Allen and Chait

Allen and Chait

An email conversation about the news of the day.
Jan. 18 1999 1:50 PM

Allen and Chait


Dear Jodie,


When you have a discussion about matters relating to the scandal, there's an elaborate ritual you're supposed to follow. First, you declare that you're really, really sick of the scandal and you wish it would go away, but you say this not so much with conviction as with resignation, as if to suggest that endless scandal gossiping is our lot in life and, complain all we like, there is nothing we can do to change it. Then your conversation partner reciprocates, and you proceed to trade theories. I say we skip the mating dance and get right on with it, because, heck, I love the scandal.

The particularly interesting thing to me is watching the Republican Party once again hurl itself toward political oblivion. They have even received some grudging credit for their foolhardiness. In an age dominated by polls and focus groups, the theory goes, it is refreshing to see a political party act solely out of principle, however misplaced it may be.

I agree that it is fascinating to see the Republicans flout the polls. I'm not so sure they're doing it out of principle, though. Yesterday George Will quoted Senator Bob Smith's wife as saying she thought polls showed support for Clinton because pollsters were interviewing people on Saturday night as they left Hooters. I've heard conservatives repeat some variation of this theme several times. Paul Harvey informed his viewers that most polls survey just a few hundred people, whereas an AOL poll surveyed thousands of people and found that most supported impeachment. And a friend of mine who works in GOP politics once explained that the polls are interviewing people during the day, so they only get responses from the unemployed, who tend to be Democrats. I suspect a lot of conservatives think this way. It's not that they don't care about the polls. They simply don't believe them, because they lack a basic understanding of the mathematical and methodological facts about polling. If they were all forced to take a high school statistics course, impeachment never would have gotten this far.

On another topic: I spent a couple years of my youth hating and fearing a local anti-Semitic bully who called me all sorts of names and failed to beat me up only because I kept running away. My dad assured me that in the end he would get his comeuppance, winding up either destitute or imprisoned. I never believed him because I don't think life works that way. But this weekend I heard that he (the bully, that is, not my dad) is in jail for armed robbery! Isn't that great! I wonder, in your slightly longer life experience, have you found that good and evil eventually get their just rewards, or do the bullies of your youth now appear in Fortune magazine?

And sobering news from Milwaukee, where a Mexican restaurant is in trouble because it has a midget walking around serving chips and salsa out of a sombrero. A short people's anti-defamation group from New York (apparently Milwaukee doesn't have a large enough population base to support an indigenous midget lobby) is protesting this as exploitation. But it's not as if the restaurant has lots of short people serving chips and salsa out of sombreros. Maybe this was the only job available when he applied, or maybe his height gave him an advantage over other applicants--i.e., the chips are at a more comfortable level out of his hat than they would be from a taller waiter. Should he be denied work at Mexican restaurants simply due to his height? And aren't the charges of exploitation distracting us from the main issue, which is the troubling health implications of serving salsa out of a sombrero?

Feel free to ignore these topics in your reply.


Jodie T. Allen is the Washington editor of Slate. Jonathan Chait is a fellow at the New America Foundation and an associate editor for the New Republic.