The Breakfast Table

Up Against the Wall

Dear Lucianne–

Let’s take the easy ones first.

You may be right about Newt, but I don’t think it’s necessary to posit that scenario in order to explain his current reticence. It’s a good rule of thumb in politics–and not just in politics–that when your opponent is in serious trouble, back off and graciously cede him center stage. Especially when there’s good reason to think a certain plague-on-both-your-houses spirit is abroad in the land. At times like that, it’s a mistake to remind anybody you even have a house.

I am, as you say, on the West Coast, and indeed “in the business,” but it never occurred to me to regard myself as your captive. Have I missed something? Did Michael Kinsley fail to explain something salient about the terms of our joint employment? In any event, despite my show biz affiliations I have no inside knowledge about the rumor that Clinton is heading to Dreamworks; nevertheless, I’d be happy to bet against it if you’re interested in some sort of wager. I imagine the Clinton Library will prove to be a lively and provocative place, and it’ll be where he spends the bulk of his retirement.

Although I do support last week’s bombing, I can’t quite endorse the policy you attribute to Michael Ledeen. It’s reminiscent of Nixon’s “madman theory.” These things work best, and are least likely to repel potential allies and supporters, when they’re specific, clear-cut, and provoked. In other words, I don’t believe the mere fact that the target belongs to a bunch of bad guys is sufficient reason by itself, either morally or politically, to start killing people. There are too many bad guys out there, for one thing, and for another, killing people isn’t actually the same thing as “throwing them up against the wall.”

Tired of the Monica situation? Well, you cite cable viewers as evidence, but they hardly constitute a representative sample. If they’re still watching cable after all these months, I think we can safely assume they’re addicts. So it’s hardly surprising they scream when denied their fix. But I’ll have more to say about all that–about Monica interest vs. Monica fatigue–in a later letter. We don’t want to exhaust these possibilities too soon. There’s a whole week in front of us!

My wife Laura had an interesting spin on the weekend’s Russian government shake-up. She didn’t say she believed it, mind you, she merely proposed it as a possibility: What if, knowing that devaluation and other economic dislocations were coming, Yeltsin had got rid of someone he actually favors, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in order to shield him from the inevitable ensuing shit-storm, and appointed in his stead the sacrificial lamb Sergei Kiriyenko? And afterward, once the deed had been done, reversed the process? It’s hard to imagine Yeltsin threading his way through such a Machiavellian process in his current state, but maybe that vacant stare of his is deceiving. To be honest, the really distressing part of this theory, at least to me, is discovering my wife is capable of coming up with it. I didn’t realize her mind was so Byzantine.

Over to you.