The code of silence prevails: Was the impeachment of President Clinton actually bad for Republicans?
In the short run, probably yes. In the slightly longer run, we'd say it's hard to say.
On Monday evening's All In, Jonathan Alter discussed this matter with Joy Reid, who was guest-hosting for Chris Hayes. When Alter recalled where the Clinton impeachment led, he maintained the code of silence while simultaneously "bring[ing] the eternal note of sadness in:"
REID (4/22/19): Bill Clinton was a very popular president. [His approval rating] was in the 60's. The Republicans had been making it pretty clear they were looking for a reason to impeach him. And they went hunting and hunting and hunting until he found—until he wound up in the affair with Monica Lewinsky, and having Betty Currie, his secretary, lie about the Lewinsky affair. They [said], "Aha, obstruction of justice!"According to Alter, "having prosecuted the case against Bill Clinton actually helped Republicans in the next election in 2000." Alter says the impeachment of President Clinton actually helped defeat his chosen successor, Candidate Gore.
Why is it that Democrats have taken from that experience that impeaching Bill Clinton was great for Bill Clinton and terrible for Republicans?
ALTER: Well, I think people are fighting the last war without having learned the actual details of the last war.
ALTER: So there is an assumption that Clinton was impeached, and then the Democrats did very well in the 1998 midterm election. That was actually not the sequence. They did very well in the 1998, in the midterm elections, in part because people realize that the Republicans were off the rails. They should not be going down this path.
Elections take place, then after the elections in 1999. Clinton is impeached. He's tried and acquitted in the Senate.
So according to the logic, the conventional wisdom now, this was then sort of good for Bill Clinton, the backlash. But there actually wasn't a backlash at that point. Clinton's numbers went down. And having prosecuted the case against Bill Clinton actually helped Republicans in the next election in 2000. And they will tell you that, because what they did is they kept the heat on Bill Clinton, and that hurt his Vice President Al Gore when he was trying to succeed him.
We think that could be true. But Alter is completely misstating the way the subsequent attacks on Candidate Gore went down.
In the main, the attacks which defeated Candidate Gore were not driven by "Republicans," or by the RNC, or by the George W. Bush campaign.
The attacks which defeated Candidate Gore started in March 1999 and continued for the next twenty months. Those attacks were driven by Alter's own mainstream press corps, as Alter knows perfectly well.
Those attacks came from the New York Times and the Washington Post and from NBC News and its cable arms. Jonathan Alter knows all this, but your mainstream upper-end press corps maintains a strict code of silence about awkward matters like that.
The attacks which defeated Candidate Gore didn't come from the Bush campaign. They came from Ceci Connolly and Katharine Seelye and Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews, and also from a ship of (mainstream) fools over on CNN.
(Margaret Carlson, come on down! Bring the mocking impression of Gore you loved to do on the air! Carlson was a major player on CNN during the years in question—years when the Fox News Channel had barely begun to matter.)
With lesser consequence, the attacks also came from Brian Williams and Lawrence O'Donnell. Modern-day MSNBC is crawling with the careerist climbers who worked to send Bush to the White House, thereby pleasing their corporate owner, GE titan Jack Welch.
(On the bright side, Williams ended up in the NBC anchor chair. Until he made up so much sh*t that they had to bump him back down!)
Matthews was much more influential at that cable-poor time than he is today. He savaged Gore for twenty months, often in utterly ludicrous ways, at a time when his Hardball program helped inform the rest of the droogs as to what a careerist insider should obediently do and say.
Did impeachment play a role in this? Here's the way the history went down:
By the fall of 1998, Establishment Washington was united it its loathing of Clinton; incredibly, he'd engaged in ten acts of oral sex without first getting permission. Sally Quinn documented this important history in this very important overview in the Washington Post.
When Clinton escaped removal from office, Establishment Washington trained its sites on Candidate Gore, his chosen successor. At the time, it seemed that Candidate Gore would be their last shot at Clinton. Children are dead all over Iraq because of the way these establishment figures behaved.
Clinton's was acquitted in his Senate trial in February 1999. Three weeks later, Gore began to campaign in New Hampshire, and Establishment Washington—the mainstream press corps—instantly landed on his head, skillfully reinventing him as The World's Biggest Liar.
They kept it up for twenty months. Have you heard that some children are dead?
Jonathan Alter knows all this. He just isn't willing to stand up in public and tell you. As liberals, you aren't encouraged to know such things. A code of silence prevails concerning the way Alter and "his favorite reporters and friends" sent all those kids to their graves.
This is the way the story went down. Jonathan Alter knows all this, but he also knows that a code of silence prevails within the guild.
What did the mainstream press corps do? You aren't allowed to know that! Neither Joy Reid, nor anyone else, will ever jump up to tell you.
Darling Rachel says Chris is the best! It's the way our species' craziest beasts have always played the game.
You're allowed to laugh: How are we supposed to know that Alter's account is right? Republicans "will tell you that," he said. Go ahead! You're allowed to laugh!
For the record, Alter's the nicest guy in the world. But the code of silence prevails!