Ezra Klein has a terrific quick hit today he's calling "The conservative mind at work." It's worth clicking through, although I suppose if you haven't seen it yet I sort of spoiled it -- sorry about that.
It does, however, give me an excuse to trot out my favorite obsession-with-Clinton story. Those of you who don't remember the Clinton administration may not fully get how many crazy "scandals" there were...not just Whitewater, and not just the sex story that wound up with impeachment, but one after another. Some of them, like the Vince Foster "scandal," were made up of whole cloth; others were closer to the current Sestak "scandal," in which Republicans and some of the press took normal presidential behavior and turned it into Serious Corruption. The silliest one...well, I don't know if was the silliest, but one of the silliest was the travel office thing. Brief version: the White House travel office had apparently been run extremely informally since the beginning of time, or something like that. I seem to remember that receipts, and perhaps cash, was kept in a cigar box. That sort of thing. The Clinton administration decided early on that this was a bad idea, and that government functions should be run professionally, and so they sacked the whole travel office. Now, conservatives decided that this was corrupt because they were certain that the Clintons (back in those days, it was usually "the Clintons" at fault) were just trying to steer business to friends of theirs. The scandal had legs, however, because White House reporters benefited from the way the office had been run, and guess who gets to report on what's happening at the White House? Which, presumably, is why no one had ever tried to reform the travel office in the first place.
Ah, but on to the good part (and I'm doing this all from memory, so I apologize if I'm getting any of the details wrong...can't find a good description of this anywhere). I've told this before: It seems that the Dole campaign came up with a brilliant strategy to throw Clinton off stride in one of their debates in 1996. Dole had a key figure from the travel office scandal sit in the front row of the auditorium. The idea was, I guess, that Clinton would see the guy, and get all flustered, thinking that Dole had some devastating information to reveal, or something along those lines. Well, of course, it didn't work. First of all, because Clinton was a pro, and very unlikely to fall for such a thing even if he suspected the worst. But, second, because Clinton didn't recognize the guy -- unlike the Dole campaign and its supporters, Bill Clinton had other, less fictional things on his mind.
Anyway, one of the things to know about Clinton obsession was that it wasn't just found among Republicans; a lot of official Washington shared it. In fact, when I read the item Ezra Klein links to, my immediate reaction was to imagine David Broder reading it and vigorously agreeing with it. What I thought they always wanted was that moment where the villain explains to the hero that, yes, he really is a villain, and since you're going to die anyway I guess I should now reveal to you my secret Evil Plan. I guess people associate that with Bond, but I always think of it from the Batman show; it's also brilliantly staged at the beginning of the Richard Loncraine Richard III (that's the one with Ian McKellen's wonderful performance). Thus the delight Clinton-obsessives had with the pre-YouTube moment at Ron Brown's funeral, in which Clinton was "caught" switching from laughter to grief -- artificial tears, just like the ones Richard promises and delivers (the line is actually from Henry VI Part 3).
One of Klein's commenters (ciocia1) says:
This whole essay is really Moby Dick, with Podhoretz playing another variation of Captain Ahab and Clinton playing the great white whale for the millionth time. Conservatives need to find another obsession, or hobby.Perhaps, but that's too general of an obsession. I've always thought that a much better analogy was Clinton as Homer Simpson, and Broder, the others within the Washington establishment who never respected Clinton, and the Republicans all playing the role of Frank Grimes. Just call them "Grimey." They love that.