The Breakfast Table

Humpty Dumpty

Good morning, Herb

We residents of the District of Columbia should have an especially good morning, since we are now well on our way to having a new mayor and he looks like a good one. For people who don’t live inside the Beltway (I hear there are some), Anthony A. Williams, the “big-eared bean counter” (as he styled himself) has won the Democratic primary, which, in this city, is tantamount to winning the general election. Of course, we felt similarly optimistic the last time that we turned Mayor-for-near-life Marion Barry out of office in 1990, and then Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly, who seemed such an attractive replacement, turned out to be a bust. But Williams, who did an able job as the District’s chief financial officer during its recent struggle to avoid bankruptcy, has the proven administrative skills and ability to deal with Congress that Kelly lacked And he won the nomination with solid support in every ward of the city.

Less cheerfully, Mr. Clinton faces another showdown with Congress, this one over the House Judiciary Committee’s plan to release the videotape of his Aug. 17 grand jury testimony. The Clinton’s lawyers, with their “finely nuanced nonsense,” as a news story in today’s New York Times describes it, are making such a p.r. botch of the president’s defense, that you would think they were in the pay of the House Republicans. (I don’t mean that the House GOPers are orchestrating his defense but that they have shown themselves fully capable of the same self-destructive behavior that Clinton now seems trapped by. In fact the Republicans seem to be setting up in the coming appropriations fight to undermine what should be a winning position by tacking on a bunch of anti-environment riders, just as they did back in 1995 when Clinton won big by closing down the government. But that’s a topic for another time.)

In any event, while the Republicans run an added risk of penalty for “piling on,” it will certainly not help Mr. Clinton’s already disastrous personal ratings  if he is seen on TV making arguments like the one when he was asked how he could have truthfully denied having, in his dealings with Miss Lewinsky, “caused contact” with the private parts of “any person” (presumably including himself). No problem, said the president, because the term “cause” implies “forcible abusive behavior.”

If this causes you to smile, I hope that you will not accuse me of forcible abuse.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.” (Of course when Humpty Dumpty made a word “do a lot of work like that” he did at least have the grace to “pay it extra”)

Well, since they are not paying me extra for the words I write here, I think I’ll turn this over to you for the moment, get dressed (yes, I am still in my housecoat), go to the office and get back to doing all the things they do pay me for.

P.S. For the record. Thanks to the combined scholarship of yourself and Erik Tarloff (and some readers who emailed in) we can affirm that the inspiration for the last lines of your ditty was borrowed (fair use, no doubt) from Cole Porter’s “Friendship” which made its debut in the 1939 musical, duBarry was a Lady.