No disrespect to the one and only William Bennett, but rumors about
the death of outrage may have been somewhat premature.
The nation exhibited a generous dose of outrage between January
21 and 26, when news of Mr. Clinton's latest abuses first surfaced.
Again, in the days following Mr. Clinton's performance of "Fingerwagging
2" on August 17, there was outrage aplenty.
What we have been witnessing subsequent to these bursts of natural
reaction is the masterful management of public sentiment. The process
requires unrelenting focus on the final goal, a rich arsenal of
tools, and the coordination of action teams that complement one
another. Those who have a vested interest to keep this president
in office have got all three at their disposal.
Beginning with the last, the variety of teams is truly impressive.
There is Team Academia, providing erudite explanations that lend
the appearance of scholarship to crude political agitation. Then
there is Team Hollywood providing the glitz of stars and starlets
pontificating as if they were all constitutional experts and great
humanitarians. They, of course, are interviewed by Team Journalism
consisting increasingly of members with little training in journalism,
but with extensive schooling in stacking the deck against those
they consider "the enemy." Finally, there are the front-line
troops who combine the zeal of missionaries with the ethics of mercenaries.
Truth be told, even the front-line troops were silenced by the
first gust of outrage in January. Mr. Carville found his voice by
Sunday, but it fell to Mrs. Clinton to issue instructions and show
the way on NBC's Today after her husband's memorable performance
of "Fingerwagging 1." Soon, the nation was in the grips
of a kind of reverse outrage - directed against the president's
detractors, causing those apparently inexplicable polling results.
Given that the president has done next to nothing for some time,
his "job approval" numbers in reality reflect the success
of his team in managing outrage.
Round Two was a different story altogether. The outrage could no
longer be contained by the standard litany of denial. The perpetrator
himself admitted wrongdoing in prime time. The televised audacity
of the offender literally took everyone's breath away. Extraordinary
measures were required. Last reserves had to be deployed.
With regard to method, the emergency called for an instant release
of tensions that had built up to a point where the most dependable
socialists on television and on Capitol Hill were about to jump
ship. With regard to personality, all hopes had to be pinned on
someone untarnished by the wholesale fraud of the previous months,
and enjoying universal esteem.
President and Mrs. Clinton have a rather limited supply of such
For reasons presumably to be debated over some time to come, Senator
Joseph Lieberman obliged. His much-quoted speech on the floor of
the U. S. Senate served as the safety valve. Much of the tension
was instantly dissipated.
Was it a great speech, or was it merely the continued management
Even immigrants from Hungary know all about Yogi Berra. He said,
among other things, "When you come to a fork in the road -
At the end of his impassioned speech about the moral turpitude
of our highest official, Senator Lieberman arrived at the point
where the chips were down. He had to convert his beliefs into a
call for action, or concede that he didn't mean any of it. In his
role as "The Conscience of the Senate," Mr. Lieberman
arrived at the fork of the road.
He took it.
Thus ended the brief period during which our national motto became
"In Joe We Trust." And thus we experienced the return
to business as usual. Some of the president's men were withdrawn,
others deployed, but the teams took up their assigned positions
once again. As Representative Maxine Waters reminds us every chance
she gets, everyone and everything is on trial, except the president.
I have yet to speak of the arsenal of tools, or the unrelenting
focus on the final goal. The enviable array of tools includes the
seemingly inexhaustible wellspring of words. Who comes up with gems
such as "Sexual McCarthyism"? And who communicates these
to every potential guest of talking head shows, so that within 24
hours coordination is flawless? One will never know, one can only
admire perfection from afar. Frank Sinatra became suspicious at
the sight of everyone mechanically repeating the identical phrase
in "The Manchurian Candidate," but Frank is no longer
So what is this final goal upon which focus is unrelenting? What
is this end that justifies literally any and all means? What is
the purpose that will cause men and women to throw logic, ethics,
morality, decency to the wind?
That is the question we must ask over and over, again and again,
until the nation gets an answer.