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David Corn is Washington editor of The Nation magazine, the oldest political weekly in America. He writes on a host of subjects, including politics, the White House, Congress, and national security.

He has broken stories on Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Oliver North, Colin Powell, Richard Gephardt, Hillary Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Clarence Thomas, Senator Paul Laxalt, Senator Robert Bennett, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, and other Washington players.

Corn has contributed articles, including political satire and book reviews, to The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, Newsday, Harper’s, The New Republic, Mother Jones, The Washington Monthly, The Village Voice, The New York Press -- which features his weekly column "Loyal Opposition" -- and many other publications. He also writes for several on-line magazines, including Slate, HotWired, and Salon.

He is the author of Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades (Simon and Schuster, 1994). The Washington Monthly called Blond Ghost "an amazing compendium of CIA fact and lore." The Washington Post noted that Blond Ghost "deserves a space on that small shelf of worthwhile books about the agency." The New York Times termed it "a scorchingly critical account of an enigmatic figure who for two decades ran some of the agency's most important, and most controversial, covert operations."

Corn was a contributor to Unusual Suspects, an anthology of mystery and crime fiction (Vintage/Black Lizard, 1996). His contribution to the book -- a short story entitled “My Murder” -- was nominated for a 1997 Edgar Allan Poe Award by Mystery Writers of America. The story was republished in The Year's 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories (Carroll & Graf, 1997).

Corn frequently is a guest on television and radio talk shows. He has been a panelist on CNN's Capital Gang, and he is a regular on C-SPAN. He has appeared on ABC News, CBS Morning News, Fox Television News, Fox New Cable, Crossfire (CNN), Washington Week in Review (PBS), Equal Time (CNBC), Tim Russert (CNBC), Tribune Television, MSNBC, and other shows and networks.

He was a co-host (with Pat Buchanan) of the nationally-syndicated radio show Buchanan and Company. He has appeared often on the syndicated Diane Rehm radio show, and provided commentary to National Public Radio. He is a featured guest on RadioNation, a nationally-syndicated show. He has contributed political commentary to BBC Radio, CBC Radio, Pacifica Radio, Australian National Radio, and has been a guest on scores of call-in radio programs.

>Corn, thirty-nine years old, is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University. Before joining The Nation, he worked for Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law and Harper’s magazine.

Click here to read more of David Corn's Loyal Opposition.

Loyal Opposition

November 18, 1998

Lost Time

As Abbott and Costello would say, "First base."

Newt is gone. (Ding dong, and all that). Paula Jones is departing the stage, having agreed to an $850,000 no-apology settlement with the President. Impeachment fever is cooling in some GOP quarters. (Republican Senator Arlen Specter called for giving President Clinton a pass until he's out of office, Speaker-apparent Bob Livingston has shown no desire for presicide, and the odds are increasing that a handful of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee may vote with the Democrats to shut down impeachment.) The still-at-it Kenneth Starr, who dumped two more boxes of material on Congress on Friday and who once again indicted Clinton pal Webster Hubbell, is indeed scheduled to testify before the committee this week -- excerpts will be available at a 900 number -- and that will give the Monica mavens some crumbs. (One lucky break for Starr: the investigation into leaks from his office is not supposed to be completed until the end of the month; that will permit him to fend off questions on that front by noting he is not yet free to talk about the matter.) But slowly Washington is returning to non-Monica political realities: The Republicans don't know how to exploit fully their majority in Congress; the Democrats play better with each other when they're on defense. The question for each camp is, what the hell to do now?

Republicans, with their leadership fights and blame games, look like they're in more disarray than they are. The Democrats, with their zombie-like attachment to the mantra "patientbillofrightseducationandsavingsocialsecurity," appear more unified than they are. The GOPers may seem mired in Republican-on-Republican violence, as cranky conservatives call for more allegiance to the true faith and the less-cons hail the "pragmatic" GOP governors and fret about the party's harsh image (thanks to its association with the Christian right and its embrace of anti-affirmative action measures). But the Republicans still generally agree on their basics: tax cuts, less social spending, more military spending, and helping corporate America escape the burdens of health and safety standards for the workplace and the environment. They just have to figure out how to sell all this. If they can avoid being sucked too deep into abortion-politics and can soft-peddle their affection for guns -- medium-sized ifs -- they have a chance at putting forward some non-Newt initiatives in the next Congress. Their foremost challenge is to devise tax cuts that Democrats cannot label as only or mostly a break for the rich and, thus, accuse the GOP of raiding the Social Security surplus for the benefit of those who worry whether a Land Rover is in or out this year. Livingston, a wheeler-dealer who has chaired the appropriations committee, may be the right fellow to concoct a savvy tax-cut strategy for the Republicans. He has vowed to bring to the floor legislation that would remove the Social Security program from the main budget -- a change that would disentangle tax cuts from Social Security. But then he'd have to find some other way of paying for them.

