Inman didn't understand: Never cross a columnist

January 21, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

Cross me and I will destroy you.

Mess with me and I will crush you like a grape.

I am the most powerful force on earth:

I am Syndicated Columnist Man!

Tremble even to look upon my little picture!

Who says I am so powerful?

Bobby Ray Inman, the admiral who is permanently at sea.

Inman was Bill Clinton's choice for secretary of defense. He was popular, had generally excellent press, and was sure to be confirmed by the Senate.

But he withdrew his name this week because three syndicated newspaper columnists wrote bad things about him.

"I do not need this," Inman said.

No, he does not. What he really appears to need is a glass of warm milk and two Prozacs.

But I like this trend. I like people cowering before newspaper columnists and changing their lives at our whim.

This, Inman says, is the new McCarthyism: Columnists, especially syndicated columnists, who "have the ability to say almost anything."

The chief New McCarthyite, Inman says, is Bill Safire of the New York Times, who wrote a column about Inman calling him a "flop", a "naif" and a "cheat."

The latter charge refers to Inman's failure to pay taxes for his household help, which Inman admitted this week.

But as to charges that he is a flop and a naif? Well, Inman certainly showed Safire how wrong he was!

What better way to show you are not a flop than by withdrawing your name from a sure-thing job?

Take that, Safire!

And naif? Inman certainly showed he is not naive. Oh, no. He thought that normal procedure for picking a new defense secretary would be suspended. There would be no public scrutiny of him or his past. And instead of going through confirmation hearings, the senators would carry him thrice around the Capitol on their shoulders, throwing their caps into the air and shouting: "Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"

OK, I know what you are wondering (Syndicated Columnist Man always knows what you are wondering.) You are wondering why Inman really withdrew.

It was because of me.

Rumors reached Inman that I had made a deal with Bob Dole whereby Dole would fill a paper sack full of doggie poo, set it on fire, put it on Inman's porch, ring the doorbell, and then we would hide in the bushes and giggle when Inman came to stamp out the fire.

I am not proud of this.

But this is what we do in journalism.

All this leaves me with one question: How did Bobby Inman get the nomination in the first place?

I used to think they used a dart board at the White House to pick Cabinet members. Now I think they use a Ouija board.

And I think Bill and Hillary and Chelsea and Roger balanced the board on their knees and moved the pointer around until it spelled "Pick Bobby."

"Bobby who?" said Bill.

"Bobby Fischer?" said Hillary.

"Bobby Orr?" said Chelsea.

"Bobby Kennedy?" said Roger.

After two weeks of extensive checking by a crack team of White House "vetters," Bobby Kennedy's name was eliminated.

That left a former chess champion and former hockey star, when somebody thought of Bobby Inman.

And Inman was named. But the vetters forgot to tell Clinton only one thing: This guy is nuttier than a wombat.

How do I know this? Because if Inman really wanted to get back at his columnist critics, the best way to do it would have been to achieve high office. That really would have gotten their goats.

Heck, it's exactly what Clarence Thomas did. And he probably laughs himself silly over it every day as he watches the Playboy Channel over at the Supreme Court.

Maybe all this was for the best, however. Because how on earth could Bobby Inman have made a good secretary of defense?

If he couldn't stand up to Bill Safire, how was he going to stand up to North Korea?

Now Clinton's people are worried that we have sent a message to the entire world that we cannot manage our own defense establishment.

And they are correct.

I'm not saying the White House is in chaos, but if Canada ever felt like invading, now's the time.

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