By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Which leaves the Republicans, as their response to the State of the Union demonstrated, increasingly and petulantly the party of an ideological fringe.
For when congressional Representatives Jennifer Dunn of Washington and Steve Largent of Oklahoma sought to define the Republican agenda in the GOP’s official response to the State of the Union, they found that Clinton had often as not gotten there first. Largent called for more Pentagon spending, though he was compelled to acknowledge that Clinton had beaten him to it. Dunn called for private retirement accounts, but unlike Clinton, had no specific proposals to flesh out her program. The primary issues on which the two were able to differentiate their party from the president were partial-birth abortion and tax cuts — the latter really the sole remaining article in the GOP catechism, but one that the public, in poll after poll, says is less important than saving Social Security or Medicare, or improving education.
What the GOP’s general paucity of agenda confirms is that a full decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Republican Party has still not recovered from the end of the Cold War. Anti-communism was the glue that held modern conservatism together, the larger purpose that animated its activists. The Cold War placed the nation on a permanent quasi-war footing, which gave the GOP an edge over those Democratic appeasers. Now that edge is gone, and the Republicans seem to have elevated the Dem- ocrats generally and Clinton in particular to virtually the same demonic status they once accorded the communists. Bizarrely, they are re-igniting the cultural civil war that racked America in the ’20s — howling against modernism, raging against relativism.
Indeed, by their omission of virtually any other defining GOP issue, Largent and Dunn made clear how the Republicans have become the party of impeachment. Little else unites them. Nothing else excites them. Bill Clinton has become their surrogate evil empire.
The House managers, of course, can’t quite bring themselves to make this case before the bar of history, let alone before the Senate. Instead, they’ve been stuck since the trial began replaying the same sordid story that the nation has known for a full year now. At some not-quite-rational level, they seem to have come to the conclusion that their only hope lies in endless repetition of the same material. And so one manager after another discusses Clinton’s disquisition on the meaning of is. One after another, they run the footage of Clinton’s taking the oath at the grand-jury deposition. You’re not convinced that this requires his removal from office? they seem to be saying. Here: Watch it for a fifth time. Maybe this time it will sink in.
In their saner moments, even the managers apparently realize that repetition unto itself won’t turn the tide, so they have determined to cloak their charges in the majesty of history. In his summation last Saturday, Henry Hyde situated the case for Clinton’s ouster in the grand progression of human freedom that, as he told it, runs backward from Desert Storm through Normandy, Valley Forge, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, Roman and ultimately Mosaic Law. He inexplicably omitted the Babylonian Traffic Code.
But it’s not just Hyde who’s misappropriating history. Day after day, the trial itself has the form of history without the substance. Seldom has so weighty a proceeding seemed so weightless at the core. Nothing new has been revealed, or alleged, or adduced. No hitherto unseen threat to the republic has emerged. Except, of course, the one we’ve known about all along — that of a political faction which, on the flimsiest of constitutional grounds, is seeking to overturn the quadrennial vote of the American people. That’s the only genuine piece of history in the whole damn proceeding.