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Jewish World Review /Jan. 17, 1999 /25 Teves, 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow Don't be fooled, folks

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) AMERICANS LIKELY WILL PERCEIVE two messages during this year's State of the Union Address. First, they will hear that things are going swimmingly in our great Republic.

You don't have to think long or hard to come up with success stories: The economy continues to boom, despite a stock market with the hiccups. America dominates the global stage, much to the chagrin of enemies abroad.

At home, we have tamed problems we considered intractable just a decade ago. Pick any vexing social ill -- crime, teen-age crime, out-of-wedlock births, drug abuse, infant mortality, divorce, etc. -- and you'll find the rates heading downward.

Positive indicators, on the other hand, have zoomed toward the heavens: Academic achievement scores, up. Worker productivity, up. Home ownership, up. Employment, up. Wages, up. Benefits, up.

Bill Clinton will do what any president would do under the circumstances. He will crow about good times and insinuate that Congress ought to do his will. This is how all State of the Union addresses work, and it explains why they are such colossal bores.

The speech attempts to transform the dull statistical columns of the federal budget into a symphonic score -- a feat that is as impossible as alchemy. Not one is memorable for politics or oratory. This would include the one I helped write.

But beneath the dreary recitation of programs and promises one will be able to detect a second message this year -- one that politicians will transmit with body language and outward behavior; with their cheers, huzzahs and pointed silences.

Washington, you see, is a town on edge -- rife with tension, cleaved by pandemic distrust and exhausted by the carnal peregrinations of the commander in chief. To liven the drama, an accused man will offer goodies to his jury, the Senate. According to historian/Capitol Hill denizen Al Felzenberg, Andrew Johnson successfully bribed his way out of impeachment, using the powers and emoluments at his disposal.

The combination of battle fatigue and potential conflicts could give television viewers an opportunity to see something almost never witnessed at these fetes: empty seats.

Politicos are weary, drained and confused. Never in American annals has political viciousness danced cheek-to-cheek with good times. In the Age of Clinton, the nation's capital has become a den of vipers, and he has mastered the art of rousing the asps to fits of blind fury.

Often, outsiders play the role of provocateurs. James Carville has become wealthy by conducting personal hits on his political foes. Larry Flynt, abetted by investigative reporter Dan Moldea, has attempted to blackmail Republicans into cutting Clinton free.

These wildings have produced tragic and comic results. Some Republicans are on the verge of nervous breakdowns for fear of what Flynt might reveal. A lot of other GOP pols suddenly have crawled to their wives, making confessions and begging forgiveness.

The paralyzed pornographer has brought home to many the high price of hypocrisy -- but in threatening his ideological enemies, he has ventured beyond tin-pot moralizing and into extortion.

The president has spent several years decrying the politics of personal destruction, but the contagion has spread almost in concert with his sermonizing. Just look back: When the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee probed Clinton, committee chairman Dan Burton suddenly found himself the object of derision. First came baseless charges of meddling in international politics; then came a truthful revelation that he fathered a child during an adulterous affair years ago and has paid child support since.

Henry Hyde, upon assuming control of the impeachment process, got thumped by stories revealing a 30-year-old extramarital affair. Bob Livingston became speaker, then a victim. Bob Barr, the bete noir of the liberal establishment, was nicked by revelations concerning his first wife. Bill Clinger and Jim Leach, two of the most pleasant men to serve on the Hill in recent years, also suffered hit and run encounters from Minions of Bill.

The skein of shattered lives stretches way beyond Capitol Hill, however. Paula Jones, Billy Dale, Elizabeth Ward Gracen and virtually every conservative think tank or advocacy group have gotten IRS audits. The press received unflattering information about Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones.

The most harshly partisan pols in Washington have come to regard the present affair as a holy war, in which victory matters more than propriety.

This gang-war tableau provides the backdrop for the president's speech. The Union is sound; its people remain good, strong, industrious and optimistic.

But Washington? That's a different picture. The capital is a town that needs a good hosing down.


01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate