Footnote Fetish

As Chatterbox begins furiously skimming the Starr report, he is determined to file each apercu at the precise moment of inspiration. Here’s the first:

Chatterbox was struck by a particularly stirring “why we fight” passage from Starr’s introduction. Justifying why Clinton should be held to a higher standard than other Americans, Starr cites the following patriotic homily: “The Presidency is more than an executive responsibility. It is the inspiring symbol of all that is highest in American purpose and ideals.”

What great patriotic figure said that? Chatterbox figured it was Thomas Jefferson, or Woodrow Wilson, or, at minimum, Harvard presidentologist Richard Neustadt. Checking out footnote 27, however, revealed that Starr’s secret muse is none other than Herbert Hoover! The quote was taken from that volume on every learned American’s bookshelf, Herbert Hoover: A Biography, by Eugene Lyons, a longtime stalwart of Reader’s Digest.

Why Hoover? Why this book? One explanation is that Hoover is Starr’s model of a great president. An alternative explanation is that Starr thought he could score debating points by quoting Clinton’s never-say-die Whitewater defender, Gene Lyons, in which case he’s blundered onto the wrong Gene Lyons. Either way, Starr would have been better off quoting the Federalist papers.

Timothy Noah and Walter Shapiro