When in an Arena, Know the Name of the Game

Washington is making it hard on Baysiders. Those disquieting vibrations from the ceaseless scandal in the White House travel outward in concentric patterns, like the circles of a target.

We in the Chesapeake region are touched by close-in circles laden with bad vibrations of disappointment and rancor. We can turn off the broadcasts, skip the front page. But we can't escape it. Many of us work in Washington, feel its pain. Along the Bay, we are touched more than other Americans by upheaval in the nation's capital.

At times, it's too intense, too cloying, to focus on much else. Unsettled times are harder, it seems, when the calendar also is unsettled: It's not summer and it's not truly fall. We exist between seasons, uncomfortably, like Washington between periods of sanity.

So we, too, must dabble for a moment in the madness. Let us interpret in another way what is really going an hour to the west.

This is no defense of Bill Clinton. Nor is it yet another indictment; you hear enough of that. We advise, simply, to understand the game being played.

Inquisition and impeachment masks the Republican Party's all-out quest for political advantage. That means using the president's problems to smother Democrats in November and, they hope, cripple the Democratic Party for the next presidential election.

This is done, Republican pollsters will tell you, by keeping the white-hot heat on the president and, in so doing, drowning out Democratic messages, depressing Democratic turnout in November, chipping away Democrats' advantage among women.

This is the way electoral politics works and how Democrats, too, would play the game and did in the 1970s during Watergate.

Judging from the national Republican Party's recent wish lists, success after November could mean fewer regulations, environmental and otherwise; a social security system that changes; and a tax code friendlier to those who earn more. When considering these changes, voters have said no up to now.

Depending on your income and how you look at the world, you may see value in Republicans winning this game. Then again, you might fear the consequences.

We see Democrats, too, making hay of the president's woes: A Democratic Senate aspirant from Missouri (Jay Nixon) has signed a document vowing faithfulness to his wife and challenged the Republican incumbent (Kit Bond, who is divorced) to do the same. A more cynical campaign stunt would be hard to find.

So don't be fooled by what you hear and read. A punishment that fits Clinton's alleged crime, a cover-up, without further diminishing his office or weakening the country, is in order.

But behind all the high-horse talk of moral authority and all the indignation rippling our way is a well-scripted plan of attack. And stakes that are high indeed.

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VolumeVI Number 38
September 24-30, 1998
New Bay Times

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