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An Anniversary on My Mind
Five years ago, Brian S. Wise's career changed: There had been
an intern, a young intern, and Bill Clinton had been himself.
research into the matter has been done, and as near as can be determined,
only Tom Brokaw is taking longer to retire than your author.
Thought was given to affixing a catchy nickname to what will probably be
the last full year
of my career, but the effort seemed fruitless. It
has proven to be a long process, preparing to say goodbye ... over the
last weekend, some
time was spent going through the portion of my
archive dedicated to column writing, and a pleasant discovery was made:
Five years ago, Matt
Drudge broke the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky
story, and that was when my writing career changed.
At the time I'd been writing in support of Republicanism for just over four years, but had been a columnist for only nine months, having just taken my column from a weekly paper in lower Michigan to that previously untested arena, the internet. The official Brian Wise website was hosted by my internet service provider, one of those sites where you had to enter the provider's name and my personal electronic mail address to get there; and no one was. (Not without good reason; internet was new to me in early 1998, and the quality of the site showed.) Matt Drudge had broken the story, but I'd managed to miss it altogether until one night after dinner when I turned on the television to see that ABC news had broken into prime time, Cokie Roberts saying Al Gore was considering a short list of vice presidential nominees.
Though the majority of Republicanism had heard of the story in the previous 24 to 36 hours, my first exposure to the thing was Cokie's announcement. For a few brief moments, intellectual chaos reigned: There is only one thing that causes a vice president to consider nominees of his own, and that's an unforeseen death. Now, no matter what anyone of a particular zealotry may say, the death of a sitting president is a tragedy, no matter who he may be. Clearly Clinton had died, or else why would the discussion be had in prime time? Despite the incorrectness of thought, a full five minutes went by before the truth became more clear: there had been an intern, a rather young intern, and Clinton had been himself.
Because every political scandal has to have an all encompassing nickname, I borrowed from Watergate (as had every news organization, commentator and common street bum since Nixon left office) and went with Weinergate, which not only perfectly described the root cause of the problem, but distinguished my opinions on the matter from every other conservative writing at the time. Daily Weinergate updates popped up on the site (with commentary, of course) and the word was quickly spreading. Every liberal within shouting distance of a camera or microphone was saying that the affair - if indeed there had been an affair, mind you - was nothing more than that, and should be left to the Clintons to sort.
But certain facts were becoming too consistent and peculiar to ignore: Monica Lewinsky had a top security clearance, something unprecedented in the 10,000 person history of the White House intern program, why? Why had Lewinsky seen Clinton nearly twice as much as Al Gore had in the months between her leaving the intern program and their affair ending? Why was the Justice Department refusing to give Kenneth Starr's office a copy of Clinton's testimony in the Paula Jones case? Why did the Clinton legal team feel the need to complete evidentiary discovery before he was allowed to deny the affair? By the time my first column on the matter left my desk on 11 February 1998, traffic to my consistently horrible website had increased close to 500 percent, and the exposure thought necessary for my career to continue was lent.
Things spiraled out of control from there, as you'll remember. Bill Clinton could have taken to any microphone in January or February 1998 and said, "I had an affair, I lied about it, I have a problem, I need help and I'm sorry," and all of Weinergate would have worked itself out. What we know about lying in general is that one cannot lie once and maintain the status quo without lying again and again and again, an activity which set into motion the wheels that ruined the Clinton presidency. Occasionally I'll tell someone, "Imagine what the Clinton administration could have been, given his talents and abilities, if only he hadn't been himself." Oh, well. Thanks anyway, Bill.