Gennifer Flowers did not. Paula Jones cannot. Monica Lewinsky will not. But, say the commentariat, Kathleen Willey just might sink the unsinkable Slick Willie.
The Sunday talkers hesitantly suggest that Willey’s account of presidential gropings, Issue 1, on 69 Minutes may turn voters against Bill Clinton. ” ‘Beware the ides of March’ … a bad day for Julius Caesar and a bad day for Bill Clinton,” warns Bill Kristol (ABC’s This Week). Looking ahead to the interview, Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) predicts an “excruciating weekend” for Clinton. “The Willey interview will make ripples” because it puts a “human face” on the scandal, says Gigot. Only Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition) is confident that Willey’s testimony will be no “watershed.”
Willey is a more believable witness than Lewinsky, explain the pundits, because she’s an appealing, attractive woman (John Harris, PBS’s Washington Week in Review; Evan Thomas, Inside Washington). And Willey carries no right-wing conspirator baggage: She’s a through and through Dem with impeccable left-wing credentials (Susan Page, Late Edition; Brit Hume, Fox News Sunday; Gigot, NewsHour; Thomas). Instead of being a Jezebel-like “temptress” (Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington), she’s an archetype of the blameless sexual assault victim.
Clinton comes off like a miserable “cad” (Juan Williams, Fox News Sunday), and for him to place her hand on his tented trousers after she’d pleaded for a job was surely a tacit suggestion of casting-couch “quid pro quo” (Cokie Roberts, This Week). “Despicable … repellent … an ugly episode” says Hume; “abusive,” agrees Williams. (Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Organization for Women, tells Late Edition that if Willey speaks the truth, Clinton is a “sexual predator.” This reverses Ireland’s stance from last month when she told the shows that, even if true, the Lewinsky allegations were not evidence of sexual harassment.) Tony Blankley (Fox News Sunday) thinks Ireland may be a “leading indicator of opinion” among women voters, a group that may desert Clinton in droves.
What will Clinton do the morning after? The pundits are split. George Stephanopoulos (This Week) predicts that, when asked about Willey on Monday, Clinton will break his silence: “He’d be crazy not to.” Sam Donaldson (This Week) replies that Clinton will give only a vague statement denying “wrongdoing.” Howard Kurtz (NBC’s Meet the Press) guesses that the White House will continue its “stonewall” by claiming that Willey’s allegations, which have been known for weeks, are old news and deserve no comment.
There is little talk of Paula Jones this Sunday, though it was her lawyers’ filing that make Willey’s testimony public. Al Hunt (CNN’s Capital Gang), Page, and Stephanopoulos note in passing that the voluminous document shows the weakness of Jones’ case. Robert Novak (Capital Gang) says the legal importance of the Willey testimony comes chiefly from her claim that a Democratic Party fund-raiser encouraged her to perjure herself.
Republican distress repeats as Issue 2. The divided GOP’s selection of an extremist candidate paved the way for Democrat Lois Capps’ congressional victory in a traditionally Republican district of California. This is a district which only “one Democrat had won since Adolf Hitler was running Germany,” announces habitual double-dribbler Mark Shields on both Capital Gang and NewsHour. The Republican elders take more guff from the quotable Shields, who characterizes them on NewsHour as more concerned with “re-election” than the “revolution” they promised three years ago. If the Republicans don’t define the agenda, the Democrats surely will, says Gigot.
Issue 3 is Clinton’s call to increase the tobacco tax. Novak thinks it’ll go through, though he sees it as doubly evil–a reduction of freedom and a tax! Issue 4 is journalist David Brock’s apology in the April Esquire (see Slate’s take on future Brock apologies) for scrutinizing the president’s sex life, which he claims started the whole scandal. (Brock appeared on both Face the Nation and Meet the Press as part of his Apology Tour ‘98.) Krauthammer and Blankley both portray Brock as a marginal self-promoter who overstates his historical role. On several shows, Al Gore’s plan to spend $20 million to $50 million on a continuous picture of the Earth engenders much laughter.
What We Can Learn From STDs: The most unlikely simile of the weekend belongs to John Harris on Washington Week in Review. Tailgate is “more like herpes than AIDS,” because though not fatal, it promises many painful flare-ups. “Disgusting!” says Gwen Ifill (Washington Week in Review).
What Debate Shows Do When There’s No Debate: On The McLaughlin Group, Pat Buchanan enjoys a furiously heated nonargument with Mort Kondracke, which reminds Pundit Central of Alfred Marshall’s question about which blade of a scissors does the cutting. The U.S. Navy saved us from war, rages Buchanan in angry response to the suggestion that Kofi Annan’s diplomacy ended the Iraq crisis. No, it was diplomacy backed up by force, Kondracke roars back. No, no, no! It was force backing up diplomacy, insists a fuming Buchanan.
Oh … That Explains Why Clinton’s Finger Smokes:The McLaughlin Group spends 11 minutes in a straight-faced discussion of Maureen Dowd’s jokey suggestion that Clinton is actually … Satan! Kondracke: Clinton “represents the moral decline of the country … [he’s] a small ‘d’ devil.” Buchanan finds the most truth in the comparison: Dowd’s suggestion is “perilously close to the truth.” “Charming rogue, closer to Huck Finn than Satan,” dissents Eleanor Clift.