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1996-08-30

As DNC Concludes and the Macarena Fades Out, Sex Scandal Drives Clinton Strategist Out of White House

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Katha Pollitt, columnist for The Nation magazine and author of Reasonable Creatures.

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The Democratic National Convention is over, and so, for the moment, we’ll all be spared the flag waving, the glitz, the empty rhetoric and, most importantly, the Macarena. Why the "Macarena"? Well, the song projects a hip, energetic, multi-culti image of the Democratic Party on national TV. It also reminds America that the Democrats oppose English-only laws, since the song was originally all in Spanish. But you have to wonder if the political handlers who designed this convention bothered to listen to the lyrics. Well, Dick Morris has done the Macarena, right out of the White House. The political strategist is credited for Clinton’s innovative election-year strategy of stealing the Republican agenda and calling it "New Democrat." On the most important day of President Clinton’s re-election campaign, Morris submitted his resignation after Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post published a story that the tabloid The Star was going to come out with a story claiming that for the past year the married Morris was paying a prostitute $200 an hour to engage in kinky sex. We speak with Katha Pollitt of The Nation magazine. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic National Convention is over, and so, for the moment, we’ll all be spared the flag waving, the glitz, the empty rhetoric and, most importantly, the Macarena.

[music: Los del Río, "Macarena"]

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Well, why the "Macarena"? Well, the song projects a hip, energetic, multi-culti image of the Democratic Party on national TV. It also reminds America that the Democrats oppose English-only laws, since the song was originally all in Spanish. But you have to wonder if the political handlers who designed this convention bothered to listen to the lyrics.

[music: Los del Río, "Macarena"]

SALIM MUWAKKIL: "Give your body happiness, Macarena,
That your body is to give happiness and pleasure
Give your body happiness, Macarena,
Hey, Macarena!"

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s what they were singing—

SALIM MUWAKKIL: That’s what they were singing.

AMY GOODMAN: —and dancing to at the Democratic National Convention.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: So appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we should say that they were also dancing at the Republican convention, not quite as much. In fact, Jack Kemp danced the Macarena on the podium. Oh, well, so much for English only.

Well, Dick Morris has done the Macarena, right out of the White House. Morris, the sleazy and widely hated political strategist, is credited for Clinton’s innovative election-year strategy of stealing the Republican agenda and calling it "New Democrat." On the most important day of President Clinton’s re-election campaign, Morris submitted his resignation after Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post published a story that the tabloid The Star was going to come out with a story claiming that for the past year the married Morris was paying a prostitute $200 an hour to engage in kinky sex. Kind of makes you wonder what hourly rate Morris was charging Clinton for his controversial advice. We know the last check he got was something like $200,000.

Well, who is Dick Morris? He is Clinton’s right-hand man. He pushes tax cuts and warns Clinton about getting too close to people of color. He has worked for Mississippi Republican Trent Lott and North Carolina’s Jesse Helms, among others. And according to author/journalist Bob Woodward, Morris suggested to Massachusetts Governor William Weld, whom he also worked for, that he should run against Clinton, who he was being paid for at the time, saying the President would be indicted over Whitewater.

Well, we thought we would get a comment on these developments from a well-known columnist and author, Katha Pollitt of The Nation magazine. Katha, I just wanted to get your take on the Dick Morris sex scandal.

KATHA POLLITT: Well, it’s another tale of family values. Get down on all fours and bark like a dog for your hooker lady love.

AMY GOODMAN: I was talking to Bobby Rush, the Black-Panther-turned-congressman from Illinois earlier today, and he said he thinks this is a Republican plot, obviously, to go after Clinton on the day that he’s making this big address, not only to the convention, but to the nation. And he includes Dick Morris in that plot.

KATHA POLLITT: It is hard to believe that Dick Morris himself would have set up being quoted in the New York Post as being on all fours like a dog and saying, "Isn’t this fun?" I mean, presumably, the guy has some kind of dignity and some kind of life outside of wanting to fall on his sword to this extent for the Republican Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you, not so much on the sex scandal issue, but the effect of Dick Morris on the White House. This is a man who is a longtime Republican, actually helping people on both sides of the aisle—

KATHA POLLITT: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —which suggests there may not be an aisle at all, but from working for Senator Jesse Helms to Trent Lott of Mississippi—you can’t get much more conservative than that—telling William Weld to run for president because President Clinton is going to be indicted for Whitewater. This is the man that President Clinton has been having, I guess you could say, an affair with since the early 1980s, when he helped him come back to get the governorship after he had lost it once in Arkansas. What do you think this—what do you think this will mean for President Clinton’s politics? Is he a right-winger anyway, Clinton boasting in the last week that he has been fighting for, you know, welfare reform for the last 15 years, so actually Dick Morris doesn’t matter, and he’s just a scapegoat when people say he’s going too right-wing, you say, "Oh, you know, it’s Dick Morris"? Or, you know, this will actually change politics at the White House?

