When Good News Means Bad News

If you were a president who wanted to solve the funding problems of Medicare and Social Security before you left office, why would you stage a televised event in the Rose Garden to announce that economic growth had postponed the date of Social Security’s bankruptcy and “cut the so-called 75-year deficit of Medicare in half”–news that will only make it easier for Congress to pretend there is no problem, really, to be solved? Answer: you wouldn’t. But you would if your primary goal was not to fix Social Security but to pump up your poll numbers so that when Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr dumps his report on the Republicans in Congress they will be scared to impeach you. … Note that trumpeting the good Social Security news also undermines Clinton’s highly effective strategy of holding off tax cuts on the grounds that we must “Save Social Security First.” … Clinton’s willingness to sacrifice his substantive agenda suggests he’s quite scared of what Starr will say. Perhaps there’s even a Dorian Gray-ish relationship between Clinton’s economic bragging and his guilt. The prettier the news he chooses to announce, the uglier the truth in Starr’s report must be …

The Trie that Did Not Bark: Meanwhile, where’s Charlie Trie? The former Arkansas restaurateur, described in the New York Times as “at the heart of the campaign finance scandal,” was indicted in January. He’s presumably being pressured to sing. Has he found his voice? Even William Safire doesn’t seem to know. …. We can’t be sure Clinton is out of the woods until we know about Trie … the Safiric bad-pun possibilities, at least, pose a grave threat. … “The press can’t see Trie for the forest of sex allegations,” etc. … Take it away!

Envelope please: At Clinton’s press conference Thursday, Sam Donaldson more or less asked the question Chatterbox would have asked: does Clinton think it’s okay for a president to lie under oath about sex? Clinton can’t answer “yes.” But if he says “no” that undermines what has come to be his defenders’ main informal line of defense. So you’ve got him! Right? Not quite. In the event, Clinton ducked Donaldson with a bald, but quick, “Well, since I’ve answered the underlying questions, I really believe it’s important for me not to say any more about this.” Donaldson, uncharacteristically, didn’t manage to force a follow-up. Still, Donaldson receives a coveted Chatterbox “Gotcha!” award for this week. He’s ridiculous, but he serves a cosmic purpose. … A second Gotcha! goes to innocent-looking New York Times reporter James Bennet, who managed to provoke a revealing rush of presidential self-pity with a quietly vicious question about why a majority of Americans “no longer respect you as a person.” … The nastiest question suggested by Chatterbox’s readers in response to the item of 4/29 was this, from Andrew Solovay: “Mr President, Gloria Steinem has written that even if you had behaved the way Kathleen Willey alleges, that would not constitute sexual harassment. Do you agree?” But Clinton would’ve been able to duck that one too. … He’s hard to get. … Chatterbox is dispirited. … All it can do now is just show up for work every day and do its job for the American people!