Scandal as Power Struggle
in the U.S. Ruling Class:
Down and Dirty
Revolutionary Worker #971, August 30, 1998
Watching Clinton's Monday night confessions, I was trying to be disciplined and pay attention--knowing that I would have to say something to the RW readers about this latest low in historic TV moments. But my brain was in rebellion--and the title of Bob Avakian's critique of American democracy, Can't We Do Better Than That?, kept popping into my head. I imagined the words in lights on the Times Square billboard, sprayed on the wall of housing projects, or spiraling onto computer monitors around the country like a phantom screensaver.
Through the humid August air in my unairconditioned living room, I could still see Clinton on the TV--looking pained and pissed. But a cool shower of post-revolutionary visions had taken over my thoughts. And I was transported, like the Woman on the Edge of Time, to a place where the leaders of society would really practice sexual equality; where political leaders would treat their partners with respect; where the dismissive words, "I never had sex with that woman," would be unthinkable; and where a serious self-criticism could be made without the entire planet being subjected to the details of how, where, when and how often.
I figured that this level of human behavior could be achieved right after the proletariat seized power. And just when I was wondering how many cultural revolutions it would take before a public conversation about sexuality could occur without someone on the planet blaming something on a "sinful woman," I was jolted back to the present by the words, "This is between me and my family and our god," (or something to that effect).
The humidity kept me awake and stuck to the tube. And I took up the task of trying to figure out why the power structure of the most powerful country in the world would consider impeaching their President if Bill told Monica to give the gifts back to Betty.
Because it has become very clear over the last seven months that this Clinton scandal signals a major fight in the ruling class. And it is also very clear that the power structure does not give a damn that most people in the country are weary and sickened by the gross intrusions of the Starr inquisition and the non-stop public discussion of a relationship between consenting adults.
Those who are more politically aware know that this was a setup by Starr who used illegal wiretaps, conspired with the press to squash stories, kidnapped a 24-year-old woman and coerced testimony from her with threats of prosecution. Those who have been following the legal side of things are also aware of the totally unprecedented and negative rulings in this case.
The investigation has allowed a grand jury to sit for more than six months to investigate perjury charges in a civil suit which has been dismissed by a lower court. All kinds of people have been dragged before the grand jury--including people who raised criticisms of the prosecutor. There have been many negative court rulings--including a ruling overturning the attorney-client privilege, which says that a lawyer can't be called to testify about their client. And the case has involved many other rulings from the Supreme Court and other courts that will have adverse "trickle down" effects on the average citizen. Many people remember the way grand juries were used against the Panthers, the anti-war activists, the Puerto Rican independence fighters and other political radicals. And people are concerned about how this investigation of Big Brother by Big Brother will impact on the masses.
Then there is the "Scarlet Letter" atmosphere--where the sex life of a young woman is being pored over by the media. And the non-stop interviews with spokespeople from the Christian Coalition--with their patriarchal garbage about "what if this was your daughter" and their kindergarten drivel about "how do I explain this to my six year old."
For all these reasons, most people have been watching the events of the past seven months in the hopes that something would stop the madness. In fact, the ruling class and the media have been constantly frustrated that they could not get the public to support the terms of the investigation. And we have now been subjected to the total farce of the biggest liars and male chauvinists on the planet criticizing the people for low moral standards.
*****"The people are systematically misinformed and lied to about every significant question of current political and world affairs and of world history, and are systematically indoctrinated and imbued with an upside-down worldview and errant methodology."
Democracy: Can't We
Do Better Than That?
At first glance it seemed clear that Clinton's speech--including his angry criticism of Ken Starr--was aimed to mobilize public opinion against the investigation. It was also clear that between Clinton and prosecutor Starr it was "war to the knife." Starr was not going to let go of this investigation no matter how much Clinton apologized, and Clinton had decided that the best defense is a strong offense.
But reviews of his speech by the power structure quickly revealed that a very broad section of the bourgeoisie--including many of the President's allies--were questioning Clinton's leadership ability.
In days following the speech, I consulted with comrades--and we tried to put together a picture of the forces pushing this debacle forward.
This crisis seems to involve two intersecting forces and clashes: a far right reactionary social agenda vying for voice and position and some broader ruling class dismay over the "handling of the presidency." It is uncertain where it will go. Iran/Contragate did not lead to a crisis of Watergate proportions. But it remains to be seen whether this Clinton scandal will move to impeachment or a constitutional crisis.
