When the Donna Rice affair detonated Gary Hart’s presidential hopes, there must have been jubilation in the opposing camp. No matter who the Republicans nominated in 1988, Hart would have been a formidable opponent, and there he was, all of a sudden, wounded, humiliated, out of the running, gone, goodbye, dead to the world, poof! Just like that, American history twitched.
Earlier, the country had been diverted by the Jim Bakker scandal, even as the preacher himself had been diverted by the winsome church secretary Jessica Hahn. Although the episode and subsequent financial revelations shook the Silent Majority, a mainly Republican constituency, it was nothing compared to the Hart debacle and its impact on a Democratic resurgence.
So far as we know, Jim Bakker had no presidential illusions, nor did his wife, Tammy Faye, seem to have her heart set on the White House. Large as the closets in the mansion are said to be, they surely would disappoint Madame Bakker, who, by her own admission, is a pathological shopper. Should Reverend Jim ever seek high office, he had best run in the Philippines, where Imelda Marcos had the good sense to install closets the length of aircraft carriers.
The third blossom of the American springtime turned out to be neither political playgirl nor parish vixen. Decorous as she was beautiful, Fawn Hall, secretary to Lt. Col. Oliver North, did nothing so tawdry as bestow her favors on famous men. Hall’s actions had merely to do with the destruction of public documents, the support of renegade foreign policy initiatives and, finally, the razzing of the U.S. Congress for failing to see the light in Central America.
To what extent Hall’s activities and recent testimony before a congressional committee investigating the Iran arms scandal will affect the presidential race is anyone’s guess. But it is possible that Republican regulars may yet wish that the lovely Fawn Hall had been more inclined to fast times than foreign intrigue.
The Grand Old Party trades heavily, after all, on dignity and deportment. One does not expect a self-respecting Republican to show up for work in sandals, nor to allow his lawn to grow be-
yond regulation length, nor, certainly, to countenance a second-class spook operation in the basement of the White House.
So it must have been with terrible consternation that party stalwarts watched and listened to the endless hours of committee hearings. All manner of double-dealing and ineptitude was disclosed, and it came to pass, as well, that the President of the United States was made to look, if not criminally liable, at least so detached from daily administrative chores that one began to wonder if the stories about his attention span and work habits might be unduly generous.
One such account advanced as gospel by a member of the Washington press corps tells how the President’s staff once supplied him with a hefty stack of briefing papers for a crucial meeting early the next day. Come morning, an assistant fetched the commander-in-
She had shreddedaltered and purloined, all for the high purpose of bankrolling a war in the hills of Nicaragua
chief but noticed that the pile of reading matter was undisturbed. The underling asked if the boss had done his homework. Affable as ever, the President said, well, to tell the truth, no, he hadn’t. “You see,” he said, pointing toward the television, “ The Sound of Music was on last night.”
Thus, with the President more or less on sabbatical, Central American policy became the province of amateurs, profiteers and that ardent Marine, Lt. Col. North. Although nominally no more than a staff member attached to the National Security Council, North ended up playing secretary of state with more gusto than George Shultz himself. Among North’s trusted aides, of course, was Fawn Hall, who at first told investigators that her primary value was as an office functionary—“I can type,” she proclaimed—but who, under questioning, indicated that she was an eager inductee in Ollie North’s crusade to aid the contra rebels and save the misguided citizenry of Nicaragua from the government of its choice.
Hall’s energy seemed in fact to be
boundless, her commitment to North total, her ideological zeal mighty indeed. As to her analysis of contemporary events and perception of what constitutes ethical behavior—on those scores Fawn Hall might have been something less than exemplary.
By her own account, she fed piles of papers to the shredder when authorities learned someone had been sending arms to Iran and the profits to the contras. When it was necessary to alter documents, Hall applied her expertise. And, finally, when she found sensitive material on her desk, this ardent employee stuffed papers in her boots and pushed others, as she said, down her back. Then, cool and casual, Fawn Hall simply took leave of the White House.
“Sometimes,” Hall told committee members, “you just have to go above the written law.” Later she withdrew the comment, but it was too late; the moment of truth had come and gone. She had shredded, she had altered, she had purloined and she had done it all for the high purpose of bankrolling a war in the hills of Nicaragua.
Here we have what passes for civil disobedience in the 1980s. Whereas Americans once were dragged away for integrating lunch counters in the South or for marching for peace without a permit, Fawn Hall now swipes government documents to protect a covert, unauthorized, comic-book enterprise and, on cue, advances a defence worthy of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King.
Asked by a senator if she felt remorse, Hall went on the offensive with a lecture to recalcitrant lawmakers. “Sir,” said the witness, “I wish a lot of things could have been done differently. I wish that Congress had voted money for the contras so that this wouldn’t have had to happen.”
Upstanding members of the GOP surely are aghast at what this young woman and her superiors represent. Surely they know that the party in power is diminished by illicit adventures abroad and by the zealots and freelancers who step forward as keepers of the flame. The faithful might want to recall the days of Dwight David Eisenhower and wonder what became of the decency and forthrightness that characterized his administration. Isn’t it time for solid, sensible Republicans to ask who traded the standards of Ike for the standards of Ollie North?
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