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. Theyre 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 couldnt 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 hes 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 dont think she was concerned about her physical safety totally, I dont know. But she verbalized a feeling, an impression that if you cross these people, bad things happen to you...
Lets 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 Mos a stalker. (Well identify the claims as allegations; needless to say, Graham didnt.) 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? Hes 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? Lets wait, she may not cooperate.
Apparently its 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, whats the specific misconduct Mr. Barefoot relates? A conversation where an aide says hell 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: Lets 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 cant 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 thats to their advantage, theyd love to drive a wedge here. And sure, theyre 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 didnt want witnesses in the first place. So what Lindseys describing is not new, its all in the record. It just hasnt been fleshed out...
Except what Lindsey was describing was folks getting killed--he was describing it three minutes earlier. Weve 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--theres no way to soundproof a studio for that--but Graham gave this final view of why Clinton ought to pack up and mosey:
GRAHAM: Its not about who touched who where. Thats bad. But were not going to impeach a president over a consensual affair gone awry. The only reason I think youd 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 peoples personal lives for his political gain, and theres 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; Clintons 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 Grahams 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 theres a scenario in the evidence that indicates that intimidation was going to happen; and the only example hed 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 Snows guests discussed. But if you wonder why the public is on Clintons side, just remember: that sly backwoods charm, that works handlin snakes? It dont 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 hed 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 aint into his remarks; a feller whos tryin to craft an image dont pass up a chance to do that.
But the rolling absurdity of Grahams remarks were an insult to the process. Graham, on Clintons 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, thats a crime, even if youre president.
Graham seems to think its a crime if one doesnt 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 Grahams closing passage. We blushed, and averted our eyes:
GRAHAM: Tell us whats right. Tell us whats wrong. Give us some guidance. Under our Constitution, you dont 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.