- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

Maybe Bill Clinton should say thank you to the leadership of the National Rifle Association.

Without Wayne LaPierre, a lot of people would have thought they missed Bill Clinton's obituary. We've all been wondering what he was up to.

Just when we thought Hillary Rodham Clinton's occasional house guest had gone away for good, there he was on television. Mr. LaPierre let him have it with both barrels when only one barrel would have sufficed. (You shouldn't expect a vice president of the National Rifle Association to know about shotguns.)

"I've come to believe he needs a certain level of violence in this country," Mr. LaPierre said of the president's manipulation of the debate over gun control. "He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."

Tough stuff, and this upset some of the last true believers on the president's mostly abandoned ramparts. E.J. Dionne Jr., a columnist for The Washington Post, had to lie down and empty a bottle of Midol. "Within certain precincts of the right wing," he wrote when he recovered enough to stand upright, "you can say absolutely anything you want about President Clinton. No need for proof. No requirement that you stay within the bounds of decency. And never admit the possibility that you and the president might have an honest disagreement. No, sir."

Well, that sounds about right. But the man who dramatically expanded the bounds of indecency, turning the playing field into a slime pit, is the president himself. The special pleaders for the president, for example, have complained for years that the "respectable" newspapers cover the president like the tabloids, and that's so, but it's so because this president, perhaps uniquely, has insisted on governing as a tabloid president.

Mr. Dionne, like all good-hearted liberals, flunked high-school physics. They never learned the fundamental principle that every action compels a reaction, that for every effect there's a cause. Everything they know they learned from books, and they're always puzzled when things don't turn out the way teacher said they would.

The critics in the certain "precincts of the right wing" grew frustrated as the slime in the Oval Office grew ever deeper, like the Mississippi spreading across the countryside at flood tide, and within certain precincts of the left wing there was only blindly obedient defense of the man who spread disgrace like a virus across the office that Americans venerate above all others. In their frustration and anger, the president's critics only responded in kind.

Mr. LaPierre could have used language that would not have offended the sensibilities of a newspaper columnist (we're a delicate lot) and his accusation that the president actually welcomes "a certain level of killing" to further his political agenda is certainly harsh, and it would have been over the line as an accusation aimed at any other president. Mr. LaPierre probably wouldn't have said it about any other president.

George W.'s first judgment of the LaPierre remarks sounded about right: "I would hope that we can have an open and honest discussion about gun enforcement without calling names," he said. But this presumes good faith on the president's part, and surely Mr. Bush, who recognizes the difference between innocent blarney and poisoned baloney, knows that a man who expects good faith from Mr. Clinton, on this or any other issue, would expect to find green cheese on the moon. The president has been particularly shameless with his exploitation of the shooting death of the 6-year-old first-grader in Michigan, suggesting that a gun lock on a pistol stolen from a crack house would have saved little Kayla Rolland's life. What a cruel calumny against reality.

The suggestion that Mr. Clinton doesn't mind a little violence, so shocking in certain polite Washington parlors, does not sound quite so shocking in Arkansas. His old friends and adversaries in the place Mr. Clinton once called home understand that his moral code was formed in the Hot Springs of yesteryear, where business was business even if it was funny business, and visitors from New York, however harsh their methods, could always assure their rivals that they shouldn't take anything as personal.

Accusing Mr. Clinton of actually fomenting violence, as Mr. Dionne suggests, is "irresponsible stuff." What we can say, responsibly and accurately, is that coincidences abound whenever Mr. Clinton and his liege men arrive in the neighborhood. Stuff happens, and the coincidences always work in Mr. Clinton's favor. Maybe now that he's going to be a New Yorker, the coincidences will subside, and we can all live happily ever after, just like they do on the editorial page of The Washington Post.

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