Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 5, 2003
POLITICS: The Barbarian
Andrew Sullivan, I think, gets it precisely right in measuring the distinctions between the allegations against Arnold Schwarzenegger and those against Bill Clinton, particularly the fact that Clinton's conduct involved the abuse of public office to perpetuate and cover up his misbehavior.
Now, to say that a man is not as unfit for public office as Bill Clinton is to damn him with faint praise indeed, and this really doesn't help Arnold's case on the merits. But it does point out that anyone who defended Clinton has no standing to get upset when similar and lesser charges are made against a Republican. As James Taranto pointed out, this is especially the case for MoveOn.org, a group whose sole founding principle is the idea that a politician's sexual advances, welcome or otherwise -- or anything else he may do to conceal them -- are no grounds to deny him public office.
What does this all say about Republicans? Well, most of us were, at a minimum, unwilling to accept the Democrats' idea -- which was made the basis of several 1992 Senate campaigns (notably in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Washington) -- that it is scandalous for anyone to disbelieve any allegation of sexual harrassment against a public official, or even to question such allegations. Suffice it to say, that idea didn't get much of a hearing from its former proponents in the 1990s. Frankly, I was never really convinced by Paula Jones' story, although I thought that the people who brought us "they just don't get it" deserved to reap what they had sown by the creation of that and other autopilot, judgment-free scandal machines (the late and unlamented independent counsel statute was another). And once the courts got involved, the merits of the original case got to be rather secondary . . . but that's another post.
Are we hypocrites? The real truth is, most of Clinton's harshest critics are either supporting McClintock or were already unhappy with Arnold but backing him in the absence of better alternatives. (I'll come right out and say here what I'm sure a lot of social conservatives are thinking about Arnold, as they thought about Bob Packwood as well: the man's social liberalism may in part be driven by a sense that he couldn't take the heat for being, say, pro-life, because his behavior towards women would make him vulnerable to attacks, and he needed a credential that would look "pro-women" to his critics. The wages of sin are paid by the innocent.)
Is Arnold unfit to be president? Quite likely yes. The presidency is a position of special trust, and things that wouldn't disqualify a man from a lesser office are bigger question marks when the White House is involved. We tolerate things in our governors and legislators, however, that we wouldn't accept from the president.
Is Arnold unfit to be governor? He's hardly the guy I'd choose first, but I'd have to say, no, not compared to the alternatives. Remember, the whole point of the recall is that the ordinary political process in California has broken down so badly in dealing with the state budget, the energy crisis and the banes of runaway litigation and regulation that it's become necessary to hold open auditions for the job. And we have seen allegations (admittedly, less well-sourced than those aimed at Arnold) of even worse behavior by Gray Davis even on top of the man's comprehensive catalog of other flaws. Bustamante? Let's face the bottom line: Bustamante's basically just more of the same thing that got California into this mess. If you're a California voter who's happy with the status quo, by all means, go vote for him.
In a better world, I wouldn't want Arnold as my governor. But if I lived in California, I'd probably pull the lever for him on the outside, desperate hope that maybe he could do something, anything to change the morass that the state's government has sunk into. Barbarian, or no barbarian.