The Breakfast Table

This Is Next

Dear Ruth:

The Times put on the front page today a story suggesting that the president wore a necktie Monica gave him to a televised event on Aug. 5, the day she testified, possibly with the intent to soften her testimony. Asked about this by prosecutors, the president laughed it off, but who believes him?

You ask what is next. I think what is next is a lot more of these necktie stories. As you’ll remember from the movie The War Room, the Clintonites have enthusiastically practised the technique of squelching damaging stories by mocking them as ridiculous and unbelievable without ever actually denying them. That technique stopped working in January, when reporters stopped believing the president, and cannot even be attempted now that the whole country understands that he is a liar. All sorts of wild improbable stories–you may have heard the one about Monica and the cigar–suddenly look less wild and improbable. After all, the sources of these stories, odd though they may look, have proven to be more truthful than the president of the United States.

The Times also reported, seconded by every newspaper that I have read, that congressional Democrats are now nervously eyeing the exits. Like you, they don’t much care for this president. (Clinton tried to placate all sides by leaning left on symbolism and right on substance: it worked for a long time, but now it threatens to leave him without friends in either camp.) Unlike either of us, they have developed over years in politics an intuitive sense of which way the political ball will bounce, even before it hits the ground. And they seem to be sensing that it will bounce against the president: that it’s the 20 point drop in his personal favorables that matters, not the continuing 60%+ job approvals.

Clinton has been losing political blood since January; he lost a couple more pints Monday; and Feinstein and Daschle and Lee Hamilton all suspect he’s going to go on losing blood. So it seems does Al Gore. Who vacations in Hawaii in August? Only someone who couldn’t summon the nerve to go all the way to Guam. In other words, we are witnessing something we have not seen in a generation: a scandal slowly bleeding a president to death.

Yours from the media equivalent of Guam,