Hill of Beans

This week, my young colleague Jonathan Last and a few of his friends launched a new online magazine called Squire which bills itself as "The Magazine for Washington's Water-Carriers," and which will be fully up and running by the time Congress returns after Labor Day. A fantastic idea. There's no more affecting human spectacle than these 21-year-old political hopefuls who come to Washington for a summer to "get close to power," not yet having learned that when you're 21 and you get close to power, what you get is exploited. These are the kids who xerox transcripts through an idyllic Fourth of July weekend while everyone else is at the beach, write op-eds that their near-illiterate bosses brazenly take credit for, and pour the coffee at 6 in the morning while prima donna staffers sleep off their hangovers until 11. They deserve a mag.Jonathan and his friends are planning to get semi-famous people they're acquainted with, like Lynn Cheney and the marvelous Arianna Huffington, to write for it. With all due respect, that's a mistake. They ought to dispense with the celebs and turn it into a baldly class-based journal de combat. I have my own modest idea for a column that would be a sure winner. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the kids who arrive full of idealism and political ambition quickly see Washington as the cesspool that it is, and quit after a few weeks or months of humiliation for other cities and other careers. This provides Squire with the potential to tap a hitherto-unmined journalistic resource: a bunch of angry and disillusioned kids who have been abused by power-drunk egotists and yet need never fear reprisals. Why not have them unload on the detested boss? You could call it "Parting Shot," and let a different disgruntled college kid write it every week. I mentioned this idea to a colleague who had worked as an intern for Pete Wilson during the Reagan years, when Wilson was in the Senate--and he gave me his own "Parting Shot" reminiscence. One day he was working in the mailroom when the morning delivery brought in a gargantuan manila folder. He opened it up and found a few dozen identical 8 1/2" x 11" copies of Wilson's official photo, accompanied by a letter from a New York city cab driver, to this effect:"Senator Wilson: I hope these photographs reach you. I can't figure out what they are, but they look embarrassing, and I assure you I haven't shown them to anybody."What was embarrassing was that all the photos had signed auto-pen testimonials from Wilson on them:"To Joe--Number-One Tit-Man on the East Coast: Best wishes, Pete." "To Bob: Here's to a cokehead and a whorehound! Yours, Pete." "To Steve: Next time, I get her first! You Dog! Pete." Etc., etc. The pictures caused considerable fright and consternation in the office until the explanation emerged: One of the Senator's top staffers had recently attended a bachelor's party at a Manhattan strip joint. Well on in the evening, he'd remembered he had a stack of these photos in his briefcase and decided it would be a real riot to forge salacious testimonials for his fellow guests. As the party was breaking up, though, he thought better of it. He collected all the photos and put them back in their manila envelope. Then he passed out in the cab on the way back to his hotel, leaving the photos in the back seat.The upshot? My intern friend (now a prominent journalist) described it as "the quickest firing I've ever seen. On the spot. They got the guy in the hall and they didn't even let him return to his office to grab his jacket." Is that or is that not the making of a good column? ****Jones for WilleyTen years later, it's hard to say whether such revelations would have hurt the senator in the first place, even in the case of those who'd be expected to hit the roof about it: women. Look at the case of Kathleen Willey, the White House assistant who went into the Oval Office to ask for more money and--according to Paula Jones's lawyers--got jumped by the President. I was hearing a lot about this story weeks before it broke. Those who claim something went on (call them "sources close to Jones's legal team") knew far more details than those who claimed nothing went on (call them "sources close to the president"), and all those details checked out. That's a good sign something did happenBut that doesn't mean that what happened is necessarily sexual harassment. The harm done by this second allegation against President Clinton has been virtually nil, and that's because a different set of rules has emerged. In the 1992 elections, one of my more cynical female colleagues speculated that Gennifer Flowers's dismissive reference to the gubernatorial equipment was costing him votes. Following the same principle, if the allegations of Paula Jones's