.

Look at Maureen Dowd's column in the Sunday Times and you will see a grotesque verbal photograph that captures the essence of the political moment. Poor Maureen had to write a Sunday column without having any time to gather her thoughts, so the column comes across like a buckshot blast of anger mainly directed at the losing team. If she had time, she might not have been so quick to condemn Republicans for having introduced "a new Comstockianism, the intrusion of moralism and politics into private lives. We will continue to witness the titanic struggle between Comstock and Woodstock." Of course I agree with her that this titanic struggle will continue, but only until it reaches an equilibrium that makes sense. We're not about to go back to the days when adultery was a capital crime in the state of Connecticut. Last week on "Hardball," Chris Matthews asked a young Democratic pollster why so many New England Republicans voted not to convict the President, and she answered that New Englanders tend to be better educated! Chris beat her up for a stupid answer, but did not have a better one. I think it has to do with a residual political memory in New England of the early Puritans. Then again, Alexis de Tocqueville in 1839 marveled at how many private misdemeanors were capital crimes in those early days, and how few executions there were!

Remember, Maureen was one of the distaff journalists who began the insertion of morality and politics into private lives, when the Woodstockian Democrats tried to string up Clarence Thomas in the first attempted electronic lynching. At the conclusion of the Senate vote back then, you will recall that two-thirds of the American people said they believed Justice Thomas and not Anita Hill, but Maureen and her friends still were sure that Clarence had said something off color once or twice to Anita which meant of course that his public career should be ended and he thrown into the gutter of history. In the Woodstock world, you can only be innocent if you are one of the gang. For the most part, Maureen blames you and your fellow Republicans for having forced her to confront the ugliness of Woodstock in the Oval Office. If only you had not had an uncontrollable desire to get revenge for Watergate and Clarence Thomas and Packwood, the nation would have been spared this trial and its tribulations. So now the President will have to get even with you guys, she says, because that's the way it works, isn't it? Then again, in her closing she takes much of it back, toasting Clinton again for his predilection to fool around because he doesn't have an agenda of his own: "If there's one thing we now know about this inhabitant of the Oval Office, it's that he must at all costs be kept busy."

The one thing you should not do, Trent, is allow Clinton to feel as if he has won anything at all, except the same kind of escape that O.J. got when his jury held its nose and voted acquittal. Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV] told the world that in his own estimation Clinton is a felon, a man who has perjured himself and obstructed justice, but that his removal would cause more chaos than having him serve out his term. I accept Byrd's estimate and his tortured vote of conscience, the same way I would tell Maureen Dowd she should not go to hell for writing the anguished column she wrote on Sunday. (Maureen is a sort of Catholic who still worries that maybe there is a heaven and a hell.)

You will find, I think, that national political power will shift toward you and the Congress, away from the President, in the same way it shifted toward the President when Newt blundered in 1995. Except this is much more fundamental. The cultural war is upon us, a titanic conflict, as Maureen says. After several days thinking it is hopeless, and that I might as well give up, I encourage you to hand in there and push ahead, as hard as you possibly can.