KATHA POLLITT: Well, Clinton hired Dick Morris, you know? You know, Dick Morris didn’t come out from the ocean like a sea monster and take over the White House. So, that tells you something right there. I think, you know, what you’re saying really speaks to this very deep-seated desire on the part of liberals and people who now are calling themselves progressives to believe that what’s happening isn’t really happening. It’s all a bad dream. It’s all—someone has eaten Bill Clinton’s brain. Bill Clinton was going on about ending welfare as we know it when he was a candidate the first time. So I don’t let him off the hook. I don’t—I don’t want to say that, you know, this is Dick Morris being Svengali here. I think it was more—there was a wonderful quote in Time Magazine that said that Dick Morris freed Clinton to be the benevolent father, you know, that he took on the burden of all this, you know, nuts-and-bolts political calculation enabling Clinton to think about weighty matters like smoking. But actually, they’re very similar. They’re both very calculating political figures, and they both come trailing an aura of shady sex scandals. They seem very similar to me.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think about the idea that the Clinton administration’s success at squelching any kind of dissent at the Democratic convention—you know, around welfare repeal and other issues—is actually going to lead to—is President Clinton’s downfall, at least at this convention, if not in November, because since there hasn’t been any controversy, the press is hungry for something like this and then just pounces on it when it happens, and that possibly—you know, I won’t say it, because this is going to come out tomorrow—you know, President Clinton—you know, President Clinton might well be wishing that there was now a welfare repeal protest on the floor of the convention to divert some of the attention?

KATHA POLLITT: Well, you know, it’s my belief—and you can call this cynical, if you like—that the lives—that the kind of people who become politicians are the kind of people who do a lot of things in private life that are, to many ordinary people, shocking and distasteful, if not actually illegal. And I believe that hiring a prostitute is illegal, isn’t it? Anyway, I would say the Republicans have to worry about this, too, you know. I mean, there are a lot of stories going around. And the best defense, of course, is not to do bad things.

But I just want to say—and I don’t want you to take this as, you know, oh, I’m for Clinton so I’m trying to say something bad about a Republican in order so that everyone will forget this Dick Morris thing, which I think they’ll do anyway—but it is the case that, according to a recent story in the Village Voice, when Senator Dole got his divorce, he was making $115,000, and his wife, who had put him together after that famous war wound and borne him a child and lived with him through his whole political career and suffered greatly, got $15,000—no, $18,000 in alimony, after all of that. And there were a lot of shenanigans around that divorce. So, I mean, what does that say about family values?

AMY GOODMAN: Katha Pollitt, she is a columnist for The Nation magazine. Her book is called Reasonable Creatures. We talked to her yesterday just after the Dick Morris scandal broke. But, you know, Salim, though we were talking about the sex scandal, his cavorting with a prostitute and, at least in the beginning, who charged $200 an hour, although some might say, "Who is the prostitute here?" And we extend that to President Clinton, when you’re talking about the amount of money that he gets from corporate lobbyists, as we’ve been following all week, to determine legislation. But I think the most important thing is who Dick Morris is and the fact that President Clinton has hired him, off and on, since the early 1980s, and he goes across the spectrum.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Yes, and, you know, it’s, again, very appropriate that a campaign that depended so much no symbolism should be, in its—in the convention’s last days, be afflicted with such a classic symbol of what people are alleging about the Clinton administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you know, we went inside the convention center, because we wanted to get a pundit there to talk about this, not just Katha Pollitt in New York, to see sort of what was happening on the floor and the reaction there. But, well, we talked to a few people, but in the end, we thought Jimmy Cliff said it best:

JIMMY CLIFF: [singing "The Harder They Come"]
I’ve got the battle won
I say, forgive them Lord, they know not what they’ve done
’Cause as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now what’s mine
And then the harder they come
The harder they fall
One and all
Ooh, the harder they come
The harder they fall
One and all.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. "The harder they come, the harder they fall." Jimmy Cliff. You’re listening to Democracy Now!

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