Politically speaking, the absolute easiest call is for national Democrats to pressure Al Franken to resign. He’d be replaced by someone appointed by the Democratic governor of Minnesota, who would then have at least as good a shot as Franken at getting elected in his own right. If Franken resisted said calls to resign, the Senate would face the possibility of expelling him -- which, in light of the horny skeletons undoubtedly frolicking in both their closets, would be a problem for both parties. Meanwhile, the Democratic establishment could echo anti-Roy Moore Republicans and say, “Oh all right, we've made our objections clear, we leave it up to the voters of his state,” who would then almost certainly choose Franken or someone ideologically akin to Franken.
Yes "almost": Though it is far from unimaginable for Minnesota to elect a Republican, it is more so today than it was in 2016, when Minnesota was the rare Rust Belt state that went for Hillary Clinton. But even if the seat were somehow to go to a Minnesota-shade Republican Democrats would gain a crucial line of attack in the sexual-assault wars: "Hey, GOP, go ahead and harp on Bill Clinton. Today, we reject our gropers. You protect your child molesters."
Morally and practically, though, the question remains: If everyone, in and out of politics, who has ever, at any point, done what Franken is currently known to have done were to be found out and fired….would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I’m honestly not sure. But now that two out of three network morning-news hosts, numerous titans of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, a significant swath of the Catholic clergy, and a whole roster of big names in both political parties including at least one president each have been credibly accused of much worse, it would certainly be a shattering, an unraveling, a societal convulsion to the core.
Can somebody please tell me what the big brouhaha about John Conyers is all about? I know that the Michigan congressman is embroiled in some sort of big-time scandal but I never get to the meat of it because I can’t get past an item of biographical info that always appears high up in the coverage.
The Congressman – and until Sunday, the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee -- Is 22 years into qualifying for full Social Security retirement benefits. He is 18 years past the mandatory retirement age for most civil servants and more than three decades older than the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company. If Conyers were a member not of the U.S. Congress, but of the Roman Catholic College of Cardinals – not a group known for its youthful vim and vigor – he would have been required to hand in an automatic, age-based resignation letter in 2004.
Experts agree that successful aging involves maintaining a network of human relationships. So I guess it’s good for Conyers that, as a major Democrat for whom 80 candles on a cake means “don’t retire!” he has loads of company. At 84, Senator Dianne Feinstein has announced that she is seeking re-election, thus envisioning herself in high office until she has hit the big nine-oh, at least. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both entertained as 2020 presidential prospects when they would take office at 78 and 79 respectively. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi just might get the Speaker’s gavel back in 2019 – thus becoming not only the first woman ever elected to that office, but the oldest person by nearly a decade.
Make no mistake: Both as a left-of-center American and as a relatively sane one, I would rather have Biden and Pelosi running the country while popping Xarelto and looking for their teeth than Donald Trump and Paul Ryan running it under any circumstances. But honest to God, are those the only options?
There are so very many reasons to hope not, most of them far beyond the oft-cited problem of optics. Nor is it simply a question of individuals’ personal fitness to serve. Even if every elder were the strongest of statesmen, it would be a terrible idea to keep everyone younger (read: under sixty) in an endless holding pattern. For every leader who strives to forge gloriously on like Queen Elizabeth, there have got to be twenty talented, ambitious would-be successors who are sick and tired of waiting around -- and being seen to be waiting around -- like poor Prince Charles.
And let’s face it, not every elder is the strongest of statesmen and thank you in advance for the hate mail. If Social Security is the third rail of American politics, the question of any increased likelihood of decline on the part of the people eligible for Social Security has got to be the third rail of American conversation. To hint that anyone might to be too old for anything is to be labeled “ageist!” and pelted with examples of nonagenarian marathoners, mountain climbers, authors, scientists, titans of industry. No question, some people do maintain their brilliant sheens right into the shadow of their centennials and I, for one, could not be more grateful that Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems to be one of them. Somehow, though, this doesn’t seem quite true of Conyers. It certainly wasn’t true of Senators Robert Byrd or (Republican) Strom Thurmond, both of whose service would have been better if briefer.
