The Breakfast Table

Attila the Hun

Have a nice holiday, and convey my best wishes to the workers & peasants of Wisconsin. I am pleased to hear that your coalition still extends its solidarity to the farmers of your state. But maybe that’s too easy a test: after all, Wisconsin farmers raise dairy cattle, not steers for the slaughterhouse. All but the Vegan members of PETA might look with favor on them.

I was glad too to see you adding Attila the Hun to Huey Long to your list of out-of-favor leftists you are willing to rehabilitate. I have never understood the phrase “to the right of Attila the Hun”: Attila dressed like a punk rocker, showed conspicuous contempt for property rights, favored unrestricted immigration of unskilled labor, and was almost single-handedly responsible for the elimination of Latin from the school curriculum. Sounds like a liberal to me.

Alas, you are not equally on-target re. Mr. Lewis’ op-ed. (Did I write Lewin before? Sorry.) Mr. Lewis’ point, as I understood it, was that a refusal by the president to reply to grand jury questions that directly bear on Mr. Clinton’s probable perjury in the Jones case would be in itself a deliberately lawless act, and that citing the Fourth Amendment as justification would represent the cynical invention of a previously unheard of testamentary privilege simply in order to evade a witness’ obligation either to tell the truth or plead the Fifth Amendment. If Mr. Clinton were to pursue this strategy, it would be further evidence of his disdain for his oath of office and the ordinary moral duty to tell the truth, especially in a court proceeding. I am surprised that you would applaud it.

Anyway, this line between questions about sex and questions about obstruction won’t hold up. May Independent Counsel Starr ask the president about the gifts he gave Monica and then sent his secretary to retrieve? Sounds like obstruction to me–secreting evidence so as to hide it from subpoena. But if your line of reasoning were to prevail, perhaps these little tokens of love (or something) would also be protected by the newly minted Sex Privilege.

It’s one of the fascinating subthemes of what the editors here call Flytrap: this new zeal for sexual privacy. It doesn’t extend to workers who like to paste pinups in their lockers or to executives who tell a smutty joke within a subordinate’s hearing. But it turns whatever it is that the President was doing in the office the taxpayers provided him into so urgently private a matter that he’s entitled to perjure himself to protect his right to go on doing it. Myself, I’d feel pretty embarrassed if the leader of my party expected me to repeat that on television.