Bill's Monica Mandate : Clinton Shouldn't Forget What Got Him off the Hook: Promises to Do 'The People's Business'

By Alter, Jonathan | Newsweek, February 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

Bill's Monica Mandate : Clinton Shouldn't Forget What Got Him off the Hook: Promises to Do 'The People's Business'


Alter, Jonathan, Newsweek


Of course it's not over. it never will be. Wrenching historical events don't evaporate; they just lie dormant, resurfacing periodically to deliver some message to the present. Last month, for instance, yet another Watergate trial opened quietly in Washington, this one about the proper valuation of the Nixon tapes. Alexander Butterfield, the man who first revealed the existence of a White House taping system, testified in passing that the thousands of telegrams and calls the Nixon White House claimed to have received from the "Silent Majority" in support of the Vietnam War were just more lies, ginned up by the publicity machine. In fact, few responded favorably to Nixon's speeches. The "Silent Majority" apparently stayed true to its name.

Now the Clintonites say their own new silent majority is stirring. The consistency of the quiet public support for the president first enraged and now demoralizes the American right, which fears it may have lost the larger culture war. William Bennett last week called Clinton's acquittal an "ignoble moment for a great people." Or maybe it was a common-sense moment for a contented people. Most Americans wouldn't want a prosecutor asking them questions about consensual sex, so they didn't want their president asked, even if they know he's a moral reprobate who disgraced his office. Impeachment is for true criminals and tyrants-and he's merely a cad and a liar. The verdict of the public-and history-doesn't get a lot more complicated than that.

Clinton's challenge is how to get his majority to shed its silence. His best hope is that, like Japanese soldiers living in caves during World War II, the GOP doesn't know that the war is over. Even as they acknowledge the backlash to their impeachment drive, many Republicans can't help themselves. The more they yank at Clinton's closet door, the more that tumbles out on their heads, knocking them silly; the more they embarrass him, the more chance he has to salvage something from his stained presidency.

The president clearly wants revenge against the House Republicans in 2000, but he simultaneously believes he can "work with" the GOP. Despite demonizing the Congress on Medicare in 1996, despite ripping the country apart by taking insane personal risks, he still fancies himself a "healer of the breach." But the breach can't be fully healed. After depicting Clinton as a scuzzy felon who should be booted from office, the GOP leadership may have a hard time cozying up to him. Despite sounding bipartisan notes, they aren't likely to cooperate with Clinton unless pressured by intense, focused public opinion to do so.

So the only way for Clinton to bend Congress to his will is to kick 'em when they're down-by running against them. "The Permanent Campaign," it was called in a book 20 years ago by a young political journalist named Sidney Blumenthal. Americans like Clinton in that mode anyway.

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Bill's Monica Mandate : Clinton Shouldn't Forget What Got Him off the Hook: Promises to Do 'The People's Business'
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