- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

Bill Clinton has been caught red-handed many times, but he is not, I repeat, not a suspect in the mass desecration of British history that took place this week in London. But should he be? The question, while not entirely facetious, may seem wholly absurd. After all, Mr. Clinton was still basking in the glow of televised playbacks of what the chatterati agree was a virtuoso performance at last weekend's White House Correspondents' Association dinner, when, an ocean away, hundreds of vandals were defiling statues and monuments to Britain's heroes and statesmen on May Day night.

When day dawned at the Cenotaph, Whitehall's famous memorial to the British soldiers who died during the First World War, it became clear that the hundreds of fading poppy wreaths laid during last week's ceremonies marking Gallipoli were no defense against the spray cans and paint buckets of the nighttime attack. Craven marauders had covered the highly porous, Portland limestone monument with obscenities and anarchist symbols according to restoration crews, very likely staining it forever. "Anarchy is sexy" was just one among hundreds of slogans covering Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, where, the Times of London added all too vividly, the stench of urine was overpowering. "Across Parliament Square and up to Whitehall," the newspaper reported, "not a single statue, not one field marshal, monarch or prime minister, escaped the desecrators' paint," and that includes Winston Churchill, whose giant bronze statue invincibly facing Big Ben was "utterly defaced by anarchic slogans and obscenities."

It's not easy to sort out the mingled feelings of rage and profound sadness that this malicious, mindless episode provokes. As vandals sack London, some may actually feel new kinship with those fifth century Romans who sensed the advent of the Dark Ages, although worth noting is the fact that this particular assault on England came entirely from within. What may in the end be most dispiriting about the attack is its transgressive nature, a lasting lesson in oil-based paint underscoring the fact that boundaries, both literal and figurative, really do no longer exist. In this deluge of painted obscenity and anarchistic nonsense is a brazen attempt to deny Great Britain the honor, spirit and strength of its traditions simply by defiling them.

But what does trashing Trafalgar have to do with the 42nd president of the United States, currently coasting to the end of his second term not only fat and happy but on a wave of what The Washington Post is calling "Clinton nostalgia"? It's worth revisiting last week's media dinner, scene of Mr. Clinton's most recent triumph, to make the connection.

Before a crowd of more than 2,000 journalists, celebrities and celebrity journalists, Mr. Clinton, as usual, transformed his unique brand of criminality into a stand-up routine, pulling punch lines from a wealth of material ranging from illicit fund-raising to illicit womanizing. There was a joke a joke about the travel office scandal, during which, in case anyone forgets, Billy Dale, a mid-level civil servant, was arrested, prosecuted, acquitted and ruined, all because the Clintons wanted to mask their efforts to dispense political patronage. This is funny ever? Mr. Clinton also made light of his oh-so-cute little habit of failing to turn over subpoenaed documents. He even made a slew of jokes at Elian Gonzalez's expense, poking fun at the infamous predawn raid, and the disturbing fact that the boy continues to be held incommunicado. There is something beyond tasteless in Mr. Clinton's sense of humor which, not incidentally, set off jumping-jack ovations in the audience something of a transgressive nature somehow reminiscent of London's May Day beyond-the-bounds ruckus.

It seems that at home and abroad, nothing is above the fray or beyond the pale. Consider what may have brought one of the biggest laughs of the black-tie gala evening: a video clip of what was supposed to be former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, puffing on a cigar take that, Monica showing his underwear, not to mention the appearance of what at least hinted at sexual arousal. The crowd, as they say, roared. While Mr. Starr, a fine jurist, is unlikely to be commemorated in bronze anytime soon, the office he once held makes him a symbol of the law the same law the president has made a life's work of flouting. The lawless mocking the lawful, and to clamorous applause, sends a deeply discomforting message, as if there were something for one and all to crow about in outfoxing the nation's legal and political institutions. Which brings us back to England and its vandals. How different really is their symbolic assault on law and tradition from what this president has been doing for almost two terms? The main thing that comes to mind is that Mr. Clinton hasn't used a spray can.

Then again, maybe I have no sense of humor.

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