DARE TO DO NOTHING?
Sep 7, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 49 • By TOD LINDBERG
All of these questions need to be addressed in real time as this story continues to unfold. And the decisions Gore makes will have consequences. I find it difficult to believe that even the greatest politician, which Gore is not, could play this out without error. More likely, at the end of the road, rather than invincible, Gore will be wobbly himself.
Moreover, if Gore does end up running the show, the cleanup work will be immense. For six years now, the Democratic party has been organized around Bill Clinton, who was supposed to carry on through 2000 and then transfer party control to his heir apparent, Gore. Even absent scandal, this isn't an easy political transition. Recall the bloodshed and hard feelings when the Bush people took over from the Reagan people in 1988-89. If Gore moves into the White House before January 2001, there will be a huge amount of wreckage to clean up: Hard feelings are nothing next to the anger, betrayal, and recriminations at the end of this process. The party will be in tatters. And, oh no, whom should the new president pardon?
Another example from the career of Newt Gingrich: At least since 1993, the House Republican conference has been organized around the leadership of Gingrich. Does anybody seriously imagine that Democrats would have done something, had there been something to be done, to save Newt Gingrich in January 1997 if it had looked like the Republicans were about to eject him from the speaker's office? Would partisan Democrats in the House have reasoned that they would be better off with a weakened Speaker Gingrich than with a potentially strong successor? If so, they would have miscalculated badly. This was a speaker who, after being badly weakened, still reached a tax-cutting balanced-budget agreement with the White House -- not exactly a liberal Democratic priority.
No, House Democrats were quite sincere in their expressed desire to see Gingrich thrown off the cliff. They understood perfectly well that this would plunge House Republicans into chaos, and that chaos would constitute genuine political opportunity for Democrats.
Gerald Ford did not have an easy time of it when Nixon left office. His party got pounded at the polls. Congress made a successful grab for executive power. Saigon fell. The economy was a mess ("Whip Inflation Now!"). He faced a robust primary challenge. He lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter.
That strikes me as a more likely political model for the aftermath of Bill Clinton's collapse than the model the Dare to Do Nothing crowd is relying on. When Republicans say the president should step down, they should mean it. It's a matter of principle, sure. But since when can you have only one good reason for saying something?
Tod Lindberg is editorial-page editor of the Washington Times.