For Democrats, the question is, is there enough there there? Their Patients Bill of Right is the most modest of health care reform and does not provide insurance to the 41 million who go without. Is it sufficient raison d'tre for the party? And if the GOP markets a p.r.-friendly tax cut, can the Democrats hang tough and play class-politics? Certainly, a portion of the party might feel tempted to vote for tax cuts, particularly should any anxiety about the economy arise. As for Social Security, watch out. The President keeps dropping hints he is amenable to some sort of privatization, perhaps testing the notion. The Republicans are eager to get a whack at it. (On election night, every time Gingrich opened his mouth, no matter what the question was, part of the answer was "saving Social Security.") An emboldened Clinton -- and, boy, is he emboldened -- is once again in a better position to strike bad deals with the GOP, for he does need the congressional Democrats as much as he did weeks ago. (Colin Quinn of Saturday Night Live had the best line on the new Clinton hubris. He suggested the news networks ought to change their "White House in Crisis" logos to one that reads "White House: Laughing Our Asses Off.") The intra-party tensions on Social Security have yet to emerge. Last week, Representative Dick Gephardt was all happy-faced about the prospects of pulling together a Democratic consensus position on Social Security. That's because they hadn't started to try.

Come the new Congress, it's possible that Washington politics will be Monica-free. It's back to the future: January 1997, B.M. The President will be looking for initiatives he can portray as grander than they are. The Democrats will be worrying about his loyalty to their needs and desires. The Republicans will be wondering how much of their agenda they can advance without sparking an anti-GOP backlash. It's almost as if Monica's mother's boyfriend (a Democratic donor) never used his pull to get that young woman an internship at the White House. Except, of course, for Gingrich.

Newt Nostalgia

Already I'm going through Newt withdrawal. No Washington politician has been as entertaining (even if he was an aggravating, truth-challenged, arrogant loudmouth) to cover in the past two decades. Last week, when he was going through his last round of self-serving spin by claiming he quit for the good of the GOP, I went through files and files of Newt-matter covering his 20-year-long congressional career. Since he has perpetuated so many outrages in the course of his public disservice, the specifics tend to blur together. But a run through the archives yields reminders of multiple misdeeds and serial improbity. He got away with a lot. He was a fitting nemesis for Clinton.

Gingrich ran twice for Congress in the 1970s as a Rockefeller sort of moderate Republican, and lost he each time. He then morphed himself into a New Right GOPer preaching that "America needs a return to moral values." That got him elected in 1978. Yet, as a 1984 Mother Jones piece documented, his behavior was hardly exemplary. Associates told of his extramarital activities. In that winning campaign of 1978, he attacked his Democratic opponent for saying that she would commute to and from Washington if elected. A Gingrich campaign ad slapped her for this and declared, "When elected Newt will keep his family together." Two years later, Gingrich, was separated from his first wife, and when she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery he visited her to talk about finalizing their divorce. True family values. To make the story worse, Gingrich was so stingy in providing her and their children support that friends in her congregation had to raise money for them.

The file is full of goodies. According to a 1978 article from a newspaper in his home district, the newly-elected Gingrich self-righteously announced he would not enroll in the congressional pension system to protest its too-generous benefits. Six year later, without fanfare, he entered the system. In 1980, he said, in all seriousness, "We need a military four times the size of our present defense system." (Maybe he was worried about space invaders.) In a 1984 press release, he bemoaned that "all too often people in Washington....start taking themselves too seriously." Yet in 1985, he said, "I have an enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I'm doing it." A fundraising letter he signed in 1989 proclaimed, "I need your opinion about what I believe to be the most profound crisis America has faced in our 200-year history. I'm talking about the United States Congress....The liberals in Congress have declared outright war on our constitutional system of government." More profound a crisis than the Civil War, the Depression, World War II, or Vietnam? Sounds like the ravings of a madman. And let's not forget this 1979 gem: "I think [the Bee Gees] are the best group since the Beatles."

Gingrich slammed Kitty Dukakis, wife of Democratic 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, for being a "drug addict." When he got into ethics trouble for a book deal in 1989, he blamed it on his (second and current) wife. The following year, his political action committee, GOPAC, sent to Republican candidates a how-to guide for coarsening political rhetoric, with suggested words for describing Democrats: "sick," "pathetic", "shallow" and "traitors." Remember his shameless exploitation of the Susan Smith tragedy in South Carolina, when a mother killed her own two children? The event, he said, "reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things...The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

After he took over the Speaker's office in 1995 on a reduce-government platform he increased the offices' budget from $1.5 million to $2.1 million.

