Wanted: A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 9 2001 5:52 PM

Wanted: A Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Why were the opening months of Bill Clinton's presidency so rocky and the first 100 days of George W. Bush's so placid? The Washington Post's John F. Harris offered this theory last Sunday: A "well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people" stalked Clinton from the get-go, starting each day by looking for "ways to expose and undermine" him. "Stories like the travel office firings," wrote Harris, "flamed for weeks instead of receding into yesterday's news." This well-coordinated corps--described by Hillary Clinton as "a vast right-wing conspiracy"--kept Clinton on the defensive for eight years.

Advertisement

But, as Harris explains, no analogous gaggle of lefties has dedicated themselves to turning Bush's molehills into mountains. If a vast left-wing conspiracy did exist, however, it could have easily exploited last week's firing of Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove by Majority Leader Trent Lott.

The senate parliamentarian serves as arbiter of the Senate's rules. Although the vote of 60 senators can overrule the parliamentarian's decision, that seldom happens. What drew Lott's ire were the parliamentarian's decisions that made it easier for Democrats to stall the president's tax and budget bills. (Senate rules generally prevent filibusters on budget and tax bills. And the GOP leadership wanted those rules interpreted as broadly as possible. But Dove didn't always comply. Earlier he ruled that only one tax bill a year could be immune to a filibuster. And more recently, he ruled that a disaster relief set aside also wouldn't be getting the no-filibuster free ride.) Desiring more accommodating decisions, he fired Dove.

Is this a scandal? The parliamentarian isn't supposed to be a rubberstamp for the majority leader, even though the majority leader appoints him. But Lott didn't break any law in sacking Dove. In a rational universe, Dove's firing was a one-day story--not pretty, but not the end of the world either, which is exactly the way Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle treated it at a press conference yesterday. Daschle called the firing was "very disappointing and extremely harmful to the process. I don't think any single dispute with the parliamentarian ever ought to trigger the firing."

Disappointing? Harmful? You can practically hear Daschle mewling. It's not that Dems don't know how to complain, but their complaints tend to focus on wounded feelings of fair play or their opponents' callousness. They seldom cut at their opponents' good faith, values, or honesty.

But imagine, for a moment, if Daschle and the Democrats had responded to the firing like Republicans. Daschle would have gone on the Sunday shows and decried the parliamentarian's ouster as a "Saturday Night Massacre" while other Democrats would call the firing symbolic of the rule-breaking, win-at-any-cost political culture the Republicans flaunted in Florida. The press would respond to the charges by placing the story on Page One, and lefty pundits would describe the firing as an example of the president's willingness to politicize heretofore nonpartisan institutions for immediate political gain--namely the passage of his controversial $1.6 trillion budget. Lastly, Daschle would demand congressional hearings to investigate Dove's dismissal--anything to keep Bush and the Republicans on the defensive.

Harris' Post piece rightly diagnosed the Democrats as suffering from a lack of zeal. But that's only one of their problems. Modern politics is a 24/7, multimedia game these days, and an essential part of that game is scandal-mongering--90 percent of which is about packaging. And Democrats just don't seem to have the taste or the talent for this. But there may be hope for them yet. Newt Gingrich is out of work, and Larry Klayman's Judicial Watch has fallen on hard times. If Daschle is serious about turning things around, maybe he could bring them on as scandal consultants. No questions asked--strictly work-for-hire. 

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 11:48 AM Punky Brewster, the Feminist Punk Icon Who Wasn’t
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms Off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.