Intellectuals at the Barricades

This Chatterbox has finally found a reason to bottle up his rage at our self-indulgent president’s lying ways and to militantly oppose impeachment. Chatterbox quakes at the realization that if Clinton is impeached, this politically timid poll-driven president will suddenly become revered as a left-wing martyr. That was the epiphany that hit Chatterbox during Monday night’s radical chic anti-impeachment rally at NYU Law School.

Not since the March on the Pentagon has the liberal bear-moral-witness crowd been so convinced of the righteousness of its cause. A packed house of aging literati and jejune law students cheered as Alec Baldwin denounced the House Republicans as “sociopaths.” They roared when Toni Morrison attacked “an arrogant theocracy genuflecting at the knees of a…political cabal that brooks no debate, permits no dispute, and whose hostility to the majority and its differing views is as cynical as it is toxic.” E.L. Doctorow played the ragtime the crowd wanted to hear when he declared that if Clinton falls “American Puritanism with its primitive lusts and theocratic vision will be reborn for the 21st century.”

But it wasn’t only the actors and writers who fell under the sway of their own over-the-top rhetoric. New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli, undoubtedly lured across the Hudson by the rumors of TV cameras, tried to equal Churchillian we’ll-fight-them-on-the-beaches cadences when he shouted, “Mr. President, I ask you this, though it may be tempting to you and your family, do not resign, do not quit, do not give in, do not let them defeat you.”

What Chatterbox particularly cherished were the left-wing conspiracy theories about impeachment that come close to rivaling the right-wing’s obsession with Clinton allegedly running drugs out of Arkansas’ Mena Airport. Alec Baldwin, who fancies himself a Democratic Ronald Reagan, actually claimed that this was all a plot by the health-insurance companies out to revenge Clinton for his health-care reform dreams. Rep. Jerry Nadler, who hitherto was locally regarded as a liberal political hack, won a standing ovation as a reward for his take-no-prisoners posturing on the House Judiciary Committee. Invoking right-wing money bags Richard Mellon Scaife, Nadler suggested, “With a trial in the Senate we may be able to find out who started this coup d’etat and who paid for it.”

In a class by himself, though, was Bishop Paul Moore, New York’s retired Episcopal leader, the veteran of countless prayer vigils, who painted a dire picture of failed peace efforts in Bosnia, the Middle East, and Africa if Clinton were to be driven from office. As Moore put it with characteristic understatement, “I think of the millions of people who will suffer and die because the Republicans want to get President Clinton for a personal sin.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of an Al Gore presidency.

Okay, Chatterbox has been indulging himself by highlighting the extreme voices at the anti-impeachment rally. But even though there were plenty of sensible remarks by everyone from Gloria Steinem to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the overall tone was borrowed from the halcyon days of the anti-war movement. And, of course, Chatterbox concedes the point that right-wing anti-Clinton rhetoric has consistently been even more shrill and vitriolic.

The evening ended with Jessye Norman and Odetta leading the audience in God Bless, America. As moving as it was, Chatterbox would have preferred the lilting chords of “All we are asking is to give peace a chance.”

Walter Shapiro