The Breakfast Table

Our National Motto: “So What?’

Dear Kim,

Hat’s off: In one throwaway line (“I cannot give the tiniest rat’s ass about Juanita Broaddrick’s broadsides”), you’ve delivered the Clinton defense to the reductionist bottom toward which it has been plunging for over a year. I wish the country had started its Clinton debate at this point. Would have saved a whole lot of ultimately wasted time. Imagine: “Clinton once dropped his pants in front of a state employee, and asked her to ‘kiss it’!” (So what?) “A thong-snapping intern filed a false affidavit for him in court, and then the White House trashed her!” (So what?) “He lied to the whole country after rehearsing his lies in front of a Hollywood producer!” (So what?) “He lied to the Grand Jury!” (So what?) “So many Clinton women have reported intimidation that it’s been suggested they be put in the Federal Witness Protection Program!” (So what?) “Rape!” (So what?)

See, it’s hard to get much traction this way; the conversation is over before it begins. We can “move on.” But, where shall the country move on to? The system of political comity based on interlocking concerns will have been exposed as a fiction, and “So what?” can soon become the new national motto. Do women not have enough protection from workplace harassment? So what?

I argued in a Slate piece last year that Clinton’s problems didn’t matter to people as much as had past scandals, because he didn’t matter to people as much as had past presidents. Why? Geopolitical changes had reduced the role of the presidency in Americans’ lives. The story (indeed, the farce) of the Clinton presidency is that in his struggle to survive, he has required his admirers to expand their public indifference to the very concerns supposedly so dear to him. Quite a presidency.

Back to Hollywood, though. You’re right to bring up the Law & Order episode about Starr. There was also an episode of The Practice on recently; somebody in it says Starr has shown his “true calling is pornography.” I presume that was intended as criticism, though an actual pornographer turned up in the real-life narrative (after shooting wrapped, no doubt), and he’s been working on the president’s behalf. Pornographer didn’t seem to be a Left Coast epithet when it had a celebratory biopic about Larry Flynt to sell.

But then, I’m a libertarian, and I don’t care about pornography one way or the other. I don’t especially care any more than you do if the president–a well-known stage-door johnnie in any event–parties with all the Rockettes, and all the stagehands as well. But if all their tires were later slashed, and mysterious joggers knew the names of all their kids, that would get and keep my attention.

One last thing. About this national case of scandal fatigue: Does it really exist? If ABC’s Monica-Barbara extravaganza draws big-time ratings Wednesday, will it mean that we’re cured?