The Morning After

Conniff and Frum

The Morning After

Conniff and Frum

The Morning After
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 18 1998 10:06 AM

Conniff and Frum

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Yes, I'm wrong on two counts: wrong about the weaseling and wrong about the success of the speech. I am fascinated that you reacted to it as I did. Very interested too that you objected to the "private life" line. Wouldn't you have quite a different view of this--I think I would--if we were discussing a love affair of the Lucy Mercer sort? I'm given to understand that one of the most poignant moments on the Tripp tapes is the moment when Monica laments that the President never kisses her.

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The damage done by this bad speech is very great. He was not going to win me over, but it's alarming that he failed to move you. Nor was it likely to help win the President the forgiveness one might have imagined him seeking to revive the "vast right-wing conspiracy" defense--especially not at the very moment that he was obliged to confess that Starr and his right-wing conspirators were right that he has been lying these past seven months. What was he thinking of?

Here's my speculation. There were two speeches to give last night: the soft speech that I expected and the hard, unapologetic speech he actually gave. The soft speech was the speech best calculated to win the forgiveness of a large section of American public opinion, and especially of the white middle-class married women that are the largest--but least committed--of his supporters. The soft speech was the 65% speech: the speech to give if he believed he had a fighting chance of emerging from this business as a broadly popular president.

But I think he realized during his testimony that his hopes of holding onto a broad base of support are finished. One good reason after all to consent to testifying--otherwise a tactically unsound move, as the Standard pointed out two weeks ago--was that it gave him his first glimpse of what the prosecutors actually have on him. And what I think he probably found was that they have evidence not that he "told" Monica to lie, but that he discussed with her and others how to manipulate the truth of this story. In other words, he is likely to find himself at some future point engaged in a semantic argument over what it means to "tell" somebody to lie, just as last night he engaged in a semantic argument over what it means to "have a sexual relationship."

Under those circumstances, his hopes of holding onto all but the most fervent of his partisans will evaporate. And it was to the fervent that last night's speech was directed--to the people who can be counted on to believe to the bitter end that Clinton is the victim of a plot by others. Last night's speech was the Presidential equivalent of the Johnny Cochran summation to the jury in the OJ Simpson murder trial.

I still believe it will fail. If I'm wrong about that, I'll owe you a very comical picture.

DF

Ruth Conniff is Washington editor of Progressive magazine. David Frum is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard. He is the author of What's Right: The New Conservative Majority and the Remaking of America.