Nor can it be true of all the old friends we have in high places. Well...I suppose it is possible to believe that notwithstanding a lifetime of rubber chicken, air travel and industrial-grade stress, an amazing proportion of U.S. politicians are like some much-studied subset of hundred-year-old hill people; truly capable of flourishing for decades beyond the norm. Otherwise, just on the statistics, one can't accept current levels of super-seniority without accepting at least one pretty dubious proposition. One could, for example, reject the idea that to hold elective office is extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. Alternatively, one could accept that the office holder is merely a figurehead, most of whose actual work can be done by unelected staffers. Or one can calculate that despite showing the normal amount of wear and tear, a given incumbent’s hanging on to the job is better than its being ceded it to somebody new.
This last one seems most on point – and off the wall. The question for any incumbent, at any age, ought not to be “why should they have to go?” but rather “why should they get to stay?” This only becomes more true with time. It is fine to think that Feinstein, for example, can still do her job. What’s toxic, though, is the implicit notion that nobody else can. And it’s poisoning the party not to let anyone else try.
I’m not remotely hoping that the old guard just shrivel up and disappear. On the contrary, the peaceful transfer of power is a difficult miracle to work – yes, “work.” It’s a major effort, into which the party’s most seasoned politicians ought to be throwing themselves with brio. Rather than gaming out their own last hurrah’s, these folks ought to be helping to plot the party’s next ones. If, for example, Pelosi deserves her reputation for political savvy – for an ability to muster troops in the Congress and frame issues for base voters outside it, not to mention the storied fundraising touch -- she should be transferring all those skills, all that support to a well chosen heir or three. If she truly cherishes the idea of a Democratic takeover of the House in 2018, she will show her leadership by handing her leadership position to someone whom the Republicans haven’t spent the last twenty-odd years (unfairly but effectively) branding a Bolshevik.
That’s just the politics. Don’t forget the policy side of this, which is huge.
Ours is a time of epic mismatching. For so many people, skills don’t match existent jobs, income levels don’t match expected lifestyles, actual social status doesn’t match theoretical legal status, and so on. This goes for chronological age too: it’s so much harder now to fit a person’s age to anything else about him. it’s no longer shocking for a twelve-year-old to be fluent in Spanish, Mandarin and three kinds of code – or for a thirty-year-old to live in his parents’ basement. Women contemplate childbirth in their forties, but even if they never have kids, they can now color, blow bubbles and go to sleepaway camp with people their own age. Many more millions of people than ever previously imagined now live into their eighties and nineties. Of course this is all great!
Well, no, come to think of it, it’s not all great – but it feels so wrong even to type that. When it comes to the ups and downs of increased longevity -- as with so many other developments -- Americans insist upon seeing only the “up.” For purposes of the culture, then, super-seniors are either miracles of eternal vigor, or objects of pity. Admirable, or invisible. Energetic, hilarious and wise, or silent. Amazingly functional, or functionally dead.
Given all this, no American wants to compromise with age – least of all top-tier politicians, who hate to compromise with anything. Thus, the people in charge of grappling with these issues on behalf of the nation, are the very people who refuse to do so for themselves. From health care to Social Security to the economy:
How can leaders address the myriad issues arising from the fact that America is aging, while in such absurd denial of the fact that they are aging, too?
This just in from God above: Democrats are never, ever going to be let off the hook for Bill Clinton. The central, most defining Democratic Party figure of the late 20th century was an adulterer, a predator, a sexual harasser – and despite incontrovertible evidence of all of the above, plus a possible rape, his supporters flipped basic decency the bird and stuck by him to the triumphal end of his political life. Therefore, no Democrat will ever have any right to say “boo” about Roy Moore or Roger Ailes or Donald Trump or any other right-wing perv who may eventuate anywhere on the face of the earth as long as it’s still turning. At least that’s what Republicans have been shouting since the 1990’s, loudest and proudest at scandal-soaked times like the present.
If you would rather drink your own urine than revisit any particulars of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, please understand: I feel exactly the same. But if we can both eschew the fetid flask long enough to go through some points from that sorry political moment, we may arrive at some painfully relevant insights into the current one.
As someone who did not take 19 years to arrive at the opinion that Clinton should have resigned the moment the world learned the word “Lewinsky,” I am the first to admit that the Republicans’ all-purpose “what about Bill Clinton?” deflection of all GOP problems penile has an essential ring of truth. But at this moment of “reckoning,” it seems worth pointing out….albeit for the three hundred millionth time….just a couple of its false notes.
It is not true, for example, that Democrats enthusiastically elected and re-elected a man they knew to be a pathological lech. In 1992, most thought that they were voting for a good but flawed person who -- somewhat refreshingly, compared to all the other philanderers who had been running the world forever -- didn’t pretend to be perfect. In those innocent, pre-Internet days, Clinton’s famous admission, offered to 60 Minutes while seated beside his wife, that he had “caused pain in his marriage,” was enough for people to gather that he had cheated plenty. Few desired names, dates and fetishes.
