The Magazine


Dec 28, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 15 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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It's easy to dismiss much of Jackson's rhetoric as a weirder, less eloquent version of his father's. It's harder to ignore the same kind of talk -- dark warnings of political coups and plotting segregationists -- when it comes from Alan Dershowitz, law professor, cable television fixture, and creator of the "political coup d'etat" talking point. For one thing, Dershowitz represents Harvard Law School, not the South Side of Chicago. For another, Dershowitz appears on MSNBC a lot more often.

Plus, Dershowitz is even less subtle than Jackson. "A vote against impeachment," he told Geraldo Rivera last week, "is not a vote for Bill Clinton. It is a vote against bigotry. It's a vote against fundamentalism. It's a vote against anti-environmentalism. It's a vote against the right-to-life movement. It's a vote against the radical Right." It is a vote, Dershowitz said gravely, against "the forces of evil, evil, genuine evil."

Overheated as Dershowitz's rhetoric is, he is still on the faculty at Harvard, and one might expect him to have at least some evidence for his charges against Republicans. He doesn't. Take Dershowitz's claim, repeated on television to Geraldo, that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are "a bunch of politically opportunistic hypocrites who couldn't care less about the United States of America."

Nastiness aside, there's a problem with this contention: If polls show most Americans are against impeachment, how can Republicans who vote for impeachment be acting out of political opportunism?

"There are two different kinds of polls," Dershowitz explains. "Very few politicians care about the polls you see on CNN. They have their own polls." Which polls? Which politicians? "This impeachment is largely driven by that kind of look at the polls," he repeats. Yes, but how do you know this? Where are the reports, the studies, the data people who run around calling themselves "professor" are supposed to whip out in the heat of an argument to prove their case? "It's the conclusion I draw," Dershowitz says primly. "Everybody's entitled to reach a view on this, and that's my view."

Dershowitz's view has won him appearances on lots of cable broadcasts over the past year, not to mention an audience with the First Family on Martha's Vineyard, but it's hard not to think he has lost something in the process. Calling your political opponents evil can be an effective short-term strategy. Among other things, it can whip soccer moms into a useful frenzy. The trick is to get out of the game before you begin to sound like a frenzied soccer mom yourself. It may be too late for Dershowitz.

Earlier this month, Dershowitz gave an interview to Sean Hannity, host of a radio show on WABC in New York. During the course of the program, Dershowitz made the point that Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia is a white supremacist. Hannity disagreed. Dershowitz lost control. "You're a horse's ass, a wimp, and a liar," Dershowitz screamed. "You'll be working for McDonald's in a few years because you're playing ball with racists, and your New York audience shouldn't be subjected to this."

"Shut your jackass-professor mouth," replied Hannity. "You're a failed talk-show host who has the nerve to call people racists after you sat silent while the race card was played in the [O.J.] Simpson trial."

"Listen, you wimp," Dershowitz yelled back. "I'll bet you $ 1,000 that you won't renounce your buddy Barr after I prove to you that he's a racist and an anti-Semite."

The argument continued, but how it ended isn't the point. The point is that it happened at all. One moment, you're a respected Harvard law professor. The next, you're screaming at radio talk-show hosts about who is and who is not a racist. Before you know it, you're standing on the steps of the Capitol in tears.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.