lawyers that Willey was goosed by the commander-in-chief are falling flat, it's because of the recollection of one of Willey's friends, Susan Tripp, that Willey emerged from her encounter "flustered, happy, and joyful." The hope of the Jones lawyers is that the Willey revelation will create a "Packwood effect." There are obviously dozens of women across the country whom Clinton has put the moves on, and the Jonesies hope to hear from them. The problem is that--unlike the Packwood Twenty-Five--the Clinton Seventy-Five all seem to have said yes. Said yes and left "flustered, happy and joyful." As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm fascinated by the continuing series of polls that suggest adultery may be a vote-getter for the Prez, at least among 3-5 percent of the population. There seems at this point to be no stigma attached to adulterers--only to failed adulterers. Gold-Chain RepublicansOne of the most important--and most widely publicized--polls of the last few years is a Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) job commissioned from Mark Penn and released last week. It shows that 74 percent of Democrats think the role of government is "to give everyone a chance to make a higher income," versus 20 percent who say government's role is "to redistribute existing wealth." In other words, they're Reaganites, with the Commie fringe reduced to a fifth. Call it the Red Rump.However you look at it, it's distressing news for the Republican party to find that Democrats are addressing the economy much as Ronald Reagan did in 1981. On the one hand, it's possible the Democratic party has grown up to an extent, and its voters have matured. On the other hand, it's possible that the Democrats' ranks have been swollen by defections, that there are now "Clinton Republicans." If so, it's only another indication that there's nothing natural or obvious or self-evident about the Reagan/Thatcher-style coalition linking free-marketers and social conservatives. A lot of Reagan's most ardent supporters were northeasterners distressed that they were being taxed out of a summer home, even if they didn't buy into the moral agenda. Take Roger Stone, the swingin', multi-wived, two-hundred-dollar-permanent apostle of supply side economics, and a native of Connecticut, who was one of the architects of the two winning Reagan campaigns. That's why the fight between Bill Weld and Jesse Helms over whether Weld gets to become ambassador to Mexico is such a catastrophe for the party. Roger's kind of gold-chain Republicanism, if we can coin a phrase, seems to be in real peril. The decision of Dick Lugar to begin retaliating legislatively against Helms in the agriculture committee that Lugar chairs, is a good sign that someone recognizes as much. Lugar himself, of course, is the most tedious kind of badgering Boy Scout--no one can empty out a banquet hall like Ol' Dick--and his idea of a proper way to discipline Helms is by screwing the tobacco industry, since North Carolina is the biggest grower of the product. (Such measures will work exactly as do economic sanctions on foreign dictatorships--decimate a bunch of uninvolved proles and strengthen the hold of the honchos they're aimed at.) But at least Lugar realizes that the alienation of the gold-chainers is being carried to the point of vindictive recklessness, and may be leaving moderate, upwardly mobile centrists in the position where they're too embarrassed to vote for the GOP. No one else in Washington seems to realize it. Republicans are--with a few exceptions, almost all of them in the northeast--squarely behind Helms. To draw a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote analogy, both the Helmsies and the Weldies are sawing at the branch between them. When the bough breaks, it will be Helms who is sitting in the tree and Weld who comes plummeting to earth, to look for another home. It looks like the gold-chain Republicans will be rhetorically marginalized by the party's most powerful wing, much as the right-wing Southern yaller dawgs were marginalized by the Democratic party starting in the 1950s. A majority of Republicans seem to have decided that this medical marijuana-backing, gay-rights-championing wing is sufficiently out of step with the rest of the party that it threatens its ideological coherence.It's beginning to look like Weld Republicans aren't really Republicans in the first place. The Boston Globe reported last week that Weld's wife, Susan Roosevelt Weld, gave $199 to Harvey Gantt, Helms's 1996 Senate opponent in North Carolina. This was a sneaky move, designed to avoid the FEC disclosure requirements that kick in at $200. It's a sign Susan was flustered, but not in the sense of joyful and happy.


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