This scandal has been cooking for a long time for a number of reasons. First, there has been a major effort by a right-wing political network to "get Clinton" for much of the Clinton Presidency. They have gone at him in various ways and on various levels: legally, in media attacks, through various Republican party channels, and through the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. These forces range from major figures in the power structure like Rehnquist and Bennett to the prosecutor Kenneth Starr to Buchanan and the Christian Coalition.
Starr's attack dogs feature an ugly cast of characters: the wire-tapping Linda Tripp; the right-wing Rutherford Institute; and the dubious Lucienne Goldberg, a former "dirty tricks" operative for Nixon and now literary agent for the racist cop Mark Fuhrman. But the investigation has support in mainstream ruling class circles.
Fascist senators like Texas Senator Phil Gramm have publicly stated that this scandal was a political opening to defeat some Clinton programs. But this right-wing attack on Clinton's morality goes beyond policy differences. It is deeply linked to the desire of powerful forces to thoroughly trash and defeat the remains of '60s morality and to impose Christian fascist family values and morality on the country. It is commonly thought that this investigation "doesn't have anything to do with sex." But it is no accident that the prosecutor has chosen to attack Clinton on sexual issues. And the ugly "Scarlet Letter" atmosphere surrounding the whole investigation is being very consciously manipulated by the Christian fascists.
However, the matter does not stop with the right wing. It has been clear for some time that the mainstream liberal media has not let go of this case. When Ted Koppel opened his Nightline show with "Let's talk about oral sex," it was a tip-off that broader forces in the power structure have serious issues with the President.
Meanwhile Clinton and those backing him have been fighting back. And for a time it looked like he might be allowed to ride out the charges and accusations and recuperate. Starr's standing rose and fell and he came under close scrutiny. But in the last few months the Starr investigation has been given new powers and legitimacy. The Supreme Court played a major role in paving the way. And Starr pressed ahead.
In the wake of Clinton's "come clean" speech, a section of the "liberal establishment" began to turn on him--critical of Starr, but no longer rejecting the investigation out of hand. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angles Times all ran editorials saying that there is a big problem with this presidency--not on the policy level but on some level of accountability, reliability, and answerability. This seems to involve some breach of trust between the President and the ruling class--a breaking of the "presidential contract." A N.Y. Times editorial referred to a problem of "stonewalling"--a word associated with the Nixon scandal. This was more than the anger of a coach at his star player.
Ruling class concern has been expressed over how a hobbled American presidency could be dangerous. And there is anger in the ruling class that Clinton has opened himself up to this kind of scandal, which has made U.S. imperialism a laughing stock around the world.
But there is also a sense in the ruling class that Clinton has broken some rules--that he has not acted like the key player on the ruling class team is supposed to act and that this has created problems for the ruling class as a whole. This was strongly expressed in a New York Times editorial which spoke of a "tidal feeling of betrayal and embarrassment." "The American President is a person who sometimes must ask people in the ranks to die for the country," wrote the Times. "All he is asked to provide in return is trustworthiness, loyalty and judgement.... President Clinton has failed that simple test abjectly."
The issue is not about lying--since it is the obligation of the President to deliver lies and misinformation to the masses on a grand scale. It is his job to rally support for imperialist wars and policies and to deceive the public into believing that the interests of the U.S. monopoly ruling class and the masses are one and the same. And Clinton has been rather effective at this sort of lying.
But it may be about who the President lies to and what problems those lies create for the ruling class as a whole. As Raymond Lotta pointed out in an interview on the Iran/Contra scandal in Revolution magazine, the executive branch is the "locus of important and key decision making, the ruling team of the ruling class." And since the Nixon administration, the executive branch has, for all its centralized power, been subjected to varying degrees of ruling class oversight and adjustment. It is one thing for the President to lie to the masses and another thing to lie to members of the ruling class and to make them look like fools. The "credibility of office" may now be seen in some quarters as a problem needing serious repair.
And that's as far we got in unravelling the Presidential scandal. Being a revolutionary--mindful that power struggles in the ruling class create openings for the revolutionary struggle of our class--I find myself thinking, "Let them tear each other to bits." We definitely can do better than this.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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