Impeachment Redux

Politics and policy.
June 25 1999 3:30 AM

Impeachment Redux

Flytrap is forgotten but not gone.

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Impeachment has also frozen the Senate but for a less ominous reason. Unlike the House, which finished impeachment in December, the Senate lost the first two months of its current session to the trial. This massively delayed planning and bill-writing, a traffic jam that still has not cleared.

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Impeachment is twisting the presidential race, too. Al Gore, born to suffer for Bill Clinton's sins, is bearing the cross for Flytrap. Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center cites Gore's poor ratings in head-to-heads against Bush as evidence that the veep is a victim of "Clinton fatigue." And the only discernible reason Bill Bradley--a Gore clone in both middle-road policy and stump awkwardness--is polling 25 percent of Democratic voters is that he is independent of the Clinton scandal machine.

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I mpeachment so haunts Gore that he has designed his entire campaign around neutralizing it. Had Flytrap never occurred, Gore surely would be running on the Clinton-Gore economic boom. Instead, he has placed family values and personal morality at the heart of his platform, and the first act of his campaign was to schedule a series of interviews in which he denounced Clinton's behavior.

The Republican presidential campaign is being shaped by the I-word as well. Anti-Clinton rage benefits House Republicans in the conservative districts they represent. But anti-Clintonism is not a tenable national strategy. Party leaders have anointed Bush because he is mercifully disconnected from Flytrap. In Bush, they have a candidate who can preach the winning message of Flytrap (morality good, lechery bad) but isn't associated with the screeching House impeachers who are so unpopular nationwide.

Impeachment may be, in the words of pollster John Zogby, the "Great Unmentionable." Politicians will make it a hidden foundation of their strategy, will imply and suggest and insinuate. Republicans will hint at Democratic immorality, Democrats will poke at Republican obsessive nuttiness. The points will be scored obliquely, but almost no one will risk the word itself.