Hill of Beans: Newt, Rump of Clintonism

Newt: Rump of ClintonismNewt Gingrich is just back from a ten-day nationwide speaking tour designed to burnish his image. Theoretically, it was time well spent, because if Newt doesn't get his approval ratings above 30 percent by next spring, he'll start looking very much like an electoral millstone to the Republican congressmen who hold his job in their hands. Gingrich certainly accumulated a lot of advertising footage by picking up on an old Clinton trick. That is, he's appearing in front of huge crowds--thousands, in the case of his San Diego "town meeting"--that were been handpicked from the party faithful, down to the very lowest assistant usher.In fact, what Newt is giving Clintonism a whirl. There's something sad about it, in Lesley-Gore-song kind of way. With his new haircut and the excruciating diet that has allowed him to drop thirty or so pounds, Newt is putting a New Me on display. And like most New Mes, this one is less a matter of Becoming Me than of Imitating Someone Else. Newt thinks he can get Clintonesque results through rote enactments of Clintonesque formulas. He's starting with the archetypal Clinton "leadership style" of being on two sides of an issue at the same time. It's what Clinton does when he (a) sabotages the welfare reform he claims as his proudest achievement, or (b) takes credit for tax cuts he fought tooth and nail, or (c) promises to win back the D.C. home rule he's just removed in his own budget. In like fashion, Newt appeared in San Diego wearing a Habitat for Humanity pin and making a big push for voluntarism, after he and his party have spent the past year arguing--correctly--that any voluntarism the state gets involved in winds up being not voluntary but mandatory. Then Newt gassed along on Leno--not a bad move in itself, but a bit embarrassing for a Speaker who has taken a back seat to no one in decrying the lack of "seriousness" in our saxophone-playing president. To the party faithful, he urged a nationwide equivalent of Proposition 209, the California measure to eliminate affirmative action at the state level--after having been solely responsible for blocking every Republican effort of the last three years to end affirmative action nationally.An irony is gradually being cleared up: Just as resentments from the Hiss-Chambers era kept the Great Society liberals from seeing that Richard Nixon was in fact one of their closest ideological allies in the Republican party, the trauma of losing Congress has kept today's Democrats from seeing that, in practice as in temperament, Gingrich is essentially a Clintonite, a new Democrat, one whose attitude toward every government program is basically mend-it-don't-end-it.None of this barnstorming does Newt's congressional colleagues the least bit of good. Nor does it address Newt's most pressing popularity problem: shoring up the rightward edge of the House's Republican majority. So how to explain the trip? It's time to take seriously the rumors that have been dribbling out of Newt's camp: The guy actually wants to run for president in 2000. Clearly it's a pipe dream. Reagan administration press secretary Lyn Nofziger, maybe the straightest shooter to occupy that post in the last several decades (not to mention one of the great eccentrics of Washington, who carries a bottle of Tabasco sauce with everywhere he goes), probably put the Gingrich candidacy in the best perspective: "There's no sense running for president when everybody knows you and most of them hate you." And yet, who's any better? John Ashcroft? Richard Lugar? Lamar Alexander, who, astonishingly, is still campaigning full time? Alexander sprang to mind last week when it was announced "his" company, Corporate Family Solutions, had gone public. No one has ever been able to explain exactly what it does, but Alexander's initial investment in the firm, $6,600, has somehow become $2.7 million--that is, it's increased four-hundred-fold in less than a decade. Even in a bull market, a return of forty-thousand percent in just a few years is a hell of an investment opportunity. Obviously, this is not Alexander's company in any recognizable sense. He's spent half the time since it was founded working in the Bush White House and half the time running for president. What it is is a way for Alexander's cronies to thank him for all he did to benefit certain business cliques in Tennessee in the 1980s. The company has apparently been set up legally--it's no crime to give money to someone, provided he's not still in office--and people wouldn't be so bothered about it were it not for the sanctimonious sniffing Alexander did about it during the last campaign. "Unlike the other candidates," he would say, "I've had a job in the real world." --King ChungSo in retrospect, all the Don't-Throw-Me-In-That-Briar-Patch fretting by Clinton officials about how worried they were about an Alexander candidacy had a simple explanation all along: They were dying to run against Alexander because he was the only Republican who'd pulled as much dubious money out of the private sector as Bungalow Bill himself. There's no time like summer recess for politicians to make damaging self-revelations, and the Asian money scandal has got sleazier and sleazier, while no one's been watching. Johnny Chung, "entrepreneur," DNC fundraiser, and Red China go-between, revealed that he secured an audience for five of his friends from a Chinese oil company with Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. (Remember? She of the multi-million-dollar Africa junkets?) To get the meeting, he was told by Hillary aides Evan Ryan and Maggie Williams that he'd first have to give $25,000 to O'Leary's favorite "charity," something called Africare. Once the check was cut, the meeting was set up. Hillary's aides now swear up and down that the First Harridan herself knew nothing about the contributions. And yet, her fingerprints appear to be on one new revelation every day. Last week, for example, it emerged that at one Hillary fundraiser in Florida in June 1996, the DNC received a $2,500 check, through a front group, from the National Baptist Convention. An irony, right? Why are they giving money to someone who so evidently hates them? And that's not to mention the one-on-one meeting that Clinton held in the Oval Office last summer with Fed-Ex CEO Fred Smith. According to Bob Woodward, who broke the story in the Washington Post, Smith--whose company donated $275,000 to the DNC around that time--wanted concessions from the Japanese on Fed-Ex deliveries. It sounded reasonable to Clinton: All he had to do was risk a trade war that could throw hundreds of thousands out of work. Certainly worth a few hundred thou in campaign funds. --Landlord AlmightyLet it never be said the Clintons don't know what they're doing. There was an article in Time magazine last week about how Paula Jones is in it for the money. Most likely, she is, of course, but that wasn't the most interesting thing about the piece. What stood out was the sheer mastery of Bimbo Management shown by the Clinton team, which managed to get in touch with--and put Time in touch with--a woman named Carrie Ferraro. Ferraro was the landlady who owned the Jones's double-wide, or whatever they lived in, and who now gleefully reveals that the Joneses were little more than dirt-poor no-good white trash who skipped out on their rent. Time portent ously notes a potential contradiction in Jones's account: Ferraro described Jones as "chatty," but added that Jones never alluded to President Clinton, "much less being pawed by him." Now, whoa! Doesn't Time realize that it's being used by the Clinton team to send a message? And that the message is that if Jones persists in her suit, Robert Bennett and Clinton's other lawyers are perfectly willing to bloody her? Because the Time story offers no evidence of anything--except that the young woman who wrote it has never had trouble paying the rent. Believe me, if you find yourself in an adversarial relationship with the person who owns the property in which you're domiciled, the last thing you do is start revealing incriminating information about yourself. Short on scratch and faced with a landlady who obviously hated her, what was Jones supposed to say? "Look, Ma'am, I ain't got no money for rent this month . . . Can I live here for free if I tell you 'bout the time the President asked me to give him a blowjob?"

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