The Magazine


Let's Just Make Believe the Scandal Doesn't Exist

Aug 24, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 47 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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The day after terrorists blew up two U.S. embassies in East Africa, Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, held a meeting at the White House to discuss the American response to the bombings. The secretaries of state and defense, along with the attorney general and the heads of the CIA and the FBI, were there. Absent from the table, however, was Bill Clinton. After a morning engagement with his personal lawyer, the president took the rest of the day off and played golf.

Clinton's failure to show up to an important national-security meeting was taken by many in Washington as confirmation that he has become utterly distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and no doubt he has. Facing the threat of impeachment and in a perpetual huddle with his lawyers, Clinton doesn't spend much time these days running the White House, much less the country. But that doesn't mean he has been idle. In fact, he has never been busier.

In addition to speaking at an astounding number of campaign-season fund-raisers and taking frequent trips out of the country, Clinton has talked up a new public-policy initiative nearly every day for the past several months. Virtually none of them means much, but the sheer volume is impressive. Consider: In a single seven-day period in early July, the president gave public lectures on HMO reform, handgun safety, teen drug use, the year 2000 computer problem, and the importance of restoring historic sites. He also participated in a race-relations "dialogue" on PBS and celebrated the 200th birthday of the Marine Corps band.

The following week, judging from White House press releases, was even more productive. Between July 20 and 26, Clinton promoted "discipline and safety in schools," improved "the quality of nursing homes," announced "new grants to fight crime," signed the IRS Reform Act, and took on "agriculture issues during a radio press conference." On Friday he gave a speech to the Boys Nation class of 1998, and by Monday he was hard at work again, chatting about the entitlement mess at a forum on Social Security reform.

The first half of August was, if possible, even more frenetic. Over a span of less than two weeks, the president hosted events on welfare reform, job retraining, global warming, health care, information technology, and gun control. On August 7, he appeared in the Rose Garden to sign the Work Force Investment Act, possibly the most important piece of legislation, Clinton explained, since the Credit Union Membership Access Act, which he had signed earlier that morning. Four days later, Clinton traveled to San Bruno, Calif., to assure citizens there that his administration is doing its best to keep their municipal reservoir clean -- not an easy task, he reminded the crowd, given the "disturbing trend" among Republicans to oppose clean drinking water.

An ordinary president trapped in a humiliating, possibly felonious, sex scandal might hesitate before needlessly antagonizing his political opponents. Clinton, by contrast, has become belligerently partisan since January. In the past few weeks, he has threatened to veto seven of the 13 congressional appropriations bills, challenging the Republican leadership to another government shutdown. In speeches, his rhetoric frequently becomes comically overheated. At an event in Maryland earlier this month, Clinton warned a crowd of high-school students that the Republican Congress wants to eliminate their summer jobs. "And," said the president gravely, "that's not all the Republicans plan to do away with." According to Clinton, the heartless GOP also wants to rid America of safe, affordable daycare centers; hopes for a return to "exploitative" child labor; and, "at a time when our nation is experiencing extremely severe weather," can hardly wait to deny heat to elderly poor people during the winter months.