Legal Affairs – Outrages and Curmudgeonly Complaints From the Year Gone By

National Journal

In the spirit of the season, and in the hope of a fresh start in the New Year-with malice toward none, with charity for all-I hereby purge myself of various vexations of the old year. Liberal Claptrap

• The Clintonization of Al Gore, who increasingly apes his boss in fictionalizing his life story and mangling the truth for political gain.

Gore-self-described inspiration for the novel Love Story, discoverer of Love Canal, co-creator of the Internet, and author of the earned income tax credit-has shifted from anointing Clinton "one of our greatest Presidents" to calling his conduct "inexcusable," to acting as if he barely knows the man, to re-embracing him at fund-raisers. Worse, Gore has systematically distorted Bill Bradley’s record and proposals. Example No. 1: Slamming Bradley’s cautious past support of experimental tuition vouchers as 18 years of votes to "siphon funds from public schools to private ones." Example No. 2: Warning both that Bradley’s health care proposal is a threat to leave "African-Americans and Latinos out in the cold" (because it would supplant Medicaid) and that it costs too much (because it seeks to cover so many who are now uninsured). The latter warning would ring truer had Gore not championed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s far more costly, far more grandiose plan in 1993.

• The first lady’s own habitual resort to self-serving statements that strain credulity. As in her assertion that she had never discussed with her husband his decision (which she belatedly criticized) to release 11 Puerto Rican militants convicted of crimes related to terrorist bombings. And her claim that "I haven’t really talked to him about" when he might move into their new house in Chappaqua, N.Y. And her attribution of his infidelities to his having been "scarred by abuse" at age 4. Must all be true. After all, this is the same woman who said during her famous 1992 defense of her husband on CBS’ 60 Minutes: "Part of what I believe with all my heart is that the voters are tired of people who lie to them."

• President Clinton’s never-ending deceptions and word games in matters far removed from lying-by-denying-lying-about-sex. Example No. 1: "I do not intend to put our troops in Kosovo to fight a war." Example No. 2: "No one has said anything to me about any espionage which occurred by the Chinese against the labs during my presidency." Then there was Clinton’s Oct. 20 potshot at George W. Bush for rejecting federal matching funds and instead raising piles of hard money from private donors: "It’s something that some people urged on me four years ago, because I could have done that, and I decided it wasn’t fair and I didn’t do it. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do." The right thing to do, it seems, was to take the federal matching funds and then break the promises Clinton made to get them, by squeezing special interests from Wall Street to China, renting out the Lincoln Bedroom, and the like, to raise unlimited gifts of "soft" money.

• Bill Bradley’s stunning disregard for First Amendment rights in his zeal to control political speech in the name of campaign finance reform.

Example: On a Sept. 21 call-in program on New Hampshire public radio, Bradley said that "special-interest groups that run political advertisements should pay their opponents to respond." He proposed a new law mandating that "when issue ads are on, a 100 percent tax is given to the other side." Wow. When a caller objected that "you are compelling people to support the opposing view, and you assume there is an opposing view, rather than many opposing views," Bradley said this was a good point. But still he defended his plan as "simply a way to allow the market to work." Huh? •Bradley’s abandonment of his longtime opposition to tax subsidies for ethanol, with the lame explanation that he had "decided to listen to the people, not the policy wonks." The people of Iowa, one presumes.

This from a man who poses as too pure to pander for votes.

• The haste with which congressional Democrats dropped the pretense that they wanted to censure President Clinton for lying under oath, once they had succeeded (with Republican help) in turning his impeachment trial into a farce, ending in a 50-50 acquittal.

• The cynicism with which Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and chief fund-raiser Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, helped keep the soft money flowing-while blaming Republicans-by seeking to add clearly unenactable curbs on issue advertising to the McCain-Feingold bill. Conservative Claptrap

• Gov. George W. Bush’s gratuitous snub of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Asked on NBC’s Meet the Press whether he planned to meet with the gay political group, Bush said, "Oh, probably not." Asked why, he added: "Well, because it creates a huge political scene. I mean that this is all-I am someone who is a uniter, not a divider. I don’t believe in group thought, pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is create kind of a huge political, you know, nightmare for people." This from a man who had been assiduous in coaxing the great divider, Pat Buchanan, to stay in the Republican fold.

• House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s June 16 comments blaming the massacre at Columbine High School not on guns, but on the science curriculum-specifically, on teaching children "that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized out of some primordial soup of mud." Interesting theory. But schools teach evolution in Europe and Asia, too, with much less carnage. DeLay also suggested that the reason God didn’t stop the shootings was that God "wasn’t allowed in school." So much for divine omnipotence.

• DeLay’s statesmanlike strategy for a budget showdown with President Clinton: "We will negotiate with the President, after he vetoes the bills, on his knees." In the words of Slate magazine’s William Saletan, "If Tom DeLay didn’t exist, Bill Clinton would have to invent him."

• The tiresome trifling with the Constitution by conservative Republicans (including DeLay) who push to amend it so as to outlaw flag-burning, and seek to deface it by authorizing public schools to post the Ten Commandments. Those would include the commandments that (according to the King James version) "visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation"; that make it a sin to "do any work" on the Sabbath; and that treat as heathens all Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and agnostics (among others).

• The heavy-handed attack by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.-whose commendable zeal for First Amendment rights seems qualified by an itch to silence some critics of soft money-on a business group that supports modest campaign finance restrictions. Some members of the group, the Committee for Economic Development, say that executives need protection from "shakedowns" by politicians. In letters to heads of companies associated with the CED, McConnell hyperbolically accused the group of pushing "anti-business speech controls" and seeking "to eviscerate private-sector participation in politics." More menacingly, he urged that "public withdrawal from this organization would be a reasonable response."

• The smearing of Ronnie L. White, a nominee for a U.S. district court seat in Missouri, by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who called White "pro-criminal and activist," saying he had "a tremendous bent toward criminal activity" and "a serious bias against…the death penalty." Ashcroft’s evidence? As a member of the Missouri Supreme Court, White had voted to reverse 18 death sentences. But White had also voted to uphold 41 death sentences. And the record shows that White (who happens to be black) is well-regarded by some law-enforcement officials. No matter: Republicans deferred to Ashcroft and voted White down, 54-45. It was the first floor vote rejecting a judicial nominee since 1987.

• The House’s adoption of a nationwide assisted-suicide ban pushed by Republicans-those self-proclaimed devotees of states’ rights-who were determined to override an Oregon ballot initiative that had legalized the practice for dying patients. While possibly unwise, the Oregon provision was quintessentially the sort of policy choice that principled advocates of federalism should leave to the voters of each state. In this Congress, however, principle seems in short supply.

• The inability of Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., one of the House "managers" at President Clinton’s impeachment trial, to discuss the President’s perjuries without grating references to Monica Lewinsky’s breasts and "genitalia." The prissy former prosecutor’s peculiar pronunciation ("geniteelia") added to the farcical atmosphere-to the benefit of Bill Clinton.