The Trial: Nation Will Survive ...

By Stanley Crouch
New York Daily News, Wednesday, January 20, 1999


Watching the second chapter of President Clinton's impeachment trial yesterday, I got the feeling that this mess will work itself out for the betterment of the country. We always suffer our way through the darkness until we get to a bit more light, then live under that until things go black again.

In the case of Mr. Bill vs. the Republicans, the roots of so many of our problems reveal themselves. One is the deep divide over sex: Americans are either adults who look upon sexual behavior with maturity, or we are cub scouts and campfire girls who get our biggest thrills when something is presented as dirty.

Yet we can still be surprised, which this attempt to behead Mr. Bill has proved.

Were it not for the Republican appeal to outraged sexual immaturity, we might never have expected a contemporary presidency to come under threat for what amounts to a trivial affair and an attempt to keep the world from knowing about it. One would think that by now the subject of sex would have gone beyond the condition of the debased to that of the boring.

Not quite. This is just what happens when there are no weapons other than sex to use in a political battle. Kenneth Starr's extremely expensive investigations led to nothing. Then — bingo! — Monica Lewinsky snapped her panties, and the avalanche started rolling us down to the bottom of the gutter.

As I have observed before, the Starr report treated us to the kind foul detail first found during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings. As those hearings progressed, subjects we thought would never be heard in the halls of government or on television news were spoken of in a deadpan manner. Much of it was spoken by Hill, who recently appeared on the "Today" show, exhibiting her gams in a dress three-quarters up her thighs as she discussed the meaning of sexual encounters in the work place.

So the kind of Peeping Tom politics that the Republicans have built their entire impeachment case on were initially a weapon of the Democrats. The technique didn't work for the donkeys, and it won't work for the elephants. Thomas, for better and for worse, now sits in the black robes of a Supreme Court justice and will be there for some time, if his health remains good.

The same thing will happen with Mr. Bill. After all the fuss is over, he will be in the Oval Office with a big smile on his face while the Republicans will be glowering and grimacing as they watch the old guard, so floridly represented by Henry Hyde, either fade into the background or become neutralized within the ranks of their own party because they so poorly read what Americans were actually thinking.

Such things are for the best. The Republicans have a very shallow case. As the trial of Mr. Bill moves along — and as the White House lawyers continue the counter-attack that Charles Ruff launched so well yesterday — the public will become even more aware of just how shallow the GOP case is, and it will realize that the whole business was about no more than trying to even the score for Richard Nixon.

Whatever Mr. Bill achieves before he leaves office, by the way, will be the result of exactly the kinds of players who are abundant in this impeachment case — people of all colors, of both sexes, of various religious backgrounds, from different parts of the country.

As one who remembers when all matters of great importance were decided largely by white guys, I find this whole matter a strong commentary on how far our country has gone toward a much broader representation of America.

That is not true of the impeachment managers, but they represent the end of something, just as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott represents a long-term connection to bigots that will do him in once the media wake up to it.

So what we are seeing at the moment is just how low politics can go when the animus toward the opposition is great enough. But the future, even of the Republican Party, is going to be quite different. As one highly placed Republican said to me: "We have to change and open the doors because there are only so many rich, fat, white guys left."

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