A Plea for Boorishness

If everybody wants Flytrap to end, and yet it isn’t ending, who is to blame? Actually, Chatterbox thinks the culprit isn’t a “who,” but a “what.” The “what” is an excessive reverence for the institutions of U.S. government.

Kenneth Starr is faulted for having too little reverence for the presidency. In fact, Chatterbox thinks Starr has too much reverence for the law. That’s why he ultimately decided against taking the Pepperdine job, and instead pressed ahead with the Whitewater investigation, which ultimately led to the Flytrap investigation. And it’s why, once Starr knew Clinton had probably committed perjury, he couldn’t walk away.

Then Clinton tried to extend executive privilege protection to his Secret Service agents, Bruce Lindsey, Sid Blumenthal, and the Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleading squad. The large penumbra of protection that Clinton sought to claim was thought, by some, to reflect contempt for the law. In fact, one might argue, Clinton had too much reverence for the presidency. Excessive reverence for the president’s constitutional prerogatives also helps explain why Clinton didn’t slink away and resign last summer, when it became clear that Starr had the goods on him. (OK, maybe this one’s a stretch.)

Then the whole mess landed in the House, and Rep. Henry Hyde, who really didn’t want to proceed to impeachment without a bipartisan consensus, felt he had to because otherwise the House would be failing in its duty. Even several Republican moderates like Sherwood Boehlert, who wanted the Senate to forego a trial, felt obliged to vote to impeach. A proper respect for the House as an institution could dictate no other course.

Congress is especially susceptible to what Chatterbox will call the Reverence Fallacy. Chatterbox can’t tell you how many times he’s heard some congressional aide praise a member of Congress for being “a very institutional guy,” for “having a real respect for the institution,” for “really caring about this place,” etc. Chatterbox has never heard a congressional aide praise a member by saying, “He’s pretty irreverent about this place, just likes to find a way to get something done, and let a judge tell him it’s unconstitutional if he wants to.”

Now Flytrap is before the Senate. Except for the federal judiciary, there is no other governmental subculture in Washington that regards its customs and history with more exaggerated reverence. (Can you picture a schoolmarm like Robert Byrd getting half so much deference anywhere else?) So of course, the Senate is finding itself unable to pull the plug on the Senate trial of Bill Clinton.

If Flytrap is ever to produce a hero, it will have to be some vulgarian who understands that this matter has to be brought to a quick and inelegant end. That could be Vice President Al Gore, telling Clinton that if he doesn’t resign forthwith, he, Gore, will give a televised speech denouncing him. (Sadly, this will never happen, but if it did Chatterbox would respect Gore’s opportunism and disloyalty.) It could be Trent Lott, deciding, unilaterally, to use whatever combination of gimmicks and threats is necessary to bring the trial, which is harming the Republicans at least as much as it’s harming the country, to a halt. (Chatterbox still maintains some hope that this could happen, and a tough censure achieved.) Whoever the vulgarian was could count on being reviled for trampling on the Constitution or the presidency or the prerogatives of the House or Senate. But he (or she) would be doing this nation a great favor.

–Timothy Noah