Friday, November 25, 2005

SIDEBAR: Political stridency (case in point #1)

Note: SIDEBAR is the term I use when talking about my personal experiences that relate in someway to news of the day. In news reporting, it refers to a secondary feature, usually in a "box," that highlights a facet of the primary news story. It is borrowed from the legal profession, when judges and attorneys stand to the side of the public "bar" (judge's bench) to engage in an unrecorded private discussion. Don’t you just want to slap a friend around when they go stupid on you.

I was recently dressed down by a conservative colleague for my friendship with President Clinton’s former Democrat National Chairman David Wilhelm. My compliment of Wilhelm brought on a venomous attack from the erstwhile ally, a guy who does not know David at all. The irrational hatred of the former President, and the relationship between him and David, was enough to not only personally slander my friend from the other side of the aisle, but to suggest my own disloyalty to the cause for merely associating with the guy --- and even worse, liking him personally. My sin was nothing more than the temerity of saying something truthfully nice about a person on the strident right hate list – or in this case an associate of a person on the strident right hate list. I could not have been more berated if I had complimented Hitler on population planning at a Bnia Brith meeting.

Let me first clear the record. I think Bill Clinton was a morally and ethically challenged, to say the least. His only chance at a legacy is to become the First Hubby of the first woman President. There is no doubt he tarnished the very important moral authority of the White House. His foreign policy was a disaster, and he produced no great memorable programs. Clinton is doomed to be remembered in history more for his erection than his election.

He had three saving graces, however. First: He is what you might call a “charming rogue,” and we tend to like charming rogues. I always figured if Hillary did not kick him out of HER house, no reason for the country to kick him out of the White House. Perhaps that sounds heretical to my blood thirsty brethren. But as a devoted conservative, I think removal from office should be reserved only for the most heinous acts. Bad character and lying are not sufficient. I mean, how many could survive in office against such a standard? I do favor a recall method, however, since it is the people who decide, not the politicians. Then the standard of removal is no higher than public opinion as reflected in the voting booth – as was the case in California.

Second: Clinton was confronted by an overly exuberant GOP, looking less like savvy politicos and more like prune-lipped school marms. The fact that Clinton was not removed from office was more the fault of the Republican lynch mob perception than grassroots support for the Prez. Please understand, I think the impeachment was well deserved for his perjury, if not for his oval office cigar habit. The problem was the removal from office. That is where the GOP and the public departed.

(I had occasion to offer solicited advice to the House Judiciary Committee at the time. I suggested that the House and Senate GOP announce UPFRONT that they did not intend to remove Clinton, but only would impeach him as an appropriate black mark on his already questionable legacy. Without fear of removal, the public would have clamored for the impeachment. I would have removed the Dems most popular argument. Under such a scenario, I think the courts may well have gone beyond pulling Clinton’s law license and really indicted him on the perjury charge – resulting in a possible post-term conviction. But alas, my free advice was given equal value)

Third: If we conservative can get past the personal animus, we have to admit that Clinton governed more to the center than the left, except for a few egregious, and (mercifully) failed, programs pushed by the browbeater-in-chief, Lady Hillary. He did a few things we right wingers could even applaud. The manifest disappointment of the left should be our gauge on those issues.

For the most part, however, I was outspoken critic of Bill Clinton, as a President and as a person. So, what does all that have to do with David Wilhelm. That is the point. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Let me say that David is most certainly a Democrat partisan – even more than I am Republican. He and I can look at the same clock and not agree on the time of day, at least on most issues. On the other hand, David is one of the most descent human beings I have known – especially in politics. He is respectful of other opinions. A surprisingly mild and soft spoken guy. He has a heart of gold. I knew him before he was THAT David Wilhelm … and after. The experience did not corrupt him – literally or figuratively.

It bothers me that so many people see politics as a blood sport. Modern times seem to require the casting of every person into the friend or enemy camp. There are no subtleties, no nuances. You are saintly or evil. In fact, hardly anyone fits into those categories. Most people are a blend of good and evil, right and wrong – even the person you see in the morning mirror.

You may have noticed, I referred to my attacker as an “associate” and David as a “friend.” That was no accident. I much prefer the company of a good person with whom I have broad policy disagreements (and great debates) over that of a hateful ally. So the next time you may spot me having diner in a restaurant, the person across the table is more likely to be David Wilhelm than that other guy.

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