Debating with you is fun–because I do like and respect you–but it also gives me a feel for what it must have been like boxing with Muhammad Ali.
You float like a butterfly. You sting like a bee. And, when called upon to defend an indefensible proposition, you do a helluva rope-a-dope.
You fake right and then take off down the left sideline quicker than Gale Sayers. You do a better sting than Paul Newman and Robert Redford. You get more mileage out of a weak hand than Maverick. You put an innocent face on a guilty client as deftly as Johnnie Cochran. You’re tougher than Tonya, calmer than Kerrigan, and shrewder than Houdini. And if Pete Carril could make a bunch of short guys (who couldn’t jump) at Princeton look like a basketball power, you may be able to make the Clintons and their team look like the most ethical administration in history.
But not for long.
The one thing I’ve got going for me in this debate is the facts. So I can understand why you’ve largely stopped talking about them.
Your latest posting does make two points about Paula Jones, Anita Hill, and all that: 1) Even if Jones is telling the truth, then-Gov. Clinton’s conduct was no big deal because–after having this 24-year-old state employee interrupted at her work station in a hotel lobby and brought to his upstairs suite by his cop, and making two sexual advances, and encountering two polite rebuffs, and then exposing himself, and the rest–he desisted (and told her to keep quiet) when she more clearly stated that his advances were unwelcome; 2) What Clarence Thomas did to Anita Hill was worse, because it appeared to you that he was “having fun tormenting her.”
As to 1), I think that you understate the importance of the inequality in the Clinton-Jones power relationship. And you have avoided comment on the contentions by the Clinton Justice Department and some 20 feminist groups (in United States vs. Lanier) that such conduct is a federal crime, when engaged in by a state employer with power over a state employee.
As to 2), I agree that Hill’s allegations–if true–make Thomas look pretty bad (though not as bad as Clinton, in my view). But the evidence suggests to me that Hill greatly embellished what happened and may have made the whole thing up. While I can’t be sure, I don’t believe that Thomas deliberately tormented or harassed Hill.
You raise an interesting point in saying that you “part company with … our friends whose principles lead them to tear everything down and take no responsibility for rebuilding it.” I take this to mean that you think the most constructive course is to support your party’s president, the better to achieve policy goals in which you believe, rather than to dwell on his faults. My friends in the Clinton administration apparently feel the same way–even, it appears, when Clinton sells out what he once claimed to be his principles, as he has done over and over again.
I respect that point of view. But it’s not mine, and would not be mine even if I heartily approved of Clinton’s political agenda (whatever it may be this week). This is in part because I think that this president and his wife have forfeited any claim to the benefit of the doubt as far as ethics and truthfulness are concerned, and in part because I don’t think that journalists should be uncritical cheerleaders for anybody’s team.
It’s true that a relentlessly adversarial journalistic stance toward our elected leaders creates problems of its own–like public cynicism–and that we can’t expect the president to be perfect. But I think that we can expect the president to be truthful. And I think it healthier to engage in measured criticisms of deceptions by the president–whether his name be Nixon, Reagan, Bush, or Clinton–than to stifle our disgust for the greater good.
(Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I also think that law professors should not be urging the courts to adopt an unprecedented rule of immunity blocking all proceedings in a sexual-harassment suit against President Clinton, unless they would have taken the same position had the president been Reagan, or Bush. If, as you suggest, judges should be principled, why not law professors? Or–if we cannot expect law professors to be principled–why should we take at face value their purported arguments of principle?)
I can only note my amazement at your view that President Clinton’s decision to sign (and campaign on) what you call “that disgusting gay-marriage bill” can be defended as analogous to Thurgood Marshall’s tactical decision to attack racial segregation in a case involving a law school before he went after segregated elementary schools.
I can certainly understand you teaching your children to respect the president. I try to teach mine to respect the presidency. Since they are only 9 and 12, it’s hard to make that point while telling them exactly what I think of the incumbent president. So I avoid discussing him, unless they bring him up, in which case I answer as honestly as I euphemistically can.
On Election Day, I told my wife Sally that I was writing in Colin Powell for president. She said something to Sarah (our 12-year-old). And when we were all at the polling place, Sarah whispered in my ear, “Vote for Colin Powell.” I told her that that was a great idea, and that I would do it, because I thought he would make a better president than either Clinton or Dole. And I did.
As for Duncan Kennedy and the crits, they always struck me as nihilists with attitude–the attitude being smug self-righteousness, intellectual snobbery, and insufferable complacency. I didn’t really know them as individuals, but as a group, they seemed to me to enjoy the fruits of tenure while playing mind games with students whom they despised–most of whom were headed for law firms they despised–and while spinning safely unrealizable fantasies of redistributing income to janitors and other proletarians whom they despised even more.
You can have the crits (although I gather you may not want them). I’ll take Professor Kingsfield from The Paper Chase. He told his first-year students, “Your minds are full of mush.” The crits have done their best to whip the mush into a Derrida soufflé.
But I think we’ve about exhausted our subject. I have no quarrel with what I take to be the heart of your summation, in which you said: “You believe in principle. I believe in politics.”
On that note, I rest my case.
With best wishes,