The Breakfast Table

Two More Years


Before we get back to our subject of Washington I just want to draw your attention to Evan Thomas’s sensational piece on Don Imus in this weeks issue of Newsweek. According to Evan, Imus can make or break a book, so I just thought I would give you the opportunity here to say something complimentary about Imus as I know you are one of his most devoted fans.

I was particularly intrigued by your suggestion yesterday that members of the House and Senate might prefer to see Clinton gone. You say that two years with President Gore might sound appealing to them with all the successful policies of the Clinton administration and very little of the baggage. I’ve said it before but I really believe that if the Democrats had to listen to their hearts instead of their “consciences” they would actually prefer that Clinton resign. The odd thing here is that the Democrats who are fighting conviction in the Senate and expulsion have the most to gain by his departure and the Republicans who are fighting to throw him out have the most to lose if he goes. The political read is that the Republicans have a much better chance of winning the White House if Clinton stays until “the last hour of the last day,” as he threatens. But the Democrats missed their chance if they wanted to take it. The moment for them to ask him to resign has passed. Things reached a feverish pitch on Aug. 17 and there was hardly a person in town then who didn’t feel that he should have stepped down.

But the situation has grown so much more partisan and complicated since August. So many people are taking so many diverse positions on so many different aspects of this case that the clarity of a position like asking the president to resign and spare the country any more “politics of personal destruction” seems unlikely. So barring some new atrocity (though we can’t do that with any confidence) this is what it’s going to be like for the next two years and the end of the trial is not going to be the end of the Clinton problem.

A while back I interviewed George Stephanopoulos for a piece I was doing for the Washington Post on why people here were affected by the scandal so much more than those outside of Washington. He said that for people here, the president was more like the mayor than the president. This made a lot of sense to me because it is a small town and the president does play a local role here as well as a national and international one. And it occurred to me that we in Washington have been mired in scandal for so many years between Marion Barry’s escapades and Clinton’s escapades that it has left us all emotionally wrung out in a way that it couldn’t possibly have affected the rest of the country. With the combination of Marion Barry’s videotapes and the stained blue Gap dress hitting us on the front pages of our papers and on the national and local news every day, we have been suffering from an extreme case of scandal overload. And regardless of Barry’s and Clinton’s insistence that all they wanted to do was get back to the business that the people elected them to do everyone knew all along that that was an impossibility and that we were going to have to live with this until they were gone.

Well, now Barry is gone. We have a new mayor, Anthony Williams who looks like he’s going to do a good job and the sense of relief is palpable. I think that is part of the reason that, as I was telling you earlier in the week, there is more of a sense of optimism and less emotion over the Clinton situation since the beginning of the New Year. I really believe too, that whether you love Clinton or hate him, everyone realizes that until he’s gone we are going to be mired in scandal and most people just don’t have the energy for it. The city is tired of it, the country’s tired of it and it just ain’t going to go away.

On that happy note I’ll close. It’s been fun having bicoastal breakfast with you every day this week, Erik, and I’m so pleased that your fabulous new novel Face Time has become the hottest book of the season. If it couldn’t be me, I’m glad it’s you!