Incidentally, the Clintons did not sit down with 60 Minutes because allegations of Bill’s extramarital adventures had gone blithely unnoticed by the wanton satyrs of the Democratic primary electorate. They did so because those allegations threatened to destroy him in the eyes of that electorate. At the time, Clinton’s sole public accuser --- unlike the multiple accusers of Roy Moore – had shot her credibility by selling her story to Star magazine, later to peddle it to Penthouse. Meanwhile, along with Clinton’s reputation for skirt chasing, the public was becoming acquainted with another, even more pronounced feature of his personality: that of the ultimate political animal; someone who had coveted the presidency since boyhood.
All of this together led to a general consensus as follows: whatever Clinton had done in the horndog department, it was personal, it had cost him, and it was in the past. Hindsight geniuses love to roll their eyeballs at this, with an “oh come on!” as if only an idiot could imagine that Bubba had ever put a stop to his womanizing. Perhaps – but it was anything but obvious that going forward, he’d risk his presidency for it.
In retrospect, of course, he did just that. But for six years, the public saw no sign of that coming. By the time the cases of Monica Lewinsky – and the related testimonies of Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey -- came to light, Clinton was halfway through his second term. Granted, Paula Jones did bring the underlying sexual-harassment lawsuit in 1994, but she was so aligned with such blatant enemies of the president that her credibility would have been strained, even at our own #metoo moment.
While we’re at it, let’s call out another decidedly alternative fact: the assertion that all throughout the Lewinsky scandal, the liberal media did nothing but try to preserve, protect and defend their darling Clintons. What a load of elephant dung. Love them or hate them, the Clintons spent those years in such a blinding glare of scrutiny, it’s amazing either one of them emerged with an intact retina. As for the leniency of the pundit class, read the contemporaneous writings of Michael Kelly, Christopher Hitchens, and Maureen Dowd, remove the hydrofluoric acid that will have flown off their words onto your face, and then we’ll talk.
One could go on about the other things that Republicans get wrong about the defense of Bill Clinton. But what ought to trouble them now is what they get right. It is true that even after his unforgivable transgressions became clear, most Democrats didn’t just forgive him. They supported him, defended him, in many cases lionized him.
Bear in mind, this wasn’t automatic on the part of Democratic leaders. When it first became clear that the Lewinsky stuff had actually happened, many Democratic politicians and pundits frankly assumed, off the record, that the president was done; it was just a matter of what form his doneness would take. (Would he actually resign, or hobble to the exit as the lamest of ducks? Had he merely committed political suicide, or killed the whole party? How radioactive was he? That kind of talk.) But within weeks – or was it days? -- these same figures were rallying around their shamed yet emboldened chief. Why? Because that’s what the rank-and-file were doing. As it turned out, right or wrong, Democratic base voters cared more about the actions that the president took toward them, in his public capacity, than about the actions he took toward women in what many still viewed as a private capacity. Having voted for him twice, they supported his agenda and didn’t want to sink it. Deep down, they still just liked the guy – and they hated his critics, whose ranks their elected leaders then hesitated to join. Clinton-era Democratic officials thus faced a very unsavory choice: Should they voice their moral revulsion and thus incur the wrath of a still-powerful president, the party apparatus he still controlled, and the voters he still held in the palm of his hand? Or should they swallow their objections, rationalize the greater good of saving the country from Newt Gingrich, and ride it out? Most went with door number two.
Hey, Trump-era Republicans – does that whole dilemma sound at all familiar?
It certainly should. No one should be more understanding of Democrats who once defended Clinton than Republicans who currently defend Trump. Conversely, then, Democrats placed in an impossible position by Clinton in the late 1990’s should feel real sympathy for Republicans similarly stuck by Trump. In fact, at this point, they should feel nothing short of pity.
Clearly, both parties have made Faustian bargains with their respective problematic-yet- popular leaders. But Republicans have made theirs with a much darker, more diversified devil. Let’s (very generously) concede, for the sake of argument, that Trump’s sexual misconduct starts and ends at the level of “locker room talk,” in contrast to Clinton’s deplorable (ha!) acts. That still leaves an endless list of unprecedented transgressions with which Trump supporters will forever be associated.
