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Beatts Me!

The Ironies of Watergate and Tit-for-Tatgate

October 18, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is a writer who lives in Hollywood

OK, OK, I know, you're sick of hearing about it and just want the national healing to begin. But I'm one of those nasty mediapersons who can't stop picking the scab. Next week I promise to give it a rest and go back to lighter topics, like Kosovo. But this is too big. I've just gotta speak my piece.

For only the third time in our nation's history, Congress is considering the possibility of impeaching the president. The other two presidents were, of course: Nixon, that revered elder statesman who passed away recently and whose funeral was accompanied by full diplomatic honors; and that other guy, Andrew Johnson, of whom many people ask, "Wasn't he the one who picked his hound dog up by the ears?" (With the debate on how to define "high crimes and misdemeanors" as muddy as it currently is, it's no wonder some people believe that a president could be impeached for cruelty to animals.)

Neither of the two actually were impeached, Nixon because he resigned and Johnson because his butt was saved by one vote (for extra credit, there'll be a pop quiz at the end of this column, so pay attention, kids). What will happen to William Jefferson Clinton is anyone's guess, although some people are guessing that the Republicans in Congress will just keep snapping at his sinews, like wolves trying to bring down a moose, for quite some time to come.

Part of the problem is that word "impeachment." It sounds so serious and majestic and at the same time tasty, like a metaphor in a poem by T.S. Eliot. As Ms. Monica S. Lewinsky remarked of Walt Whitman's work, it's meant to be savored and rolled on the tongue like a good cigar, a pleasure that many home-grown Republicans are enjoying as the election heaves into view. (And incidentally, don't you just love it that Kenneth W. Starr always refers to her as "Ms. Lewinsky"? He's so respectful of women.)

Given the congressional proclivity for calling a spade a garden implement, they'd probably feel more comfortable with renaming it "downsizing." (And doesn't Al Gore seem smaller than Clinton? Especially recently, when he's been doing his Incredible Shrinking Man impression in order to escape being tarred with the same cigar.)

Of course, you know that somewhere some uber-Republican alpha wolf is slavering at the concept of throwing Clinton out and then having a go at Gore for phoning Chinese people illegally from the White House, or whatever it is that he's supposed to have done. (No, Virginia, you can't impeach people for running up long-distance bills, so go ahead and make all the 900 calls you want from Daddy's phone, dear.) Which would leave us with what, President Trent Lott? I'm confused. Maybe Al Haig could be convinced to come back and take charge.

The Hollywood equivalent is usually called being offered an independent production deal. And it usually comes with a golden parachute--in Mike Ovitz's case, $80 million. So cheer up, Bill, if you take that job with DreamWorks and it doesn't pan out, you won't have to feel this kind of pain a second time, plus you'll do a lot better than you would by scrimping along on your memoirs and a few lecture tours. And you might could need a few extra simoleons for the divorce settlement--I'm not saying definitely, just in case those feminists get hold of Hillary again.

Meanwhile, with that keen journalistic instinct to compare and contrast, honed on many a slow news day, pundits and mediapersons such as myself (I'm trying for certification as a pundit, but the training course is brutal--it involves actually paying attention to Michael Kinsley as well as keeping a straight face while contemplating Ted Koppel's hair for a full two minutes) are impelled to find Nixonian parallels. (Finding parallels with Andrew Johnson is the kind of thing people only do on the Internet, so relax. Smoke em' if you've got 'em.)

At first, it seems a rich vein to mine. Provided your sense of irony is on a par with Alanis Morissette's, it's even ironic.

* Nixon's henchmen were caught breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex, while Monica Lewinsky, amazingly enough, lived at the Watergate!

* Nixon had a gap in the tapes, while Monica wore a dress from the Gap!

* Nixon made Henry Kissinger go down on his knees to pray, while Clinton made Monica go down on her knees without kissing her.

* The people who carried out dirty tricks for Nixon were known as the Plumbers, while Clinton used the White House plumbing when he got dirty after--oh, never mind.

* The names Nixon and Clinton both end with the letter "n"! Nixon pulled out of Vietnam, while Clinton--well, you figure it out. I'm feeling a little queasy all of a sudden.

Fact is, there are absolutely no parallels between what Nixon did to get himself booted out of office and what Clinton has done. Any more than there were any parallels between Rodney King and O.J. Simpson. But there is a very basic human rule, taught to me at the knee of my old Scottish aunt. And that is, tit for tat. (And no, I am not trying to make a very bad pun.)

To put it in the language of that troublesome decade when all this got started, the '60s, what comes around goes around. And it's the Democrats' turn in the barrel. Too bad for President Clinton. Too bad for the country. (Doesn't Congress have anything else to do, like being wined and dined by lobbyists or something?) But sunny days for us pundits and pundits-in-training.

Next week, I promise, lighthearted wisecracks about the trials and tribulations of lawn mowing.

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