The Breakfast Table

Questions, Questions

In a crisis, I turn to the telephone. What I have been fascinated by, as I stare past the grass and through the heaps of sumach into the waters of Lake Ontario (too cold to swim in today), is the gathering consensus in Washington that last night’s speech was a disaster for Clinton. Hour by hour, as the phone calls pile up one atop another, you can hear the verdict growing louder and stronger: the president ought to have been conciliatory; the speech was hijacked by the ham-handed Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal; it was reckless, it was unconvincing. The single most cutting remark was sent to me by e-mail by a friend who observed, “You know, I always thought he was a better liar than that.” The principal proof for the claim that the speech was a catastrophe is the CNN poll showing Clinton’s personal standing down by 20 points overnight.

Now here are my questions for you: Richard Nixon repeatedly betrayed the Republican right (wage & price controls, arms control, Elliott Richardson at Health, Education and Welfare, etc.) and yet it was the right that stuck to him to the end. As you’ll remember, it was only when Barry Goldwater called on him to say it was time to leave did Nixon realize he had to resign. Will the Democratic left fulfill the symmetry by sticking to Clinton as it has done these past seven months? Or are your feelings representative–is the left bailing out now? If so, whom can he rely on? And what should I make of the (to me not very convincing) claims you now hear that Mrs. Clinton was deceived too? Is this some sort of effort to salvage her reputation for truthfulness (remember she denied the story even more bitterly than her husband) at his expense?

With genuine curiosity,