Principalities & Powersrnbv Samuel FrancisrnThe Un-Magnificent ObsessionrnAlmost precisely a year after the name ofrnMonica Lewinsky began to displacernthose of Princess Diana and Jackie Onassisrnfrom the headlines of snpermarketrntabloids, the one-time object of MissrnLewinsky’s more tender affectionsrnemerged triumphant over his foes inrnwhat are still laughingly called the “conservativernmovement” and the “RepublicanrnParty.” The conservative and Republicanrncrusade to cleanse the land ofrnthe Clintonian plague finally whimperedrnto its pathetic conclusion whenrnthe Grand Old Party, after losing thern1996 presidential election to Mr. Clintonrnand losing the 1998 congressionalrnelections to the Democrats, lost yet arnthird time in the Senate vote on Mr.rnClinton’s conviction. On the last occasion,rnthe party was not only unable torncadge the two-thirds majorit}- needed forrnconviction but also could not even bringrnalong all of its own members. The sobriquetrnof “The Stupid Party” is entirely toornkind; “The Loser Party” would perhapsrnbe a more appropriate label for a politicalrnorganization so incompetent that, in a seriesrnof contests against what is undoubtedlyrnthe most corrupt administration inrnAmerican history, it not only loses butrncomes close to de.stroying itselfrnYet to serious obserx’ers on the politicalrnright, it was always clear that BillrnClinton was never in any danger of beingrndriven from office by his conservativernand Republican adversaries. Those onrnthe right who were convinced he wouldrnbe forced out made the mistakes of insulatingrnthemselves in the fortress of theirrnown opinions and grotesquely exaggeratingrnthe influence their own propagandarnexerts on the American public. Tiierntruth is that, whatever the merits of therncharges against Bill Clinton and of thernmany other accusations made aboutrnhim, as long as his power base in the BigrnMedia and the Democratic Party remainedrnsecure, there was nothing thernpolitical right could do to him. And thatrnpower base did remain secure, not leastrnbecause the political right never has thernfaintest idea of how to attack it effectively.rnSo far from discrediting and destroyingrnMr. Clinton, the crusade against himrnby the right has come perilously close torndestroying its own sponsors, and it hasrndone so in two ways. First, the failure ofrnthe impeachment campaign has backfiredrnon the conservatives who pushed itrnfrom the beginning, leaving Mr. Clintonrnable to crow over the “partisanism” thatrnmotivated his adversaries, allowing himrnand liis own part- to plan and gloat overrnthe forthcoming political exterminationrnof their conservative Republican enemiesrnin future elections, and enablingrnthe left wing of the Republican Party tornclaim, somewhat plausibly as a matter ofrnfact, that it has been the party’s conservativernleadership that has brought the GOPrninto public disgrace and endangered itsrnmajority in Congress.rnAlmost everything the American rightrnhas done in the last six or seven years hasrncentered on discrediting, exposing, andrndenouncing Bill Clinton — as a KGBrnagent, an embezzler, a murderer, a drugrnsmuggler, an adulterer, a sex maniac,rnand a perjurer. The scandals and crimesrnin which he is supposed to have been atrnleast involved, if not the actual mastermindrnof, are too many to enumerate, andrnentire books have been devoted to imravelingrnand substantiating them. ThernAmerican Spectator, tlie Washington Times,rnthe Wall Street journal editorial page,rnand various talk-show hosts, publishers,rnand self-appointed sleuths, muckrakers,rnand conspiracy hunters have dedicatedrnthemselves to ferreting out the sinisterrn”truth” about Mr. Clinton and his “secretrnlife.”rnBut what is now clear, and indeed hasrnbeen clear for some months if not always,rnis that this entire crusade has been a totalrnand complete failure. Fhe President hasrnnot been discredited in the eyes of mostrncitizens, his popularit)’ is higher than ever,rnthat of his political opponents is lowerrnthan ever, the attempt to force him fromrnoffice has failed, and it is now his adversariesrnwho face political oblivion. HousernSpeaker Newt Gingrich has already vanishedrninto the ample bosom of politicalrnoblivion, and it is not unlikely that Mr.rnGingrich’s colleagues in what once stiuttedrnand chirped as tiie great “RepublicanrnRevolution” and their ideological mentorsrnin the “conservative movement” willrnsoon join him there.rnThe second way in which the obsessionrnof the American right with Clintonrnscandal-mongering has helped destroyrnthose who spawned it is by driving fromrnconservative consciousness virtually everyrnother serious idea, principle, and issuernwith which the right should havernbeen concerned. I personally am convincedrnthat this was the intended resultrnof the obsession, that some of thosernpoliticians and publicists who pushedrnthe scandal-mongering the most did notrnreally want to mobilize conservative sentimentrnagainst Clinton on the basis of seriousrnissues at all. They did not wish torndo so because they knew and feared thatrnthe issues around which conservativernsentiment could be mobilized would bernones they did not want to invoke—issuesrnlike immigration, trade policy, a national-rninterest-based foreign policy, affirmativernaction and hate crimes, and questionsrnconcerning moral and culturalrnrestoration. Is it really an accident thatrnthe publications mentioned above as thernmost zealous in the Clinton himt are alsornthose most inclined to neoconservativerninfluence? By encouraging rankand-rnfile conservatives to become preoccupiedrnwith Bill Clinton’s alleged crimesrnand misdemeanors, those of his wife andrnassociates, and ever}’ tawdry detail of hisrnextramarital affairs even down to thernanatomical peculiarities of his masculinernequipment, those who pushed andrnhawked the scandal-mongering maderncertain that the American right wouldrnnever concern itself with more importantrn— indeed, nationally and civilizationallyrncrucial—matters.rnBut even if my suspicions about thernintentions of the obsession are unfounded,rnthe results are much the same—thernvirtual disappearance of any body ofrnthought that mounts a serious critique ofrnwhat the Clinton administration hasrnstood for. How indeed could the “right”rnof today, the “conservative movement,”rnhave mounted such a critique? WhenrnBob Dole and Jack Kemp debated BillrnClinton and Al Gore in the 1996 presidentialrncampaign, it was anyone’s guessrnas to what they would be able to debaternabout. Neither Republican candidaternhad ever made much of an issue over thern34/CHRONICLESrnrnrn