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Guest Opinion

Clintonites' old politics of destruction thriving
By Marianne M. Jennings
April 10, 2002


Frank Rich of the New York Times offered up a lengthy piece touting the theory that with Bill Clinton's departure, the "cultural witch hunt" era has ended. He sees David Brock's book, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative," as proof that the destructive and misguided right concedes defeat.

Mr. Brock, once a featured writer for American Spectator, allows that he lied after succumbing to the right's might and charm. As a self-confessed member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, I can attest that Mr. Brock is mistaken. We have fearsome Charlton Heston, but Moses doesn't do intimidation of milquetoast reporters. Rep. Bob Barr offers a fairly representative cross-section of the charm we house. We have principle and conviction, but no muscle and little in the way of charisma, so Mr. Brock's reasons for lying about the beguiling right are suspect.

Relying on Mr. Brock to establish that the puritanical right was behind the 1990s era of personal destruction is dangerous because Mr. Brock goes back and forth on soul cleansing. The real Anita Hill is part of his repertoire, but he recanted that book in an Esquire article, "Confessions of a Right Wing Hit Man," which gave him a week of cable news shows. Mr. Brock creates and repents with market cycles.

Mr. Rich despises Brock and the right-wingers. He condemns their modus operandi, but proclaims, via his piece title, that "Ding Dong, the Cultural Witch Hunt is Dead." One phrase illustrates the warmth of Mr. Rich's new era of upbeat existentialism, "It was a time of take-no-prisoners mudslinging in which the Republican right, with no Communists to unmask, launched a disingenuously holier-than-thou moral crusade fueled by a gossip machine of which Brock was an early cog."

No, my pretty, personal destruction lives. Frank Rich spews disdain at those of us who simply discovered what one federal judge, a state supreme court, two special prosecutors and every partridge in a pear tree have subsequently found as fact: that Mr. Clinton is a liar extraordinaire, particularly under oath.

Mr. Clinton's life and politics run contra to conservative values, but we attacked for malfeasance, not as malcontents. Clinton droids used the tools of innuendo, fear and whispers during the Clinton years to destroy women, Ken Starr, Kathleen Willey's cat, and anyone else committed to the rule of law. Mr. Rich lived in denial during the Clinton years and his current insight shows that neither he nor the Clintonites have recovered. They now exceed the two-term limit and are busily blocking Bush judicial appointments using the same vicious process begun by Democrats in 1987 to tank Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Judge Brooks Smith and Judge Charles W. Pickering are among many Bush nominees for the federal appellate bench who enjoy support from civil rights advocates, women's groups and the ABA but have been subjected to relentless character assassinations in brutal Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, chaired and controlled by Democrats. The allegations are false, irrelevant, and, well, personal and destructive.

Personal destruction is the Clinton legacy, now spreading beyond politics. Clinton disciples are turning on their own. In the recent murder trial of Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, for the mauling death of Dianne Whipple by their dog, their defense lawyer accused prosecutors of succumbing to pressure from the lesbian community for justice for Ms. Whipple. All you hate-crime advocates, mark this well: murder is murder, sexual orientation aside. In this post-Clinton era, accusing the prosecutor of sexual orientation bias is worth a shot.

Hollywood and Clinton remain joined at the hip. This year's Oscar race had Clintonian tactics. "A Beautiful Mind" became the target of a negative whisper campaign about the film's subject, mathematician John Nash. The whisperers are artistically outraged that the film omitted book segments on Nash's bisexuality and anti-Semitism.

Hollywood glamorizing true stories? Embellishing? Oliver Stone, anyone? The crooks that were the inspiration for "Dog Day Afternoon" didn't look like Al Pacino. Heck, no one in the Mafia looks like Pacino, but he saw us through three "Godfathers." "Coal Miner's Daughter" glossed over dark details in Loretta Lynn's life. Hollywood does its thing.

A personal campaign against the subject of a film is classic Clinton war room stuff. Professor Nash and his wife, Alicia, appeared on "60 Minutes" to halt the Oscar mudslinging. Mike Wallace did the interview, not Steve Croft. Mrs. Nash had more dignity than to hold hands and quote Tammy Wynette, but it was deja vu all over again.

The Clintons are no longer center stage, but they left their script and understudies. Mr. Rich is wrong on both the source of the cultural witch hunt and its demise. The pitiful politics of personal destruction are alive and well in Washington, Hollywood, and anywhere else the Clintons stomped. Their witch-hunt legacy lives.

Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Her e-mail address is mmjdiary@aol.com.