Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"None of Your Business"

Almost anything Mel Brooks’ Two Thousand Year Old Man had to say was wiser by far than the distilled wisdom of two thousand media pundits. It was the Two Thousand Year Old Man who laid bare the essence of patriotism when he recalled his cave’s National Anthem – “Let ‘em all go to hell, except Cave 76.” It was the Two Thousand Year Old Man who made clear how politics, along with almost everything else, “stems from fear.” Yes, Hobbes said it too, but Mel Brooks said it better. The Two Thousand Year Old Man also said, of American Presidents, that they “gotta do it,” and that “if they don’t do it with their wives or girl friends, they’ll do it to the country.” Remarkably, he said that in the Kennedy (or was it the Johnson?) era, before the proof afforded by the examples of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But his insight has not yet registered at CNN and MSNBC [or, I suppose, at Fox News, but who has the stomach to find out!]. Thus the current flurry over Chelsea Clinton’s responses to derogatory questions about her father’s philandering. A truly wise pundit would say that the problem was that he didn’t philander enough.

Instead, the media pundits say that Chelsea Clinton needs a better answer than it’s “none of your business,” when someone asks her about Monica Lewinsky. [It’s interesting that the folks who come to Clinton campaign events ask Chelsea about la Lewinsky, not her mother!] To be sure, media pundits have a daunting task: since they’re on 24/7, they have to come up with a continuous stream of inanities that seem timely and fresh, while remaining within the confines of conventional wisdom. But the latest hair-splitting about what in “the Lewinsky affair” is and is not “our business” is over the top. The plain fact is that, on this, if on little else, Chelsea is right; just as surely as the plain fact is that, notwithstanding another pundit consensus, Reverend Wright was (almost, but not completely) right as well.

[Another plain fact, unthinkable to Obama enthusiasts as much as to media pundits, is that Wright’s ostensibly “inflammatory” remarks have almost nothing to do with race; except in the sense that “black liberation theologians” are more disposed than people on CNN and MSNBC or Obama fans to speak the truth – that is, when they’re not endorsing the illusions that make them theologians rather than straightforward advocates of liberation.]

But being right that it’s “none of your business” doesn’t let Chelsea off the hook. If she’s going to be a surrogate for her mother, then, since her mother is running largely on the “experience” she got as her father’s partner in “governance,” and since there’s no political space between Chelsea’s parents, it is appropriate to ask about the public consequences of her father’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. So far, no one has done anything of the sort

The question is appropriate because, for good or ill, Bill Clinton is no John Kennedy. By all accounts, JFK was a more proficient and prodigious cocksman. But he was also a first class compartmentalizer. There is now much that is known about his presidency; none of it suggests that either his amorous adventures or his many and extreme medical problems (and the medications he took for them) affected his political decision-making even a little bit. Not so with Chelsea’s dad.

I’m not just thinking of those timely bombing raids on pharmaceutical factories and the like in Somalia and Afghanistan. Arguably, they were caused as much by (bad) “actionable” intelligence as by personal pique or the need to “wag the dog.” But what about Social Security? Bill Clinton was on the way to privatizing it, in accord with the wishes of his Wall Street cronies. As a Democrat, he just might have been able to pull it off. Fortunately, the “distraction” of Monicagate got in the way. Thus Monica Lewinsky inadvertently did her country much good; we are all in her debt.

In this respect, it is fair game to compare her, the other woman, with the official wife; and it is therefore fair, if she puts herself in the line of fire, to ask for the former first daughter’s opinion. What good does Chelsea think her mother did, intentionally or not, that compares with the good Monica Lewinsky did? Since, in her one quasi-official role, Chelsea’s mom permanently marginalized the very idea of single-payer not for profit health insurance while setting back the cause of universal coverage for a generation, I suspect Chelsea would have a hard time coming up with a plausible answer. “None of your business” just might be the best she -- or her mother or, for that matter, any Clinton supporter -- can concoct. In a slightly less dumbed down political culture, it wouldn’t get her off the hook. But it might be good enough for ours.

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