Right now, of course, Republicans are making the most of this:
“Roy Moore preyed on girls.”
“What about Bill Clinton? He nailed an intern in (well, near) the Oval Office.”
And let them, because 2018 and many years after are going to be full of this:
“Democrat A has a conflict of interest.”
“What about Donald Trump? He didn’t even release his tax returns, he never separated himself from his businesses, his daughter got three Chinese trademarks the day she dined with Xi Jinping...”
“Democrat B has made these outrageous patronage hires of totally unqualified people.”
“What about Donald Trump? He gave his son-in-law the Middle East.”
“Democrat C is lazy as sin and dumber than a bag of hair.”
“What about Donald Trump? He plays more golf than a retired dentist and didn’t know that health care was complicated.”
“Democrat D said something unbelievably offensive.”
“What about Donald Trump? He said…well, how long have you got?”
Honest to God, there aren’t enough letters in the alphabet to delineate easy, inevitable examples. There may not even be enough alphabets. The central, most defining figure in the Republican Party at the dawn of the 21st century is a turpitude savant: an eerie knack for debasement is in his DNA. Even discounting anything yet to come from Robert Mueller….even laying aside any policy position, no matter how destructive, his administration may take…the case still stands: Trump has taken a wrecking ball to all recognizable standards with regard to bigotry, corruption, national security, international diplomacy, the tone of political discourse, the value of expertise, the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the existence of objective fact. That wrecking ball is going to be swinging back on his supporters forever.
So yes: Twenty years later, Democrats are still paying for the illicit sexual acts of Bill Clinton. How many years will it take for Republicans to atone for the explicit, manifold misdeeds of Donald Trump?
In the end, Trumpsters can keep right on ranting and raving all they want about Hillary. For them, posterity is going to be the real bitch.
So far, the absolute worst Mueller news for the White House -- and the absolute best news for its opponents -- is the setting of prosecutorial sights on top D.C. Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta.
Of course, it looks – and for all I know, may be -- bad for the brother and business partner of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman to be somehow associated with the foreign adventures of Paul Manafort. And of course, for the rabid right, there’s no “may be” about it. Whether or not there is any legally actionable fire in any Podesta activity, the smoke is already being sucked into every vortex -- commercial, social, and anti-social – of pro-Trump media, then volumized and blown back out in billows, in the hope of suffocating Democratic (or any other) support for the special counsel’s inquiry. Meanwhile, what Trumpsters are really choking off is the oxygen of their own main argument: the contention that this investigation is a partisan witch hunt launched by Robert Mueller and his pack of “deep staters” who, like their elite masters, just can’t accept that Trump won.
As Fox News and friends keep insisting, neither the charges against Manafort -- nor, presumably, any potential charges against the likes of Podesta -- necessarily touch the Trump campaign, let alone the president himself. The real dynamite is in the hands of the freshly-famous Collusion Kid, George Papadopoulus, and whatever other “proactive cooperators” Mueller and his team may turn. In order to unearth and expose all that evidence in all its glory, the investigation has to continue unfettered, and its ultimate findings have to be believed.
For those purposes, the more Democratic fat cats that get caught up in Mueller’s web, the better.
On a separate but related front: it is obviously ridiculous to equate the pumping of Russian sources for damaging information about one’s domestic political opponent with the soliciting, let alone procurement, of materials illegally obtained by the Russian government for the shared goal of defeating of one’s domestic political opponent. Not too ridiculous, however, for Team Trump to equate away between allegations of Trump campaign collusion with the Russian state and its criminal hacking of DNC e-mails, versus (absurd) DNC funding of the privately, if ickily, obtained document that is “the dossier.” But this false-equivalence-drawing, too, has an enormous silver lining for Democrats and democrats alike. Every time Trumpsters kick and scream at something – even something imaginary -- that Hillary did to help the Russians influence the American election, they discredit their own, unbelievably reckless insistence that the Russians did nothing.
Finally, arriving in tandem with the charges against Manafort, the possibility of trouble for Podesta seems to have sent a shock wave through K Street. Conservative, liberal, or just agnostically greedy, the lobbying denizens of D.C. are now said to be scrambling to get their acts together in terms of registering as agents for foreign entities and so forth. Who knows? Maybe some of them are even thinking twice about raking in really big bucks from really bad guys.
If Tony Podesta engaged in criminal activity, he is a criminal. If he did not, he is a casualty. Either way, in the grander scheme of things, he is a force for the greater good.