Sunday, February 14, 1999

Pundits debate fallout


Was it epochal or just episodic?

BY TODD S. PURDUM
The New York Times

        LOS ANGELES — After the tapes and the lies, the tears, the betrayals and the trial, the impeachment drama that gripped, then repelled and finally seemed to numb the nation for more than a year is over at last. And in its wake, in the culture it both reflected and so often seemed so disconnected from, it has left — what?

        Deeper partisan dissension and a sharper moral divide? A renewed respect for the instincts of democracy and the accuracy of public opinion polls? A surfeit of sex jokes and a nation of children who learned in the same breath about the birds and the bees and how a bill becomes a law?

Cultural resonance
        The reference points are pervasive. The night before the Senate voted to acquit President Clinton, an episode of ER featured a young doctor in thong underwear, and the same Today program that broadcast the first televised interview with Linda Tripp also included an interview with talk show host Jerry Springer, who conducts his own daily brawls over infidelity, failed friendship and the follies of lust and power.

        “People used to say that Watergate had the effect of making the country more cynical,” said Nelson George, the author of Hip Hop America (Viking, 1998), a well received work on the pervasive effects of hip-hop culture. “This contrib utes in a different way. Whereas there was a great suspicion of political leaders trying to steal things or mislead the public, this feels like the presidency and politics has become part of the Ricki Lake culture. This whole thing is nothing more than another episode.”

        A highly arbitrary and unscientific sampling of writers, historians and critical thinkers on both the left and right last week revealed little certainty about the impact on the nation of the investigation into the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, beyond the foregone conclusion that the independent counsel law will be greatly modified or allowed to lapse.

Not that much is new
        But a rough consensus did emerge that the whole affair left the transitory feeling of a nightmare or a movie.

        David Horowitz, a writer and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, said he thought “people are going to be less enthusiastic about ... investigations about candidates' private lives.” By contrast, Douglas Brinkley, a liberal historian at the University of New Orleans, declared: “We've learned that character does matter.”

       



ENQUIRER EDITORIAL
Impeachment vote may follow DeWine
Bury hatchet? Perhaps, but in whose back?
Polls support acquittal
- Pundits debate fallout
Clinton Under Fire page