Throw out the clowns

"The first time as tragedy, the second as farce," so said Karl Marx contrasting Napoleon’s 1799 seizure of power in France to that of Louis Bonaparte in 1851. Though the bloody details are missing, the analogy fits our current situation. Whitewater is to Watergate as farce is to tragedy. Watergate was a political drama that transfixed the nation, slowly building to its denouement-the disgraced Richard Nixon’s offering a stiff-armed salute from an airplane door. Whitewater is a vaudeville show with clowns tumbling onto the stage for brief appearances; it is farce verging on soap opera.

Richard Nixon now seems a tragic character fatefully caught up in his own paranoia and machinations, ensnared in the traps he laid for others. The slow unraveling of his presidency was governed by constitutional procedures with a Congress and party system capable of restraint as evidence of his treachery accumulated. Members of Congress had to be convinced, and only when convinced did they indict. Nixon resigned rather than undergo trial. Before his death, he managed to rehabilitate himself in some measure because the Constitution provided a process for an investigation and his political friends judiciously urged him from office, thus making the system whole again.

Today, we see the consequences of a system largely without procedures and men without restraint. Four years and tens of millions of dollars have produced no...

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