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3 February 1999

Smile-a-while: Barefoot boy on TV

Synopsis: Backwoods congressman Lindsey Graham led Tony Snow on a romp through the swamp.

Commentary by Rep. Lindsey Graham (R, SC)
Fox News Sunday, Fox, 1/31/99

Most Sundays, Lindsey Graham is off in the woods, just whittlin’ and huntin’ some squirrel. If you just shoot the fat ones, they make a good meal. They’re like hedgehog, but a little more gristly.

But this Sunday, the drawling House manager with the sly backwoods charm was tormenting Tony Snow on TV! And we couldn’t help chuckling as the harried host tried to keep his show out of the swamp.

At THE HOWLER, we happen to like Tony Snow; we think he’s done a good job with Fox News Sunday. We will admit it: sometimes, in his newspaper columns, Tony does toe that conservative line. And when that happens, the analysts mope. They think the Big T can do better.

But this week, Tony was struggling, right from the start, to keep Barefoot Boy up on high ground. Right away, the sleepy-eyed rep with the scrub-cheeked charm was headin’ straight off for the briars:

GRAHAM: Why did Monica Lewinsky say, when she was discussing this matter with Miss Tripp, that the least of my concerns is about whether or not I get a good job--all the people around these folks, some of them wind up dead? She expressed a concern that the folks who cross the White House have bad things happen to ’em. I don’t think she was concerned about her physical safety totally, I don’t know. But she verbalized a feeling, an impression that if you cross these people, bad things happen to you...

Let’s stipulate here that “winding up dead” would count as a very “bad thing.” But you may recall there were no murder charges included in the counts of impeachment. Tony may have had that in mind when he offered his initial reaction:

SNOW: That means you need new witnesses.

At several points, Snow suggested that Graham was reinventing the counts of impeachment.

But Graham started talkin’ about allegations that Sidney Blumenthal told the press Mo’s a stalker. (We’ll identify the claims as allegations; needless to say, Graham didn’t.) Indeed, less than a minute after drawing images of the White House makin’ folks be dead, this was the tale the congressman told, to flesh out what Clinton had done:

GRAHAM: The conversation with Mr. Morris by the president? Where he suggests, Mr. Morris suggests, a news conference to blast her out of the water? He’s tellin’ Mr. Morris, I did nothing wrong, so Mr. Morris has no reason not to want to blast her out of the water. What does the president say? Let’s wait, she may not cooperate.

Apparently it’s OK to accuse people of murder, as long as you call the men “Mister.”

By the way, this “conversation” is testified to by Mr. Morris alone, and Mr. Morris tells whoppers himself. But, 65 seconds after talkin’ ’bout folks getting’ kilt, what’s the specific misconduct Mr. Barefoot relates? A conversation where an aide says he’ll criticize Mo, and Clinton tells him not to! Go figure!

Soon, Graham was sayin’ the Senate should develop “the Watergate side of the story.” At this point, Tony spoke up:

SNOW: OK then, now, wait a minute. Are you contending that this is on a par with Watergate?

And when the barefoot hair-splitter said “this is Watergate-like,” Tony put a question to Rep. Bill McCollum:

SNOW: Let’s go to Bill McCollum. Bill McCollum, I can already, the White House, I think, faced with arguments would contend, perhaps rightly, that this is an entirely new area of inquiry. First, do you think there is an intimidation campaign being organized by the White House?

This is what McCollum said. Remember this next time that someone says you can’t get an answer from Clinton:

MCCOLLUM: Well, I think the White House right now is engaged in trying to say, you know, this is a partisan enterprise and that’s to their advantage, they’d love to drive a wedge here. And sure, they’re going to say whatever they have to. They always have been willing to do that, Tony. They want to intimidate to a certain extent, they want to get votes. They didn’t want witnesses in the first place. So what Lindsey’s describing is not new, it’s all in the record. It just hasn’t been fleshed out...

Except what Lindsey was describing was folks getting killed--he was describing it three minutes earlier. We’ve now scaled down to “they want to get votes.” And their vote lust is right in the record!

Well sir, a barefoot boy would close the segment with one last slippery assessment. The hounds were bayin’ on Capitol Street--there’s no way to soundproof a studio for that--but Graham gave this final view of why Clinton ought to pack up and mosey:

GRAHAM: It’s not about who touched who where. That’s bad. But we’re not going to impeach a president over a consensual affair gone awry. The only reason I think you’d want to impeach a president, if you believed he was involved in a criminal enterprise to intimidate people, if he was willing to run over people’s personal lives for his political gain, and there’s a scenario in the evidence to indicate that that was actually going to happen. [Our emphasis]

Nice try. Except Graham has already voted to impeach based on “who touched who where;” Clinton’s alleged lies about that matter were the heart of one count of impeachment. But that was then and this is now--as could be said about Graham’s whole presentation. Disgracefully, he started out talkin’ about folks getting’ kilt--the most serious accusation a person can make. And where was Graham less than six minutes later? Telling us there’s a “scenario” in the evidence that “indicates” that intimidation “was going to happen;” and the only example he’d offered was an alleged conversation in which Clinton told Morris to back off. He started off promisin’ a whole bait of squirrel. He ended servin’ cold possum.

We think that Clinton has done grievous harm in the grisly episode which Snow’s guests discussed. But if you wonder why the public is on Clinton’s side, just remember: that sly backwoods charm, that works handlin’ snakes? It don’t always work well handlin’ people.

Down-home Demosthenes: For all his appeal to the mainstream press, Rep. Graham has said some of the silliest things ever heard in the United States Senate. We wrote earlier about his absurd description of what a “high crime” is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/99). But he topped himself in his silly oration on Monday, January 25. He gave a dissembling account of what he’d meant when he said a reasonable person could vote to acquit, then offered nonsensical comments about what it meant to cast a vote to dismiss. And as usual, he worked one “ain’t” into his remarks; a feller who’s tryin’ to craft an image don’t pass up a chance to do that.

But the rolling absurdity of Graham’s remarks were an insult to the process. Graham, on Clinton’s lies to his colleagues:

GRAHAM: He talked to [John Podesta] about what happened. He said, “I had no relationship with her whatever.” Everybody that went into that grand jury that talked to Bill Clinton was lied to. And they passed those lies on to a grand jury. And you know what? In America, that’s a crime, even if you’re president.

Graham seems to think it’s a crime if one doesn’t tell friends when one has committed an offense. He also said that “electing somebody should not distance them from common decency,” clearly suggesting (in context) that was the standard for removing a president from office.

Then came Graham’s closing passage. We blushed, and averted our eyes:

GRAHAM: Tell us what’s right. Tell us what’s wrong. Give us some guidance. Under our Constitution, you don’t impeach people at the ballot box; you trust the United States Senate.

It makes one want to yell “bloody murder.” And on Fox, Graham even did that.