Clinton: Make Us Care

Ken Starr has spent four years and $50 million investigating Bill Clinton and all we get is a lousy soft-core pornographic report to Congress?

People are rightly outraged that Clinton had an affair with a young intern in the White House and then lied about it, but I have to wonder about people who are just catching on to Bill's tricks. It has been some years since I trusted Clinton, who ran for President as a populist and has governed as an Eisenhower Republican. As Jim Hightower says, it's what Clinton does with his pants zipped up that has us concerned. Plenty of things Clinton has done are more troublesome to the public interest than engaging in oral sex with an overenthusiastic intern.

After all, Clinton alienated American labor in 1993 by pushing the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Bush Administration had negotiated, through Congress. Then Clinton's overly compromised effort at health care reform collapsed in the face of opposition by the same business, medical and insurance bosses he had tried to appease. After voters turned out the Democratic majority in November 1994 he got the lame duck Congress to approve the World Trade Organization, which encouraged the movement of industrial jobs to low-wage, pollution-friendly Third World nations and ordered conscientious nations such as the United States to relax environmental and human rights laws that might restrict foreign trade. After that, with the advice of fellow fetishist Dick Morris, Clinton co-opted much of the Republican agenda, coming down hard on terrorists, suspected criminals, drug users, organic farmers and welfare mothers. He also pushed a telecommunications deform bill that has resulted in the consolidation of radio and TV stations under the control of a few mammoth corporations.

Now Clinton is pushing for more billions for the International Monetary Fund to bail out banks and speculators in Russia and Asia without regard to their human rights records; he wants to expand trade to Africa even if it forces more jobs out of the United States; and he wants Congress to bind itself to "fast-track" review of future trade deals, such as the Multilateral Agreement on Investments that would create a "bill of rights" for multinational corporations.

With all that has gone before, progressive populists may well wonder why they should care whether Clinton resigns or is impeached. Still, Ken Starr's overkill has managed to make me feel sorry for Bubba. So has the conduct of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the centrist Democrat from Connecticut who couldn't even wait for the President to return from his overseas trip to Russia and Ireland before Lieberman denounced Clinton--his old Democratic Leadership Council pal--on the floor of the Senate. Other centrist Democrats, worried about their standing in the polls, scurried over to congratulate Lieberman for his courage in dumping on an old friend even before Starr had finished his character assassination.

The Comeback Kid's attorneys have responded to the Starr report with the lame argument that oral sex does not constitute sexual relations and therefore the President was not lying (which, the Washington Spectator reminds us, was the same position taken by House Speaker Newt Gingrich when his philandering was exposed in a 1995 Vanity Fair profile.)

Release of the Starr report just two months before the mid-term election appears designed to deflate Democratic hopes to regain a majority in the House of Representatives. However, the partisan nature of the attack may yet backfire on right-wingers who have orchestrated the investigation. Voters may well wonder why they should reward Republicans for exposing the private philandering of a Democratic President who isn't even on the ballot when the GOP leadership has shown no better faith with the American people.

After all, while the lurid Starr report filled up the news columns and TV broadcasts, Senate Republicans killed campaign finance reform and were poised to sink the minimal regulation of health maintenance organizations that has been floated. And the continuing preoccupation with the President's sexual peccadillos has diverted attention from the GOP's sidetracking of tobacco regulation, tax cuts for the wealthy and tax breaks for multinational corporations.

Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, family farms are going in the tank again at a rate approaching the disastrous 1980s. There is a growing calamity in the Corn Belt as Iowa farmers are seeing the killer combination of low prices for corn, soybean, hogs and cattle that are expected to reduce farm income by upwards of 12 percent. Record or near-record crops in corn, soybeans and wheat have forced market values downward. Rather than sell the corn at those low prices, farmers are feeding hogs and cattle with it, but the increased numbers of livestock--combined with the sell-off of cattle in drought-stricken Texas and Oklahoma--also depress those prices. That's good for IBP and other meatpackers but don't expect low prices to get passed on to the consumer any time soon.

What is needed is an increase in farm marketing loans to make sure farmers can get back their cost of production. USDA Secretary Dan Glickman on September 11 announced the administration would support the bill proposed by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, to remove the cap on marketing loans. That would increase the prices for corn, wheat and soybeans by 30 to 60 cents per bushel at a cost of $4 billion and give small farmers a chance at survival. Republicans, however, are suspicious that an increase in marketing loans will undo the 1996 Farm Bill, which was supposed to remove federal controls on farmers. They would rather encourage grain exports. Of course then the cash-strapped importing nations would need loans from the U.S. to buy the grain ...

Republicans also have stacked appropriations bills which must be passed this month with riders to emasculate environmental protection laws and achieve other aims that would never survive in a bill of their own. Clinton won a showdown in 1995 when the Republicans shut down the federal government. The R's are betting the President will not have the strength to veto the appropriations this time around. If he does, they figure, this time the American people will side with Congress.

Clinton's recklessness gave Starr the means to bring him down and it gives the Republicans hope that a Democratic collapse this fall will give the GOP veto-proof majorities in Congress and open the way to the White House in 2000.

Clinton's best hope to redeem himself and his administration is by exercising his backbone and sticking with progressive principles for a change. He should appear before the American people and say, "I'm going to fire the pollsters and the spin doctors and run this country for the people for the next two years. Congress will send me a bill that sets up a single-payer health insurance plan that guarantees each patient's choice of health-care provider before I'll consider any more trade bills or any other Wall Street giveaways. Any trade treaties we negotiate after that will uphold fair labor and health standards and won't give up American sovereignty. And my administration will enforce antitrust and other laws so that mom-and-pop businesses, domestic industry and family farms can compete with chains, multinational corporations and agribusinesses because government should protect the weak from the powerful. If y'all stick by me for the next two years I won't disappoint you."

We probably still won't believe him but we'd like to be surprised. In the meantime:

* Support progressive Democrats or independent candidates for Congress and state offices;

* Write the President, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C., 20500; email president@whitehouse.gov;

* Contact Paul Wellstone's Presidential Exploratory Committee, P.O. Box 26395, Minneapolis, MN 55426 to support a grassroots progressive populist for 2000.

-- Jim Cullen

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