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17 December 1998

Smile-a-while: Those three magic words just keep changing

Synopsis: The loud, sweaty lynch mob pursuing Vile Clinton keeps revising the words he must speak.

Commentary by Major Garrett, Rep. Brian Bilbray
Hardball, CNBC, 12/14/98

Commentary by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius
Hardball, CNBC, 8/19/98

The analysts were lounging at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, unwinding with a little Hardball, when Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) said the words House Republicans love to hear:

BILBRAY: I just don’t know how the president can look us in the eye again and say, “Look, I didn’t lie. I didn’t commit perjury.”

What the GOP asked was quite simple. President Clinton should just stand up like a man, and convict himself of federal crimes. He should publicly say what he doesn’t seem to believe, and bring this whole mess to a halt!

They wanted the guy to admit that he’d lied, and then the whole thing would just go away. Indeed, Major Garrett had spelled it out for a tabloid talker just a matter of moments before:

GARRETT: [House Republicans] kept looking for the president to say the one thing that they most wanted to hear...Reconcile yourself to the facts as you created them, Mr. President. Don’t look to anyone else, don’t look for outs, don’t look for legalese. Admit what you did. Look the American people in the eye, say you know what you did, and apologize for it...

Phew! The analysts couldn’t wait to hear Vile say the words: “I committed perjury.”

But just when the blood was beginning to boil, and analysts were shaking their fists at the screen, another analyst came rushing in, with tape of an earlier Hardball. This was the tape of the 8/19 show, with Jo-Ellan Dimitrius telling Vile what to say, and she too had pointed to three magic words. But in August, the words had been different!

DIMITRIUS: I wonder who in the world he’s talking to, in being heartened by the optimism of the American people, because it’s certainly not the people that I’m talking to. The people I’m talking to are saying the three words he has yet to say, in any of the three speeches that he’s given, which are “I am sorry,” have yet to be heard.

And the memories suddenly came flooding back, of the celebrity lynch mob when it gathered in August, when it assured Vile Clinton that if he’d say he was sorry, he could bring-this-whole-thing-to-a-halt. He had said he was sorry, but it wasn’t enough, and now the mob was calling for more, reminding the analysts why the state’s not allowed to coerce those vile creatures it accuses. When people think they have a right to hear the things they most want others to say--well, they often end up lording it over those they feel free to compel. Soon rulers believe that they own the ruled, and own the right to what the ruled say--and what one wants to hear on a given day is soon not enough on another. Indeed, our cheeks rouged for Garrett as he labored on, completing his demand for compliance:

GARRETT (continuing): ...Look the American public in the eye, say you know what you did, and apologize for it. Every step has been to say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” looking as if that was the way to get out of impeachment, and not a way to reconcile himself with the facts...

Can you believe it? The very thing Vile was told to say then, the sullen mob complained about now. The muttering from the analysts began to subside, and shaking fists dropped down from the air. Yep. When Vile last uttered the mob’s three words, it turned out they weren’t quite so magic.

Drew gets it right, continued (from 12/16): Elizabeth Drew also got this matter right in her 12/14 Post column:

DREW: The bar of what Clinton must do to escape impeachment keeps being raised. For a long time, he simply had to apologize, seem contrite--how sincerely is impossible to judge--but, now that he’s done those things, they aren’t enough.

For clarity: We have no way of knowing if Clinton is sincere in saying he doesn’t think that he lied. But clearly, he has made his statement. “The rule of law” forbids coercing the accused, in part to avoid compelled false confession. As we sing hosannas to “the rule of law” this week, some of us have forgotten.

For the record, Clinton’s honest statement came on August 17, when he said that his conduct was wrong, and that Ken Starr is a crook. But because this press corps Christmas tree accusers, that second clause had to be overridden. In the mindless behavior of thugs world wide, this lynch mob demanded a different statement. Then, when the president recited their script, they complained that he wasn’t sincere.