Scandal as Power Struggle in the U.S. Ruling Class
Revolutionary Worker #943, February 8, 1998
Official Washington was gripped by intense scandal. Overnight, there was talk of presidential resignation.
Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr had used sexual allegations to start criminal investigations of the U.S. president--based on the illegally taped telephone conversations of a White House intern. Hour after hour, the media spiced their coverage with "dishy" rumors--feeding a sick American blend of voyeurism and puritanism. Had Jerry Springer taken over the national news?
This scandal showed chilling police powers in operation. Teams of FBI agents and federal prosecutors stalked the capital like gray-suited "sex police." Starr had FBI agents bug private conversations without obtaining a "sting warrant" from a judge.
Chickens came home to roost for Bill Clinton, who backed new laws giving police and prosecutors more power for wiretaps and sting operations. The president got a taste of what he's done to thousands of people with the "one strike you're out," snitch-network, police-state bullshit that he has backed all over the country.
Prosecutor Starr used a new grand jury to threaten the intern, Monica Lewinsky, and other White House employees with prison if they did not divulge what they knew about Bill Clinton's sexual activities.
People wonder: Even if Clinton is a male chauvinist jerk, when did allegations of consensual sexual relations become a basis for setups, criminal charges, apartment searches, wiretaps, prison threats and the toppling of high officials? And if Big Brother is jacking up Big Brother, what chance do the ordinary people have?
This scandal is an intense ruling class power struggle breaking into view. Many motives still remain hidden, but the struggle clearly involves major issues of national agenda and power. In her TV counter-attack, Hillary Clinton pointed this out when she charged that a "vast right-wing conspiracy" was behind the scandal. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek reports: "She feels it's like an attempted coup d'etat. They don't believe the results of the '92 and '96 elections and want to use anything they can to overturn it."
Well-funded right-wing operations have tried to make "dirt" stick to Clinton for years. There have been allegations of murder (Vince Foster and Ron Brown), drug-running (the so-called Mesa connection in CIA cocaine trade) and accepting money from foreign governments (the Huang affair). The Clintons were accused of real estate corruption in Arkansas--which got Kenneth Starr appointed as independent prosecutor focusing on "Whitewater." Now suddenly, several of these anti-Clinton operations have converged to produce a serious crisis of power. And while the outline of forces and issues remains murky, other ruling class forces seem to have jumped in, too.
The Making of a Scandal
This "sudden" scandal took long preparation by powerful forces. Years ago, the extreme right-wing Rutherford Foundation took up the sexual harassment case of Paula Jones as a way to embarrass Bill Clinton. Their operation got a boost when the Rehnquist Supreme Court allowed the civil case of Paula Jones to continue while Clinton was still in office. Sitting presidents are usually shielded from legal cases--and the Supreme Court's decision took away that protection.
Then came a second unusual ruling--this time by Judge Susan Webber Wright, the conservative federal judge overseeing the Paula Jones case. Wright allowed Jones' attorneys to try to document in court a "pattern" of sexual misconduct by Bill Clinton. Paula Jones' lawyers could demand sworn statements from women who had nothing to do with Paula Jones. They paid private investigators to canvas Little Rock and Washington looking for women willing to accuse Clinton. Monica Lewinsky was brought to court where she swore, under oath in early January, that she had never had sex with Clinton.
Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky was being set up. A former White House secretary Linda Tripp got Lewinsky to talk about Clinton over the phone and illegally taped the conversations. Tripp got her directions from Lucienne Goldberg, a former "dirty tricks" operative for Richard Nixon. Goldberg gathers scandalous rumors about Clinton--serving as "literary agent" for Arkansas statetroopers, an alleged former lover of Bill Clinton, and Linda Tripp herself. Goldberg is also literary agent for the racist cop Mark Fuhrman.
Tripp took the Lewinsky tapes and other evidence to Kenneth Starr--who then claimed the tapes showed that Lewinsky lied and that someone connected to the White House had urged her to do it. Starr, whose initial assignment was to investigate Arkansas real estate, now authorized an FBI sting operation. Linda Tripp was wired with a microphone and sent to get more revelations from Lewinsky. Federal agents later held Lewinsky in a hotel room for 10 hours without a lawyer, demanding that she participate in a sting operation aimed at Clinton.
