When I bother to watch more than one of the Sunday talk shows--and this occurs rarely now that Laura and I have returned to California from Washington, because our Sunday-night socializing no longer resembles a current affairs quiz--I'm struck by the rigorous discipline Newt Gingrich succeeded in introducing into the GOP caucus. It's sunk so deep by now that it's seeped down to the very diction employed by Republican politicians. It's obvious these guys and gals have been given their marching orders. You hear the same predigested phrases repeated over and over as you surf from Tim to Bob to Sam and Cokie, and there's no question this must result from some sort of directive issuing from on high. Now that we've effectively defeated Bolshevism, Lenin's concept of democratic centralism is alive and thriving within our own borders. It seems to have been adopted wholesale by the GOP.
Not that the practice is limited to the current congressional majority. The 1996 Clinton presidential campaign followed a similar strategy, with a few Dick Morris market-tested phrases, distinguished primarily by their fatuousness, repeated ad nauseam. But in the current climate, the most egregious offenders are on the other side.
Sunday's phrase of art was "render impartial justice." I must have heard it six times Sunday morning, as well as having read it more than once apiece in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. The rough translation of "render impartial justice" is "lynch Bill Clinton." I'm not saying that this necessarily isn't justice--I haven't made my up mind on that score--but it certainly doesn't qualify as impartial.
Having left Washington more than two years ago, I can't even guess what life in the District must be like now. I honestly can't imagine it. And suddenly I find myself here in Slate, and it's my good fortune to be communicating in this very space with the one person in the world who may be best qualified to describe it. The politics of the situation isn't what intrigues me--the politics can be discerned, more or less, from newspapers--but rather the subtle social ramifications. Do people in Georgetown living rooms talk of anything other than impeachment these days? If one finds oneself at an event at the White House, is the whole issue made conspicuous by its studied absence? Does the situation resemble the Civil War, with brother turned against brother (other, I mean, than the obvious case of those Bennett boys)? Have friendships been rent asunder? Are there potential dinner guests whose very presence is guaranteed to provoke tongue-tied embarrassment?
And what about the notably weird cast of characters? How could a certifiable loony like Tom DeLay have become the most significant player in the House of Representatives? How could Henry Hyde, whose reputation for statesmanship has always been something of a canard, so misplay his hand that the whole world has been permitted to see through the disguise? How has Chuck Schumer managed to be in two crucial places at once? What's with Rehnquist and those ridiculous stripes? What kind of first name is Strom? There's a superb comedy of manners in this whole mess, and you, Sally are the person who can best guide us through the intricacies. How about taking a stab at it? But in addition, I gather Mike Kinsley wants the two of us to create something of a hybrid this week, a cross between "The Breakfast Table" and "The Book Club," with the latter aspect devoted to my new novel. I don't know how to introduce this element of our exchange gracefully ... but it's obviously in my interest to find a way. Maybe you can help me figure something out.