Jewish World Review / Oct. 9, 1998 / 19 Tishrei, 5759

Neal M.Sher

Neal Sher Insulting our intelligence

THIS JUST IN. Politicians in the nationís capitol breathe a collective sigh of relief as constitutional scholars, after exhaustive research and debate, conclude that "knowingly insulting the publicís intelligence" is neither grounds for impeachment nor a bar to holding public office. Too bad.

Having emigrated to Washington in the summer of 1972 (when Watergate was in the incubation stage), served in government for 15 years, lobbied Congress, and sat through many an AIPAC board of directors meeting, Iíve witnessed my share of hypocrisy, buffoonery, demagoguery, duplicity and pious pomposity. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the suffocating stench emanating these days from Washington.

Made possible by the inexplicable and inexcusable recklessness of the President, driven by blatant political partisanship, championed by a born-again, holier than thou independent counsel with limitless power and resources, and fanned by a self-righteous media in which the Washington Post has out-slimed the National Enquirer, what was essentially private misbehavior has been converted into a Constitutional crisis with ramifications going well beyond the fate of Mr. Clinton.

Unlike Watergate, which centered on far graver misconduct and from which serious reforms emerged, there are no good guys in this side show. Not a one. And there certainly are no heroes like Judge John Sirica or Senator Sam Ervin.

The Clinton-Lewinsky Hall of Shame has many deserving candidates, in addition to the President. Here are some who merit immediate induction.

In all the recent clamor, little, if any, mention has been made of the Supreme Court, even though the downward spiral has its genesis in last yearís unanimous ruling that there was no reason to treat the Paula Jones case differently than any other piece of litigation; her case would be allowed to proceed while Clinton was in office. Apparently, none of these astute legal minds could find any reason to believe that the prosecution of this politically infected suit would interfere with Mr. Clintonís ability to carry out his duties as Commander in Chief. On a matter of such gravity, we would have been better served with a bit more common sense rather than legal acumen. The Court botched this one big time.

Thereís no need to harp on the smarmy behavior of Kenneth "Elmer Gantry" Starr and his crew; the litany of abuses is obvious to anyone with the slightest sense of objectivity. Encouragingly, the polls bear this out, demonstrating that at least the American public isnít prepared to abandoned itís common sense.

I must also say that, as a former federal prosecutor, I couldnít help but feel ashamed to listen to the cadre of deputy independent counsels go after the President in what looked and sounded like a deposition conducted by a bunch of ambulance chasers in a nasty divorce case. And to think that this was broadcast around the world in prime time - and on Rosh Hashana, no less, when many children were home to watch it - packaged as American democracy at work, with nothing less than a Congressional imprimatur. Incredible.

As for Gingrich, Hyde, Burton, Chenoweth et al, who have decried their being "outed" for past behavior (Hyde dismissed his adulterous romp, when he was in his mid-forties, as a "youthful indiscretion"), whoís kidding whom? Where did they think the road they and their cohorts had paved and traveled would lead? They were the ones who effectively decreed open season on exposing the past when they tried to claim the politically moral high-ground - an oxymoron if ever there was one.

How about those past and present confidants of the President. With friends like theseÖ. Take George Stephanopulous, Clintonís former right-hand man, who owes his fame and newly acquired fortune to the man he now shamelessly stabs in the back to bring in ratings and keep his name in the news. George is definitely not the kind of guy youíd want in your foxhole.

Letís not overlook the master-opportunist Dick Morris, who rode the Clinton bandwagon for all it was worth, and now relishes in trashing his old boss.

And then thereís the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Steve Grossman, who made a complete fool of himself by proclaiming - on the heels of the Presidentís confession to the affair and at the very time all the nasty details were being aired - that Clintonís "moral" leadership was second to none. Everyone in the room - Clinton supporters all - cringed as the ever-unctuous Grossman handed the Presidentís adversaries a ready made press release and sound-bite on a silver platter.

No rogues gallery would be complete without at least passing mention of the self-styled experts in the media whose intruding presence is impossible to escape. They are everywhere, all the time with their nonstop blather. I thought nothing could be worse than the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial. I was wrong. In the same breath that they report the overwhelming desire of the public to move on, they inundate us with sanctimonious analyses of every unsavory detail, topped off with their specious speculation about how much worse it could get. Enough already!

By now, some of you might be wondering, "so, whereís the Jewish angle" to all of this. Hereís my take. While it remains to be seen who, if anyone, stands to benefit from this surreal farce, there are strong signs that the Christian right has been re-energized and is flexing its muscle as the power behind the scenes. When the say "jump" an intensely partisan Republican Congress asks only "how high." No matter how you cut it, the fact that this episode is driven in large part by Gingrichís desire to serve the religious right canít be good news for the Jews.

Make no mistake, at its core, the Republican strategy is essentially a "get out the vote" campaign aimed at their hard-core constituency. Despite feverish efforts by their leadership, the Republican Congress has been unable to satisfy the Christian Coalition crowd, which, as the Federal Election Commission has alleged, is effectively an adjunct of the Republican Party - and a very wealthy one at that. By pushing the envelope on the Lewinsky scandal, the Republicans can serve that segment of their constituency in the hope of strengthening their hold on both chambers of Congress. The national polls and the overall mood of the nation are of no interest. They are concerned first and foremost with a relatively small number of local Congressional elections.

By now, it should be obvious to even the casual observer that the sanctimonious pronouncements calling for the "process" to run its course, the rush to release raw "evidence", grand-jury testimony and video-tapes, all in the name and the publicís "right to know", are designed to keep the Republican loyalists energized and engaged through November 4. Do Gingrich, DeLay and Co. really believe that the American people are so gullible as to fall for those lame arguments? Their straight-faced insistence that they are not engaged in raw politics is as believable as any attempt by the President to argue that he didnít have a sexual relationship with "that woman."

As our Congressional leaders scurry about to get themselves re-elected at any cost, they should be reminded that as disappointing as the Presidentís behavior was, they bear the brunt of the blame for making this a prime-time, trashy soap opera. By putting partisan interests ahead of our national interest, theyíve turned the United States into the laughing stock of the world.

I end with a request - more like a plea - to all those politicians and self-appointed "pundits" who canít refrain from lecturing us about morals, ethics and whatís in our best interest. Do us a favor. Get a life. Find honest work. Go to Disneyland. Do anything. Do nothing. Just shut up.

JWR contributor, Neal M. Sher, is a partner in the Washington law firm Schmeltzer, Aptaker and Shepard and is the President of the American section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. He is the former Director of the Office of Special Investigations in the Justice Department and the former Executive Director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee.


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4/5/98: Judge Gilbert Merritt's Obsession With Jews (Demjanjuk, part II)
3/22/98: The Continuing Saga of Ivan Demjanjuk
3/1/98: Shameful Scapegoating At The Holocaust Museum

©1998, Neal M. Sher