WASHINGTON -- He's going to fight! No, I am not referring to Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. I am referring to the Comeback Kid, whose whole political life has been a series of fights, many merely to protect his career from the consequences of his unruly adolescent lunges.
Now, all these years after the 1992 presidential campaign and his fights to overcome revelations about his draft-dodging and his taped conversations with Gennifer Flowers, former president Bill Clinton is going to fight the United States Supreme Court.
That at a moment of national emergency he would challenge the Court over its recent mater-of-fact pronouncement tells us much about his sense of proportion. It also explains the personal and petty origins of most of the Clintons' scandals. In each, had he just told the truth and accepted the consequences, his presidency would have been more conventional. None would have brought the nation to a constitutional crisis. The 42nd president would have had more time to attend to his duties, one of which was presiding over national security.
A few days back in its opening procedures, the Supreme Court suspended Clinton from practicing law before it. The Court was acting upon Clinton's own admission to the Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Responsibility back on Jan. 19 that his testimony in the Paula Jones suit was false. He further agreed to a fine of $25,000 and a five-year suspension from the practice of law in Arkansas. That suspension made the Supreme Court's action imperative. It is a rule of the Court that a member of its bar (which Clinton has been since 1977) suffering suspension or disbarment in his home state be automatically suspended from appearing before it. One would think Clinton would leave the matter at that.
Yet his lawyer and chief pettifogger, David E. Kendall, perceives a glimmer of justification -- and so he, the former president, and all the Clinton sophists, will now fight the Supreme Court. You know the script: "It is all partisan politics"; "The justices are in error." Plain English is subject to personal interpretation. The fact that any other lawyer suspended at home would be suspended by the Supreme Court does not matter. As Clinton, lying to his aides and the nation, told his political advisor, Dick Morris, when Monica Lewinsky first came into national view, "We just have to win, then."
Now that America is engaged in a war provoked by international treachery comparable to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a Clinton spin-master, say James Carville, might counsel Clinton to subside. He has no need to appear before the Court. He is reminding Americans that he was found in contempt of court by an Arkansas judge, Susan Webber Wright, his former law-school student. With a real crisis darkening the land, Clinton's dispute with the Court reminds Americans of how weird his presidential controversies were.
Increasingly, his mismanagement of foreign policy is being cited as a cause of bin Laden's success in attacking the country. This narcissistic decision to wage one more unnecessary controversy is worse than childish -- it is bad politics. There goes another of Clinton's sources of pride, his claim to political genius.
Joe Klein, a reformed Clinton apologist, in the New Yorker quotes a Clinton official as saying: "Clinton spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other president in recent memory. He could learn an issue very quickly, but he wasn't very interested in getting his hands dirty with detail work. His style was procrastination."
Another former Clinton administration official, Jamie Gorelick, tells the Boston Globe: "Clearly, not enough was done. We should have caught this. Responsibilities were given out. Resources were given. Authorities existed. We should have prevented this." Nancy Soderberg, a Clinton National Security Council aide, admits that her colleagues' anti-terrorist effort "was not enough, and anyone involved in policy would have to admit that."
So why was the Clinton administration, to use the now fashionable term, so feckless? His present, utterly unnecessary dispute with the Court explains some of his failures. He disputed matters he did not need to dispute. He got into disputes that a mature man would not get into. He was an unserious man elected to a very serious position. Not only did he engage in unnecessary lies and disputes, he played with playgirls even during his own wars.
o you remember the account in the Starr Report of his having sex with an intern while talking to a congressman about bombing runs? Carville and the cronies insisted this was normal presidential behavior. That must have been very reassuring to bin Laden and his murderers.