An E-promise Unfulfilled

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Flash back to November 1994. On the strength of their “Contract With America,” Republicans have just scored a landslide victory in the midterm congressional election. For the first time in four decades, they will rule both chambers of Congress, and they are taking their perceived mandate for change seriously.

Presumptive House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., will lead the GOP charges in their quest to cut just about everything — the federal deficit, tax rates, the overall size of government, even congressional staff. But somewhere in that conservative vision for the future, a “liberal” idea takes root, one that promises free and unfettered access to a storehouse of government information.

On Nov. 11, Gingrich takes the stage before the Washington Research Group Symposium and gives voice to that idea. “[W]e will change the rules of the House,” he says, “to require that all documents and all conference reports and all committee reports be filed electronically as well as in writing. … Thus information will be available to every citizen in the country at the same moment that it is available to the highest paid Washington lobbyist.”

An incomplete transition
Now jump forward to the present and ask yourself this question: Do I, Mr. Digital Citizen, truly have access to the same information “at the same moment” as, say, the senior citizens’ lobbyist who will fight valiantly the next two years to “save Social Security”?

Spend a little time on THOMAS, the congressional Internet site that launched in January 1995 and that includes the text of bills and the Congressional Record, and you might be tempted to answer yes. You likely would arrive at the same conclusion after a visit to GPO Access, the Internet home of the Government Printing Office, or the General Accounting Office, which publishes most of its reports online.

But if you ask the question of government watchers and technology experts like Gary Ruskin and Ari Schwartz, they will answer with a resounding no.


The Impeachment Aftermath

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Conventional wisdom and political reality seldom merge in these heady days of presidential scandal.

The telltale example: A year ago, pundits who love to think they are “in the know” boldly predicted the end of the Clinton presidency upon word of Bill Clinton’s then-alleged sexual involvement with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But last week, long after the extramarital affair had been proven by independent counsel Kenneth Starr and acknowledged by the president, the Senate acquitted Clinton of any impeachable offenses in the matter. The Clinton presidency continues.

Now, with the impeachment trial of Clinton complete, a new conventional wisdom has emerged. Newspapers screamed that “wisdom” by proclaiming “it’s over” and alluding to former President Gerald R. Ford’s post-Watergate speech about the end of “our long national nightmare.”

The Clinton legacy and more
Yet once again, conventional wisdom appears to be wrong. The evidence: Just two days ago, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who presided over Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against Clinton, hinted that she may impose a civil contempt charge against the president for the “misleading” answers he acknowledged having given in her court.

And the fallout from Clinton’s impeachment and subsequent Senate acquittal is sure to extend far beyond that short-term legal matter. Clinton’s transgressions, whether impeachable or not, and the actions of those who sought to remove him from office undoubtedly will alter the governmental and political landscapes in Washington and beyond.

Here is a look at some areas where the impeachment aftermath may be most visible:

The president. Perhaps more than any other American president, Clinton is obsessed with the picture the next generation of historians will paint of him. Much of Clinton’s legacy is out of his control. He will always be known as the first elected president to be impeached and tried in the Senate, and his tenure likely will be remembered as one of the most scandalous.

The Rise And Fall Of McCarthyism

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

Late last year, celebrity lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz joined the ranks of authors opining on the sex scandals of President Clinton. In his latest book, he lambasted key anti-Clinton players as a cadre of political opportunists determined to “get” a man they had always considered unfit for high office.

Their words and deeds, Dershowitz concluded, have resembled those of the much-maligned anti-communist crusader Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s. So he dubbed his collection of anti-impeachment essays “Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis.”

Dershowitz is by no means the first person to invoke an “ism” that — as McCarthy biographer Richard H. Rovere wrote as early as 1959 — has become synonymous with “whatever is illiberal, repressive, reactionary, obscurantist, anti-intellectual, totalitarian, or merely swinish,” nor will he be the last. But his resurrection of the classic slam against extremism begs the question of what exactly McCarthyism is and whether its alleged practitioners have demonized Clinton unfairly.

The best place to find the answers is the pages of congressional history, where the man behind the “ism” staked his claim to infamy.

Into the anti-communist storm
The spirit of McCarthyism in its original form — blanket and brutal condemnation of anything or anyone remotely communist — found its place in America long before McCarthy lent his voice to the cause. Soon after the Wisconsin Republican was elected to the Senate in 1946, however, Time magazine senior editor Whittaker Chambers fingered former Truman administration official Alger Hiss as part of a communist ring bent on infiltrating and overtaking the government.

On Jan. 21, 1950, after more than a year of charges and countercharges between Chambers and Hiss, a jury convicted Hiss of two counts of perjury related to the allegations of his communist past. Two weeks later, Republicans formally accused the Truman administration of a “soft attitude” on communism.