My Gingrich archives contains a 1994 memo written for a story never completed: excerpts from interviews with several long-term House aides who each claimed to have spotted Gingrich in amorous situations with a woman other than his wife. (The aides were mostly Democrats; the standards were higher back then.) The best allegation in the lot: Gingrich's pale-green Mustang rocking and rolling in the parking lot beneath one of the House offices.

Oh there's so much: the $4.5 million book deal with Rupert Murdoch. His wife collecting $5000 by quickly trading obscure stocks underwritten by a firm owned by a Gingrich political donor. (No Hillary-esque inside dealing there, right?) The multiple warnings and admonitions Gingrich received from the ethics committee for abusing his office or violating House rules -- in addition to the $300,000 fine he had to pay for lying to the committee. And even when he went to the House floor last year to semi-apologize after the committee slapped him with that sanction, his statement was brimming with prevarication. He referred to himself as a person of "limited means." Limited? He was banking $171,500 a year as Speaker, had collected nearly $500,000 from book sales, and possessed financial assets in the half-a-million-dollar range.

All through the years, Gingrich constantly attacked what he called the "corrupt welfare system"? Well, he voted against cutting agriculture subsidies, he defended the sugar subsidy program, he supported a pay raise for House members, he heaved money at the Pentagon for contracts that benefited his district. In going through the files, I found a 1990 note from Dan Buck, who at the time was a top aide to Representative Pat Schroeder, a Colorado Democratic and a chief Gingrich adversary. Buck was pretty insightful, even if he did not foresee Gingrich's rise to power. He noted that Gingrich had been using the phrase "corrupt welfare system" since 1983:

"He's used it against the Democratic party, Bob Dole, George Shultz, and most recently, David Dinkins. The curse is nothing more than Gingrich jive talk. It's part of his bombastic style....In fact, Gingrich gets no high marks (in my book) for creative insulting. His curses are boringly repetitive -- 'thug,' 'Neville Chamberlain,' etc. When in doubt add 'corrupt' or 'liberal.' If you want to sound intellectual, throw in 'systematic.' What is the response to 'corrupt welfare state'? Don't whine. Don't complain he's being racial. Make fun of him.'"

In retrospect, it is incredible that Gingrich was never laughed out of town. Some of us tried. The moralist who abandoned his family. The man of principle who set records for political opportunism. The self-proclaimed revolutionary who took to full advantage the existing pork-laced/donation-tainted political system with ease and efficiency. "Somehow any random capable of dominating a debate even if what they are saying is total nonsense," Gingrich said in 1980. That was one of his statements worth remembering.

Your House

Since the House of Representatives is occasionally referred to as the People's House, perhaps it is appropriate that it contains its share of liars, scoundrels, and the impaired. Last Wednesday, constituents in three congressional districts could read the morning newspaper and have reason to shake their heads in amusement if not disbelief. In Idaho, residents learned that Representative Helen Chenoweth, a far-right, militia-friendly Republican who's known as the chair of the "black helicopter caucus," had filed papers to run again in the year 2000. The only problem was she had promised that this coming term -- she just won reelection -- would be her last.

In the Seattle area, Democratic Representative-elect Brian Baird's neighbors were informed that a mere two days after he won an open seat, Baird signed divorce papers. He had told his he wanted out in April, but he had asked her to keep that a secret until after the election. The two separated on September 10, yet during the campaign he continued to talk about his wife as if nothing had changed. By the way, Baird's victory -- in one of the closest races of the year -- was celebrated by the Democratic Leadership Council, the conservative wing of the party. The political action committee affiliated with the DLC had endorsed Baird. The new congressman may be interested in reading the platform issued by the DLC in 1996; it called for making it harder to get a divorce.

Then there's Republican Representative Merrill Cook of Utah. After he handily won reelection, he forced out his two top aides. One cited Cook's mood swings and said, "I do worry about him from a mental or chemical imbalance standpoint." Cook denied he is undergoing any emotional problems. Yet the aide, who said Cook was "depressed" and overly "temperamental," remarked, "We kept thinking, 'Let's just get him reelected and that's really going to help out.'" Yes, election-as-therapy. Who says Republicans are heartless?

-- David Corn

David Corn's Loyal Opposition is published weekly in New York Press.
Click here to read more of David Corn's Loyal Opposition.

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