A Thought Experiment

The public is tired of Flytrap. Chatterbox is getting tired of Flytrap. Are even House Republicans now getting tired of Flytrap? Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, has an intriguing story today saying that the four Republican House members investigating Clinton outside the purview of the House Judiciary Committee “do not plan to formally forward any impeachable evidence to Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.) this year, according to GOP sources.” That would be Rep. Chris Cox of California (transfer of sensitive military technology to China); Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan (Teamsters links); Rep. David McIntosh of Indiana (White House transfer of information to the Democratic National Committee); and Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana (1996 campaign finance). “He’s got his plate full and I’m not going to load this on him,” the paper quotes a weirdly-moderate-sounding Burton saying last week.

The ostensible reason for all this circumspection is that the four members haven’t yet dug up any hard evidence of impeachable offenses. But other possible reasons dance inside Chatterbox’s fevered brain: 1.) House Republicans fear a possible public backlash against a Clinton witchhunt and want to cool it until election day. A Washington Post poll published yesterday supports this interpretation: Likely voters saying they’ll vote for a Democratic House candidate are at 51 percent, up from 47 percent two weeks ago. But if that’s true, what of all this talk we’ve been hearing that Republicans have nothing to lose by flashing their red cape at their Clinton-hating conservative base? 2.) They want Ken Starr, who is free to deliver more material to the House, to be the sole source of accusations against the president, because even though his reputation is tarnished he still seems marginally less partisan than House Republicans. Shaky premise. 3.) They want the impeachment process to remain focused on Clinton’s sex perjury, because it’s so easy to understand. But it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick with the public at large; and the Clinton-hating base surely wouldn’t mind seeing other, sketchier accusations piled on. 4.) They can always refer material to the House Judiciary committee next year. Hmm. Maybe.

But what if none of these is true, and that Republicans really are growing weary of Flytrap? They’re people, after all. It’s a grinding, nauseating business. It’s beginning to look like Clinton really won’t resign (in part because his fellow Democrats lack the wit to make him). Maybe they just want to chuck it and get on with their lives.

Okay, okay, even Chatterbox can’t quite convince himself of that. But it’s fun to think about….

–Timothy Noah