We have finally hit the watershed, it seems, and none too soon. The pendulum has finally started to swing. Madness is stilled for a moment. The sleuths and gumshoes have paused in their labors. A tiny smidgeon of common sense has peeked its tiny head over the horizon.
We speak here of this season’s silliest trend, that being an obsession with the obscure past behavior of politicians, both high and low. The baying dogs have been called off, thanks to the public disgust and boredom on the subject.
The aspirant to the highest office in the land who once pinched a bicycle when he was 12 can now sleep once more. The magistrate who faked his mother’s signature on a sick note in junior high need fear no more. An armistice has been declared in the land.
The villain in all this, of course, is the unfortunate Gary Hart, whose randiness removed him from what seemed a sure trip to the White House.
At the start of the year an astute American backroom pol said Gary was a cinch for the presidency “if he can keep his pants on.” The expert reacted with outrage when the comment was printed and denied all, but within weeks Hart had his pants off, and it all became irrelevant.
Hart and Donna Rice and the good ship Monkey Business set off an orgy of self-righteous piffle in the American press. Senator Joe Biden, a youthful windbag who wasn’t going anywhere anyway, was also driven from the presidential race when it was revealed he had borrowed language and stories (what politician doesn’t?) and had fudged a bit on a law exam in university.
Oh dear. World issues. This brought forth an agonizing reappraisal of why the press had ignored the absolutely astounding-by-frequency philandering of John Kennedy (different times, different mores). Or the crippled Franklin Roosevelt’s affair with
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
his wife’s secretary (different times, ditto mores).
Within weeks sanctimony reigned the world’s greatest democracy. Judge Douglas Ginsburg was denied his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court because, first among equals, he confessed to trying a little marijuana at college—a sin that would deny about one-third of the American population of any high office. At this, various presidential candidates—as pre-emptive strikes— confessed to having experimented with the weed while striplings. It was as if another generation of leaders, to
save their reputations, confessed to having sipped a beer behind the barn during Prohibition.
It is not clear what snapped the public mind, but there are two clear contenders. One is Senator Claiborne Pell, a New England blue-blood who lives in a Georgetown mansion and is 69 years of age, volunteering that he had tried pot. Who cares? The other is the confession of the wife of Democratic presidential front-runner Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts, that she had been addicted to diet pills for a decade or so—an admission we didn’t want to hear that seemed to surprise even her husband. If there is no privacy to the medicine cabinet, what is there left?
Before each wife of each presidential candidate, all 12 of them, had to confess who dyed her hair and who merely streaked it, a large whiff of ennui rose from the body politic, and the newspapers backed away from the chase. Does anyone want to check how
much brandy Churchill consumed before noon? Yes, Teddy Kennedy did hire someone else to write a law exam at college, but does that equate with what Richard Nixon, who probably never cheated on his wife, did?
Ottawa press gallery reporters, being of the shy type, were extremely generous to Pierre Trudeau—and Margaret too—in the early stages of that fated match. In the public mind, he emerged as the good guy in the whole caper, which may not be entirely fair. That same gallery, now composed of a generation raised on Chappaquiddick, is much tougher on Brian and Mila and their personal activities. Three books alone on the Christmas shelves attest to the fascination with what goes on at Sussex Drive in the new era of People magazine.
The pot-smoking and the womanizing are the juicy, bite-sized chunks in the reading, but the real outrage is more subtle. We are now learning, via a Washington trial, that close Reagan aide Michael Deaver was so drunk all £ the time (a quart of I scotch and three rolls Í of mints per day) that “ he can’t remember what phone calls he made and to whom. He was especially close to Nancy Reagan— who has repaired her PR image by telling teens on drugs to Just Say No but somehow never detected that her luncheon companion was a lush.
The major disgrace of the White House (if you leave aside the deficit, which is not a crime, just immoral) is the situation of Attorney General Edwin Meese, who is in court in Washington most weeks—not as justice minister but as a witness being questioned as to various charges of conflict-of-interest and hanky-panky.
He is the true disgrace of the Reagan administration and a disgrace to the President who brought him from California and who laughs off the growing demands that this tainted man resign.
The true sins of politics, in Washington and elsewhere, are not conducted after-hours, in hotel bedrooms or diet pill parlors. They are conducted nineto-five, over a desk, in the In basket and out of the Out basket.
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