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Two for the low road

By Calvin Trillin

TIME magazine

I have gathered further evidence for the view that there are conflicting strains in the public's response to the current and presumably permanent scandal: most Americans deplore what Larry Flynt is doing and, at the same time, hope he comes up with something truly dreadful on Tom DeLay.

I did my own polling on that one--three adults, chosen at random toward the end of Christmas dinner.

The margin of error might have been affected by the first respondent's insistence on making a speech to all assembled about Robert Livingston's nearly attaining the speakership, an office that is third in the line of succession. "Say what you want to about Larry Flynt," the first respondent declared, "but if Livingston hadn't been exposed and Bill Clinton had been forced out of office, we could have had an adulterer a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Recently, when ABC's Sunday chat show from Washington clicked into the now ritualistic lamentations made by the Sabbath Gasbags about the politics of personal destruction, William Kristol, citing victims who are all Republicans, said that a willingness to use politicians' adulterous behavior against them was, in fact, found exclusively among forces of the left. The other 'bags found this statement unremarkable; somehow, the name Richard Mellon Scaife did not leap to mind.

Nor, for that matter, did Lucianne Goldberg or the American Spectator or the Washington Times, the Rev. Moon's contribution to the free marketplace of ideas, which printed evidence of Colorado Governor Roy Romer's extramarital relationship for reasons that have been lost to history. Nor did Tom DeLay, who now warns Senators not to vote on impeachment until they visit a locked room in the House office building for a glimpse of some juicy stuff that meets his standards of evidence even if it fell short of Kenneth Starr's. (Once dismissed by the snobs as an exterminator from Houston, DeLay has assumed the image of a dirty-postcard salesman from Tangier.)

No, the sheet inspectors are on both sides. In fact, you could argue that Flynt and Scaife are just Democratic and Republican versions of the same person: neither is troubled by scruples, but the Republican, like those Republicans we saw on the House Judiciary Committee, is tidier and seems to have a lot less fun. In order to finance the Arkansas Project, an effort to find something dirty on Bill Clinton, Scaife coughed up roughly the same sort of money that Flynt offered in the advertisement he took to flush out bimbos with Republican leanings. Scaife was using tax-free foundation money, which simply reflects the fact that Republicans tend to be better at personal finance--although, now that I think of it, maybe Flynt can prove to the IRS that for a man in his line of work, payment for dirty information is a legitimate business deduction.

In fact, now that TIME's cover on Clinton and Starr has established the possibility of having yin-and-yang Men of the Year, we might look forward next year to having Larry Flynt and Richard Mellon Scaife. They would be presented as symbols of the enduring two-party system that's at the heart of our democracy.


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: January 11, 1999

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