We all know Bill Clinton is a masterful politician.
He's always had an almost scary knack for sitting on a fence and making it look like he's standing on both sides at once. It's the "I didn't inhale" strategy.
Remember the welfare reform bill that he signed? He was for it and agin' it at the same time. It's not what we really want, he said, but it's better than nothing and we can fix it during the next session of Congress. Well, it's the next session of Congress-- have you heard him say anything about it? Of course not, because we've all forgotten about it, as he well knew we would, and besides, the polls indicate that we don't like poor folks anyway, so screw 'em, damn freeloaders.
If nothing else seems to work, you can always count on the short attention span of the American electorate to get you out of political hot water. In the case of Fornigate, it's taken about 10 days, plus a good speech on national TV, and some saber-rattling directed at Saddam Hussein. Clinton's approval rating hovers near the 70 percent mark, the highest ever.
So what happened?
Did we all of a sudden just get darn sick of seing Monica Lewinsky's chubby little mug smiling out at us from our newspapers and TV screens? Oh, please. We've been forced to look at Ronald McDonald for thirty years now, and you don't hear people wenching about that. Well, maybe a little bit.
Or maybe it's true that we all feel bad for the Prez, and who he bangs on the side isn't anyone's business except his and his wife's. Sure. I'm sorry, folks, but I'm a small town boy, and I happen to know for a fact that people routinely make that sort of thing their business given the slightest opportunity.
What's happened here is that the President and his people have HANDLED THE SITUATION, and they've done it brilliantly. They've done it using a classic three-pronged counterattack consisting of press leaks, image management, and official silence.
The President himself was permitted a single, terse, blanket denial, prefaced with the priceless words, "I want you to listen to me." Before and after that, nothing.
In the meantime, the President's press secrectary, Mike McCurry, has taken on the worst role in the world and put in an Oscar-winning performance. "The President wants to answer these questions," he says, and in the next breath explains that the lawyers, being lawyers, are very cautious and there's not much the President really can say without pissing off the lawyers.
The media has tried to justify the miserable way they've handled the whole thing by blaming McCurry. "But Mike," they whine, "you're not telling us anything, so we HAVE to report all these unconfirmed rumors as fact." Idiots.
McCurry is quite a guy. At a press briefing last week, he remarked that he felt like he was "double-parked in a no-comment zone." A good sense of humor goes a long way with us Americans.
The First Lady, who is no slouch herself, was sent out on the talk show circuit to "stand by her man" (women love that) and cast doubt on the motivations of Ken Starr.
"Friends of Bill," such as James Carville and other yes-men no longer officially connected with the White House, were used to spread rumors and innuendo about Starr, Lewinsky, and Linda Tripp.
And for every leak surrounding the alleged affair between Lewinsky and Clinton, a counter-leak popped up about Monica and her Dark Past.
So in the span of about a week, the President and his political allies have managed to construct a plausible counter-scenario to pit against the "philandering old guy and the vulnerable young intern" story. In this scenario, Ken Starr is a tool of a right-wing conspiracy that has been after Clinton since before he even became President. Linda Tripp is a dirt-digging scandal-monger who sold out her friend for the prospect of a big book contract. And Monica Lewinsky is a psychotic nymphomaniac AND a congenital liar, with a thing for older married guys.
I've been around the block enough times to know that in this world there is no such thing as "Either-Or." The truth, if it's ever unearthed (and it probably never will be, as usual), undoubtedly lies somewhere in between, in that Vast Gray Area.
The really discouraging part of it all is that the American people have always had a penchant for preferring the Easy Answers, and if they aren't immediately forthcoming, they'd just as soon move on to something else.
Let the bombing begin.
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