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COLUMN RIGHT/ TOM BETHELL : Conservatives Have Reason to Be Suspicious : Gergen was even said to be Watergate's 'Deep Throat.'

June 04, 1993|TOM BETHELL | Tom Bethell is the Washington editor of the American Spectator.

In the 1970s, the writer Taylor Branch interviewed John Dean of Watergate fame and asked him if he could identify "Deep Throat"--the unnamed White House source who had been so helpful to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post in their reporting on the scandal. "Gergen," Dean replied, referring to President Clinton's new counselor.

David Gergen is now part of an inner circle of five, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and White House chief of staff Thomas (Mack) McLarty. Gergen's appointment has "heartened" conservatives, Wall Street Journal reporters claim, and has "appeal to conservatives," a New York Times headline says. No such individuals have been identified, however. Gergen may not have been Deep Throat, but he was viewed with great suspicion by conservatives in the Nixon White House, as Patrick J. Buchanan, another former Nixon aide, has said and as Dean's remark suggested.

Imagine conservatives' surprise, then, when this same Gergen showed up in the West Wing, two doors down from the Oval Office, in January, 1981. Here was one of the earliest signs that Ronald Reagan was indifferent to the political views of those who were placed in his entourage. Gergen had earlier worked for George Bush and had come up with the phrase "voodoo economics." It was used by Bush to deride the centerpiece of Reagan's (successful) economic program. Gergen departed from the White House in 1983. On a talk show last weekend, Evan Thomas of Newsweek said that Gergen had been fired for leaking.

Gergen remarked on Saturday that "I have never been a Republican." Now he tells us. That was "Gergen's first communications mistake this time around," the columnist William Safire wrote. On Sunday, a Washington Post headline read: "GOP Insider to Be Clinton Counselor." Here was an insider who had not even bothered to sign up. Unfortunately, The Post's headline was correct. Gergen was, indeed, an insider. He says that he "didn't even know any Republicans" until he was 21. But he learned fast, figuring out that the party has neither criteria for admission nor mechanisms for expulsion. You can join and rise all the way to "insider" status without anyone bothering to ask what you actually believe.

In appointing Gergen, Clinton said that his Administration was "rising above poli tics." Sure. The real purpose is to try to deceive the electorate into believing that the Administration is finally "reaching out" to conservatives. Perhaps, as a result, GOP senators will vote for tax increases. There's a double deceit here. Having fooled Reagan into thinking that he was even remotely a conservative, Gergen has been brought back to deceive the American people into thinking that there is, or should be, bipartisan support for the Clinton's left-liberal program. (Why else would this Reagan aide be working for Clinton?)

"Do I think I'll take some hits from the right?" Gergen said on Saturday. "Sure. And the President will take some hits from the left." Here was another little deception. If Gergen has "appeal" to conservatives, why would he take hits from them? In fact, he deserves to take a hit from the right, but not for going to work for Democrats. He deserves it for going to work for Republicans. Conservatives should be relieved, not dismayed, that Gergen is at last, and openly, working for a Democrat.

Clinton and Gergen have been talking for some time, it now emerges. This may be the first time that Gergen has worked for a President that he can be entirely candid with. If Gergen disagrees with any item on the President's agenda, we have not been told what it is. On the other hand, his disagreements with the GOP, on those occasions when its agenda was shaped by conservatives, were sharp and numerous. What does Gergen really believe? He believes in the conventional wisdom of the Beltway--which is to say, in liberalism. Clinton does not need to be told by Gergen what this conventional wisdom is. He hears it every day in Washington. Gergen's true role is to create the illusion that the Administration' left-leaning program enjoys bipartisan support.

The best thing about the vote in the House last week, narrowly approving Clinton's tax increases, is that all the Republicans voted against it. Conservatives should not object if there is a similar outcome in the Senate. Let the Democrats' program of tax increases be put to the test. If it succeeds, Democrats will be vindicated; if it fails, unanimous GOP opposition today will revive the party in coming elections. Much-needed clarity will be restored to political life. The appointment of Gergen is intended to muddy that clarity--to blur the distinction between Republican and Democrat. It is a role that he has ably performed in the past.

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