Clinton Must Go: A Democratic Party Scenario

Chatterbox had gone so long without seeing a happy Democrat that he couldn’t resist rushing over to the Washington Hilton on the day that conventional wisdom signalled at least a brief reprieve for Bill Clinton. The entire Democratic National Committee was in town (be still my beating heart!), and that meant a briefing by Clinton’s favorite pollster, Mark Penn, who was in his best Monica-who? mood. Yes, according to Penn (Chatterbox wonders how much his round-the-clock surveys are costing the impoverished Democrats), “The public is saying Social Security first.” Sure, Mark, sure. Moreover, according to the Dr. Pangloss of pollsters, Clinton “is at the height of his presidency in terms of approval” with a 70-percent rating. How devilishly clever of the White House to stage Monica Madness just six weeks before the election as a way of boosting Clinton’s popularity.

Before Chatterbox starts becoming overcome with rapture, he feels duty bound to pass along an intriguing Clinton resignation scenario that he heard this week from a leading Democrat (you’d instantly recognize his name), who is widely thought to be a last-ditch Clinton defender. It goes like this:

Assume that, as many expect, the Democrats lose 15-20 House seats in November and even drop below the 40 Senate votes they need to sustain a filibuster. That kind of electoral setback would mean that the Democrats could not realistically expect to regain control of either chamber of Congress in 2000 or 2002. Control of the White House would become, more than ever, the holy grail for Democrats–the only bulwark against conservative domination of the entire government. By early December, it would become apparent that even though Clinton could survive the impeachment inquiry, he remains enough of an albatross to cost the Democrats the White House in 2000, whether or not Al Gore is on the ticket.

That’s when the entire Democratic Party joins forces to beg Clinton to resign for the good of the party. Under this scenario, it won’t just be a timorous congressional delegation led by Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschele. They would be joined by labor (again a major player within the party), women’s groups (panicked by what GOP rule would mean for abortion) and, maybe, the Black Caucus. In short, an entire Rainbow Coalition would be arrayed on the White House lawn demanding that Gore be elevated to president.

Now Chatterbox harbors serious doubts that Clinton would step down even if Bob Rubin, Bruce Lindsey, and Erskine Bowles all joined this tar-and-feather brigade. After all, selfless gestures have not exactly been Clinton’s hallmark. Moreover, Chatterbox personally regards resignation as a baleful precedent and a constitutional abomination, but he’ll spare you (this time) all his carefully honed arguments.

But that’s not the point. What is worth noting is that a top Democrat has been peddling this scenario this week as what he would like to happen and what he expects to occur. So don’t get too carried away with any bullish forecasts emanating from the White House or the Democratic National Committee.

Walter Shapiro