WASHINGTON -- The political jungle suddenly throbs with news. The Clintons' glory shrinks by the day. The newly arrived Gentleman President swells in national esteem.
The Clintons' collapse does not surprise me. Nor do the pardons and the disappearing White House property -- months ago I joked about pardons forthcoming for Clinton cronies and about property being carted away from the White House. The Clintons usually live up to my jokes. Moreover, there is the aura of the office.
Years ago the pundits spoke of the mantle of influence that exalts the president, rendering him comparatively impervious to passing scorn. For Clinton the mantle was made of Kevlar. It protected him from the longest series of public scandals in American presidential history. No demagogue from history's backwaters, not the Longs of Louisiana nor the Tammanyites of New York, courted public indignation as recklessly as did Bill and his lovely wife Bruno. Now the White House mantle protects Bush II.
The media's sages are genuinely indignant over the Clintons' cheap exit from 1600 Pennsylvania. This follows the media's pattern of the past eight years, to wit: high hopes for the Clintons, the shock of some transient scandal, despair among the sages...time passes and high hopes revive. This time, however, I doubt the high hopes will revive.
Those pardons did it. The other day a former friend, a man of vast commercial and cultural endeavors but dependent on The New York Times, called me and said, "I'm sorry." Years ago he broke off our friendship thinking the Clintons had been set up by their critics. With the shocking pardon of Marc Rich he saw the light. He was sorry the friendship had been broken -- it is renewed. Others are also seeing the light. The shameless misuse of presidential pardons woke a lot of people up, and now the Clintons no longer have the aura of the White House to protect them.
Soon what we in the media are pleased to call "investigative journalists" will be digging about in muck of the Clintons' 30 years of public life. They will turn up more squalor than has been turned up on all the Kennedys combined. In time even I -- governed by the facts, as always -- will protest Bill's innocence, at least about the wildest stuff. "No," I see myself writing, "Jeffrey Toobin's revelation that Bill Clinton committed cannibalism in the Oval Office on November 15, 1994 is false. The evidence is clear; he ordered pizza." -- "The Starr Report," New York, Pocket Books, 521 pages.
But on to a more pertinent question. Is the Gentleman President's lofty status in the polls a precursor? His approval rating has vaulted to 57 percent. His disapproval rating is but 25 percent. Many Democrats are bemused into friendliness towards a man they so snootily dismissed last fall. He hugs them, slaps them on the back, gives them nicknames. "Is that all they wanted -- nicknames?" asks an old hand from the regime of Bush I. "The boss had many a pet name for them by his second year in office." The question is: Are the policies that GWB wants to advance going to elicit venomous political warfare from the Democrats?
Consider but four: abortion, faith-based services, tax cuts, and educational reform. Americans are enchanted by "education." Moreover, most know that education is in trouble. They will support most of Bush II's reforms, and no Democrat pleading for the status quo has a chance against the president. Tax cuts are only controversial where rich liberals dwell. Everyone else yearns for them and most even understand their value to a weakening economy. Faith-based services provide service first. That is what will fetch the average American. The church-state issues are secondary and highly contrived.
Again, only rich liberals will be terribly exercised over it. As for abortion, there is not much Bush II can do to change things. Abortion has settled into the law. Not even a Supreme Court populated by Antonin Scalias is likely to do much more than return power over abortion to the states, and very few states are likely to end abortion now. The abortion issue is exaggerated by zealots on both sides. It is not likely to cost GWB much at the polls.
That, of course, does not mean that the fires of partisanship will not heat up and broil the new president. There is always an element of the irrational about modern political partisanship. Think about the amazing wrath the liberals developed for GWB's father, surely one of the most pleasant men to hold office in years. He changed his stance on tax cuts. That should have pleased them. He brilliantly executed a victorious war and humanely ended it. He should have been at best only a mild irritant to the liberals. Somehow, he roused their hackles to nigh onto Nixonesque intensity.
Our Gentleman President might do the same. How? What if he is caught holding doors for women? Or what if he applies a nickname to a congressional prima donna who transmogrifies it into one of the many "isms" that vex them say "sexism." What if he calls Congressman Maxine Waters "Sweetie" or "Cupcake"? Right now, even that might not hurt the Gentleman President.