The GOP's Lost Patrol

By Mark Shields, Syndicated Columnist
Washington Post, Saturday, January 30, 1999, page A19
� Copyright 1999 Creators Syndicate Inc.

For well over a week now, the House Republican prosecutors managing the impeachment case in the Senate against President Clinton have reminded me of Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Just in case you might have forgotten, Yokoi was that tired warrior who, seized by guilt for having failed his emperor, surrendered on Guam to a civilian traffic cop.   That happened in early 1972, more than a quarter-century after Hirohito had lost his divinity and Japan had lost World War II.  For more than 26 years, without so much as a payday or an encouraging word from headquarters, Yokoi survived and persevered.

That's just what the House managers have been trying to do long after Senate Republicans have thrown in both the sponge and the towel, and turned their energies toward locating, for themselves, a politically riskless "exit strategy."  As for Reps. Hutchinson, Graham, Rogan and Hyde, the GOP Senate has abandoned them somewhere on Guam.

Evidence for such a harsh judgment bursts from the Senate Republican majority's decision to summon only three witnesses for depositions in the impeachment trial: Monica Lewinsky, presidential confidante Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.  This means that Betty Currie, President Clinton's personal secretary - whose testimony in the Paula Corbin Jones deposition the president appeared to seek to influence and who was the Clinton White House contact with both Lewinsky and Jordan - will not testify.

The Senate Republicans were, to put it bluntly, scared stiff.  They were terrified that as an almost exclusively male and exclusively white brotherhood of blue suits and red ties, they might be seen in public badgering or bullying an African American woman.

Two words haunt the GOP Senate in 1999: "Anita Hill." It was her serious charges against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (and the rigorous questioning she received from skeptical and hostile GOP senators) that produced a political firestorm fully felt in 1992, when Democratic women won both Senate seats in California, as well as a Senate seat in Illinois and Washington.

Senate Republicans lived in dread of a televised browbeating of Betty Currie, providing Democratic candidates with their Joan of Arc for the next campaign.

This is not merely an idle concern for Republicans, some on whom are still trying to explain why Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and one of the House impeachment managers, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), were making regular appearances before and offering testimonials to the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white-rights group that was banned from the ideologically intense Conservative Political Action Conference.   CPAC president David Keene told The Washington Post, "We kicked them out of CPAC because they are racists."

Add to this the whispered anxiety among Republicans that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke could win a special Louisiana House race to fill the seat soon to be vacated by the retirement of Rep. Bob Livingston.  Put all these pieces together and nervous Republicans, on the question of Senate witnesses, prefer the sham of "a good fake effort."

None of this ought to be read as a brief for Senate Democrats, who managed to sit on the floor in their seats - without blushing or giggling - while the President's lawyers explained that Clinton's "I was never alone with Monica, right?" and "You could see and hear everything, right?" statements to Betty Currie the day after his deposition were not intended in any way to influence Currie and instead were just the conscientious chief executive's jogging of his own memory.

But make no mistake about one thing.  Senate Republicans deliberately did not summon Betty Currie as a witness exclusively because of her race and gender.  What ahppened to all that high-flown GOP rhetoric about terminating affirmative action because it perniciously "classified an individual by race and by gender?" If hypocrisy were a felony, more than a few Senate trial participants would be doing hard time.