A stone left unturned
By RONALD N. NEFF
It is vital to the Republicans that if they impeach Bill Clinton he be convicted. To convict requires that they have 67 votes, which is equivalent to his not having 34 votes. How important is it to them that he not have those 34 sure votes?
Let us not be deceived by the media depiction of the Republicans: convicting Bill Clinton is not the first priority of the GOP. If that were not otherwise clear, Bob Novak, in an October 4 column, took a peek under the sheet, and what he saw may help us identify what we are touching when we put our hand under it to feel what is there.
In Washington state, Democrat Patty Murray is a first-term U.S. senator seeking reelection. The polls show that this is a winnable race for the Republicans. But the Senate campaign chairman, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is adamantly opposed to Murray's challenger Linda Smith, a second-term representative from the 3rd District, one of the Republicans who came into the House in 1994. As of mid October he had permitted only $17,500 to go to her, though there are hundreds of thousands available. Even if McConnell should let more money go to Smith at the last minute, Murray has a major head start, because of the vast amount of TV time the Democrats have already purchased.
Smith usually votes conservative, but because of her position on campaign finance reform, she is considered a "maverick," which is another way of saying that the party bosses feel they cannot control her. And as Walter Karp wrote (see TLD 13, p. 23), "The whole purpose of party organizations at every political level is to sift out, sidetrack and eliminate men of independent political ambition, men whom the party bosses cannot trust."
If the impeachment of Bill Clinton were a top priority for the Republicans, they could leave no stone unturned. They would reason that they might very well need a Linda Smith to help them win an impeachment conviction in the Senate; for votes where they need only a simple majority they could sometimes manage without her vote. Instead, they are permitting a Democrat to retain her seat, a Democrat for whom the president has done some fundraisers, who may think herself beholden to him, and who is certain to vote against the Republicans on any matters on which they might need 67 votes.
Withholding campaign funds from Smith because of a disagreement on campaign finance reform simply makes no sense: it's not as though Murray would vote with the Republican bosses on that issue or on any other more often than Smith would. The lesson for us is that party regulars are not so worried about the voters as they are about one another and the bosses: Senator McConnell is teaching a lesson not only to Miss Smith, but to any others with an insufficiently respectful attitude toward party discipline.
By the way, please note that letting Smith lose to Murray also implies that the Republican party bosses have higher priorities than overriding another veto by Bill Clinton or presumably by President Gore of a late-term-abortion ban, too.
Thanks to David T. Wright for bringing this race to my attention. Nothing here should be taken as an endorsement of Smith's candidacy, except that it is always a good thing for party bosses to be discomfited.
Editor's note: On November 3, Linda Smith went down in flames as intended.
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