Controversy quickly called a 'conspiracy'

January 29, 1998|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- The increasingly Gothic tale that is Bill Clinton's current crisis was missing a savory ingredient until his wife, breathing fresh life into the paranoid style in U.S. politics, blamed his problems on a "vast right-wing conspiracy," a phrase with an interesting pedigree.

Joseph McCarthy, echoing J. Edgar Hoover's 1919 warning about a communist conspiracy "so vast, so daring," warned in 1951 about "a conspiracy on a scale so immense" that it was everywhere.

Anticipating the Oliver Stone movie version of all this, Hillary Rodham Clinton supplied the "man on the grassy knoll" culprit. And, lo, the man is the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Well. Paranoiacs can have real enemies, as does Mr. Clinton. But neither he nor his wife is a paranoiac. Her insouciant insincerity in playing the conspiracy card is understandable, given that it is a Clinton habit and given the alternative, which is to discuss the facts -- those known and those still concealed by her husband.

In the taped conversations with Gennifer Flowers, first heard in 1992, Mr. Clinton suggested to her that if he became the subject of sexual accusations, "it would be extremely valuable" if she would "have an on-file affidavit explaining that, you know, you were approached by a Republican." (Should you consider those tapes accurate? Mr. Clinton did. He called Mario M. Cuomo to apologize for his taped statement that Mr. Cuomo "acts like a Mafioso.")

Today's controversy has come with uncommon speed to the traditional "vast conspiracy" accusation. Fifty years ago, it took Alger Hiss much longer to postulate that the FBI fabricated a perfect duplicate of his Woodstock typewriter in order to link him to stolen State Department documents.

It is a lawyer's axiom: If you have the law on your side, argue the law; if you have the facts on your side, argue the facts; if you have neither, pound the table.

Mrs. Clinton's table-pounding about the vast conspiracy continued yesterday morning when she said on ABC-TV, "I'm interested in what the facts are, and we know very few facts right now."

"We"? The man across from her at the breakfast table surely has lots of pertinent facts right now. So Mrs. Clinton might begin to slake her thirst for facts by saying:

"Pass the marmalade, and by the way, is the New York Times right that Monica Lewinsky met alone with you late last month, two weeks after being subpoenaed by Paula Jones' lawyers and a week before Lewinsky filed her affidavit saying she had not had sexual relations with you? Help yourself to the bacon, dear, and what did you and 'that woman' talk about, other than saving Social Security?"

"That woman" is the president's dismissive designation of her to whom he reportedly gave that private December meeting, and an inscribed book of poetry, and he knows what else. (Mrs. Clinton is not surprised by all this giving, because "he is an extremely generous person" -- "I mean, I've seen him take his tie off and hand it to somebody.")

Ms. Lewinsky seems to have had a remarkable interest in the intricacies of the law. She reportedly says on one of the tapes made by Linda Tripp that "perjury is rarely prosecuted in civil cases."

Perhaps she got that insight from "Vernon." That apparently is her way of speaking of Vernon Jordan, who Mrs. Clinton says is so "outgoing and friendly" that there is just no telling what he will do for little people.

On Monday, the president took care to seem quite cross about what is being said about him. What else is he angry about?

As chief executive, he is charged with seeing that the laws are faithfully executed. So, presumably, he is furious that someone wrote the memo that Ms. Lewinsky had, suggesting how Ms. Tripp should amend her memory and testimony concerning another woman, who supposedly had an unsolicited and unwanted sexual encounter with the president.

Is he consumed by curiosity about who wrote it and who gave it to Ms. Lewinsky? What steps is he taking to find out? More breakfast table talk for his wife.

Twenty-four years after President Richard M. Nixon said in a State of the Union address that "one year of Watergate is enough," Hillary Clinton, the point of the White House spear, is saying that one week of Monica Lewinsky suffices, and it is time to get on with the agenda the president outlined Tuesday evening.

But first, he may have to drive a stake through the heart of a right-wing conspiracy on a scale so immense that perhaps it even had Ms. Lewinsky as an agent in place. Gosh.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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