Archive for Monday, January 29, 2001

Talk radio mourns Clinton’s exit

January 29, 2001


Of the 22 million new jobs created during the eight years Bill Clinton was president, at least half of them must have been on right-wing talk shows dedicated to attacking Clinton. By actual count, the number of talk-radio stations more than quintupled during the '90s.

So when a conservative insists that "happiness is Bill Clinton in the rear-view mirror," do not believe her if that conservative is connected in any way to talk radio. Bill Clinton or more precisely the vilification of the former president has been the meal ticket for too many microphoned merchants of venom.

It was too easy. Declining Sunday school attendance? Disappointing stock market? Overcrowded national parks? To listen to radio talkers, there was the same one-size-fits-all villain in every instance: Clinton. Facts did not intrude. Bill Clinton essentially a moderate Republican who terminated all federal responsibility for the welfare of the nation's poorest, who signed the first balanced budget in 30 years and whose uncritical dedication to free trade pleased the Business Roundtable and pained organized labor was still attacked by studio hit men as a "a committed socialist," "a '60s leftist" and "an American-hating liberal."

Congressional leaders Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., are able legislators and loyal Democrats. But neither man lights up the right-wing talk show switchboards with drooling Cro-Magnon callers the way the mention of Bill Clinton could. More importantly for the real bottom line, direct-mail solicitations for conservative contributions to stop Daschle and Gephardt do not fill up the coffers. The little old lady in tennis shoes regularly sent in her checks to stop Clinton, and the member guest roster from the best private clubs did exactly the same. But Daschle and Gephardt are no cure for check-writers cramp.

For humorists like Mark Russell, David Letterman and Jay Leno, Bill Clinton's excesses were the gift that keeps on giving. In the closing days of the Clinton era, the late-night monologues had a melancholy sound. They knew how good Clinton had been for them. But they are able to switch to President George W. Bush and his halting public performance, which leads to the funny rumor that he thinks fettuccine Alfredo is the president of Italy.

The right-wing hatred of Clinton was all consuming. The Rush Limbaughs and Gordon Liddys did not aspire to primitive fairness. Clinton's own draft evasion during the Vietnam War was proof positive to the haters that the Democrat was a coward, maybe even a traitor.

Listen to this sampling. Pat Buchanan: "When Bill Clinton's turn came in Vietnam, he sat up in a dormitory in Oxford, England and figured out how to dodge the draft." Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Tex.: "Bill Clinton came as close to military service as ROTC at Arkansas."

Yes, that's the same Phil Gramm who explained he had avoided the military draft during Vietnam because he was more valuable teaching economics at Texas A&M; and, besides, "my brother went" and "I was not a protester," which translates: The "immoral" Clinton opposed the war and did not go; the "moral" Gramm supported the war and did not go.

Pat Buchanan, a committed jogger into middle age, blamed a trick knee for his own lack of military service. In fact, the definition of silence would be Buchanan, Gramm and Limbaugh swapping war stories.

Did you ever hear a single word of criticism on or off right-wing radio for Dick ("Serving in the military was not my personal priority during the '60s") Cheney? No. Cheney, like Gramm and Buchanan, spent less time in military uniform than Shannon Faulkner, the young woman who briefly broke the gender barrier at the military college The Citadel.

If this nation's economy does begin to falter during this Bush administration, the two leading indicators would almost certainly turn out to be the energy-electricity crisis in the nation-state of California and the accelerated decline in listenership and revenues from malicious right-wing talk radio now that they no longer have Bill Clinton to kick around.

Mark Shields is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.

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