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23 December 1998

Our current howler: Saint Livingston, we presume

Synopsis: David Broder found an improbable saint amid the Washington rubble.

The Livingston Challenge
David Broder, The Washington Post, 12/20/98

Maybe it’s just been a tiring year. Maybe we’re ready for real r & r. But David Broder found an unlikely saint amid all the Washington rubble:

BRODER [first two paragraphs]: Leadership by example.

The simple phrase evokes the most basic of values--responsibility, trust, honor and courage. It came into view in dramatic fashion yesterday morning when Bob Livingston, the Louisiana Republican, said he would step aside as the speaker-designate of the House of Representatives.

Broder went on to suggest that Vile Clinton should take the “Livingston challenge”--should think about stepping aside himself, to serve the good of the nation. Quoting the long-since anointed Jim Leach, Broder tossed a gauntlet:

BRODER: “Leadership is a conjunction of good ideas and good character. One without the other is unsustainable.” So Livingston concluded. Does Clinton think otherwise?

Indeed, some of the analysts were audibly sniffling as our public reading of Broder’s column concluded. Some stared darkly off into space, determined to avoid meeting eyes. And the blood was really beginning to boil, as they considered the example that Livingston set, and his selfless decision to leave the House--and the contrast it drew with Vile Clinton.

But finally one of the analysts rose, and spoke to us there in the counsel. Saint Bob had abandoned his speaker quest, he declaimed, when it was clear he would not be elected. And he’d only admitted his rounder ways when Larry Flynt was preparing to limn them. And most important by far, this knowing sage cried, Saint Bob had some Dimmesdale to him. He had watched and said nothing, for the past seven years, while his party slammed Clinton for what he too had been doing. He had watched Vile Clinton be roasted and splayed for conduct he engaged in himself.

Now the analysts began to mutter against the great dean of the pundits. Could he ever describe even simple events without creating vile contrasts with Clinton? What kind of “courage” had it taken for Livingston to give up on a post that would never be his? And as was well known: he’d long planned to resign from the House, if he couldn’t be Speaker, because he wanted to make extra cash.

But life in this celebrity press corps means always spinning stories so they Look Bad For Clinton. No matter what the other guy does, one must craft a vile contrast with Bill. Livingston had cheated on his wife; deceived his party; stepped aside when he had to; slammed his own sins in Clinton. And the pundit dean, seeing Liv was unVile, came up with a word for it:


Spellin’ it out: We do not criticize Livingston for any part of his conduct, except for his painful hypocrisy. But we do not see how any of his actions involve “honor,” “responsibility,” or “leadership.” We’ve long paid the price for defining down deviancy. Must we define away even the virtues, to make Vile seem worse than he is?