Kenneth Starr is an active right-winger. In 1989 as the Solicitor General of the Bush administration, Starr argued that the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade because, "There is simply no credible foundation for the proposition that abortion is a fundamental right." Recently, Starr has worked for the "school choice" movement against public education, as a lawyer for the tobacco industry, and as a speaker at a Christian-fascist law school associated with Pat Robertson.
Attorney General Reno gave Starr permission to launch a full-scale investigation into the possibility that someone in the White House told Lewinsky to lie in court.
Is Now Being Served?
The lives of powerful political figures are filled with corrupt deeds and oppressive personal relations. But in ordinary times, the system coats them in "teflon"--protecting them from exposure. Then sometimes the struggle inside the ruling class sharpens, the teflon fades, and scandals break out.
Those forces behind this scandal have worked to fan moral outrage over the idea of a powerful man hitting on a young intern. But--from anti-abortion pointman Starr to hangman Rehnquist to the dirt-hunters of the Rutherford Foundation--they are anything but defenders of women's rights. These forces are coming from a "Promise-keeper" agenda--subordinating women forcefully while insisting this will "honor" women. And their creepy moves--like the FBI raid on a 24-year-old woman's apartment to steal her clothing for evidence of sex--fit right in with their program to enforce extreme conservative sexual mores as the official public standards.
Meanwhile, the White House, at the other side of this scandal, has proven how little it cares about women's rights. Cynically, the defenders of Bill Clinton have prepared a media offensive called "nuts and sluts"--to crucify Monica Lewinsky as a liar and sexual predator, if necessary.
in the Ruling Class
Many people might wonder why anyone in the ruling class would want to attack a President who has been both reactionary and popular. Clinton has carried out intense cuts in social services, increased police powers and reshaped the military structure. He has militarized the southern border and promoted NAFTA and GATT to strengthen the U.S. control over oppressed countries.
Affirmative action and welfare have been gutted (in a way that even Reagan wouldn't have dared)--while promises of educational opportunity and tolerant diversity are made. Clinton has weakened abortion rights with his policies of "legal but rare"--and helped create an atmosphere favorable to Christian-fascist assaults on clinics and doctors.
In all of this, Clinton has worked to maintain a ruling class consensus that brought him to power in 1992. Still, all along, powerful forces in the ruling class have remained bitterly dissatisfied with the pace and direction of things.
A Fight Among Oppressors
Most major decisions of this society are taken behind the scenes, by action of ruling class representatives, including closed-door conferences of corporate heads, politicians, and military leaders. The system holds regular elections to train the people in bourgeois politics and as one of their forms for picking and promoting some of their potential leaders. But the system's power struggles are also fought in other ways--in scandals and even assassinations--when quieter channels can't contain the infighting.
In all of this, the masses of people are manipulated and kept far from any deciding role. The interests of the masses are not represented in these power struggles. The ruling class fights over how best to maintain their system--secure its profits, defend their empire and exploit the people.
As the Clinton scandal broke, prominent right-wing republicans like Texas Senator Phil Gramm stepped out to say that this was a political opening to defeat new initiatives Clinton has proposed--like propping up public education, raising the minimum wage, expanding day care, and moving more funds into the existing federal systems of social security and medicare.
In the right-wing of the Republican Party such ideas are hated--and it is common for them to demand a even more sweeping privatization of education, pensions and medical coverage, and a drastic reduction of taxes and government regulations--even including the abolition of the EPA, IRS and minimum wage. There have also been loud protests from conservative circles over international policies--including Clinton's recent pressure on the Israeli government to withdraw more forces from the West Bank.
The specific issues and class interests that drive this scandal have been veiled, even as they are fought out. It is clear this crisis is tied to a larger struggle over the national agenda and direction. Powerful, well-financed, well-placed forces in the system are eager to see this President paralyzed and they seem willing to haul national politics through the mud and make an international laughing stock of the U.S. President.
While the media's sleaze machine works overtime--it is good to remember that politics does not have to be like this. After the revolution, there will be lots of big, chaotic struggles over the direction of society. But you won't have to go through shit like this.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)