Clinton does the Harlem shuffle

Posted: Feb 19, 2001 12:00 AM
Impeached former president Bill Clinton can't get office space in the more desirable parts of Manhattan, the first firm to hire him to speak was immediately compelled to apologize, his Hollywood friends are refusing to defend him on the Marc Rich pardon and White House ottoman heist, there is a sex-saturated emporium in Thailand named The Clinton Entertainment Plaza, and The New York Times has finally admitted to its readers that Clinton wasn't so popular after all. In a related development, O.J. Simpson has been arrested and may face jail time.

We are governed by a just and good God.

Wholly apart from the comedic aspects of watching Clinton's erstwhile supporters take up the hard work of the Clinton-haters, it's kind of a relief to know that once he's out of power, no one likes him. The only way to distinguish Clinton-haters from Clinton-lovers these days is that only his former friends are claiming to be shocked by his charming exit from office.

Clinton's alleged popularity was never merely a political dispute. He became the Rorschach blot of what kind of country this is. Consequently, it got a little depressing to keep hearing claims of Clinton's runaway popularity on account of his being a lying pervert.

Columnist Maureen Dowd continuously referred to Clinton's "vertiginous approval ratings," complaining that Gore had "frittered away this huge, amazing gift that had been bestowed on him."

Frank Rich (Dowd's colleague on the diverse New York Times op-ed page) said the main problem with the Gore campaign was that "the Democrats have fallen into the same 'fatal eddy' that the Republicans did in '98 -- buying into the Washington establishment's still completely unproven conviction that you can win elections running as moral paragons against Bill Clinton's sins."

Except the only "unproven conviction" was the lunatic claim that the "American people" adored Bill Clinton and adored him most enthusiastically for his "sins." It didn't matter that these were subjective assertions of irrelevant people. Soon, dour conservatives were claiming to believe lying liberals, and nearly everyone was insisting the country loved Bill Clinton.

Everyone else loved him, that is. The "American people" came to be an Oz-like concept. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Sweeping statements by journalists about those 280 million people behind the curtain are always highly informative about precisely one thing: the opinions of those journalists. But they really tell us nothing at all about the "American people" that the authors claim to speak for.

On the other hand, there are methods of gauging public opinion that, unlike newspaper columns, can be tested. The behavior of campaign consultants and Wall Street investors, for example, provides meaningful data because it has real and immediate consequences. The 280 million people cavalierly summarized by the opinion columnists weren't able to chat with Dowd and Rich. They were able to vote with their ballots and with their money.

According to the Newspaper of Record, the Gore campaign experienced "very little internal debate about using Mr. Clinton more because polls consistently found that he would be a drag on the ticket." This will undoubtedly come as a shock to regular readers of that newspaper.

Moreover, just last week, Wall Street had to learn the hard way that claims of Clinton's immense popularity may have been somewhat overstated on the nation's op-ed pages. Soon after it was revealed that investment bank Morgan Stanley had paid Clinton more than $100,000 to speak at a conference, the company was besieged with complaints from clients threatening to pull their accounts.

So furious was the response that "talking points" had to be distributed to the firm's employees to deal with irate clients, and within a few days, the chairman of Morgan Stanley issued a full mea culpa: "We clearly made a mistake. ... (W)e should have been far more sensitive to the strong feelings of our clients over Mr. Clinton's personal behavior as president."

As is his habit whenever he gets into trouble, the impeached former president immediately ran to his willing dupes in the African-American community. After all other suitable office space in Manhattan had dried up -- and also after spending the weekend golfing at an all-white club in Florida -- Clinton announced he would take an office in Harlem.

As one of my friends remarked, that should be nice: Having escaped a mugging on the way to work, Clinton's female employees will then have to face an accused rapist in the office.

Even Al Sharpton doesn't expect Mr. Hollywood to be spending his days at the Harlem site. Assuming the whole extravaganza of examining office space in Harlem isn't a fraud, it shouldn't bother his devoted African-American public when he never actually uses the Harlem office. If they're not mad at Clinton for calling himself the "first black president," they are incapable of being insulted.