The Really Big Show

POLITICS IN WASHINGTON as the New Year begins is little more than a joust between two corrupt factions of the ruling elite, evoking the worst days of France's Fourth Republic (before de Gaulle) or Italy before Operation Clean Hands.

At one end of Capitol Hill, Newt Gingrich plea-bargained his way out of a censure vote that could have cost him the speakership, even though it's clear that in multiple instances he criminally violated the U.S. tax code (in the most outrageous example, by using a foundation designed to help poor inner-city kids to finance a series of propaganda training videos for GOP attack dogs that was thinly disguised as a college course).

At the other end, the White House was putting the finishing touches on an inaugural extravaganza whose real purpose is to welcome to Washington the corporate cohorts who bought and paid for the second Clinton term. There'll be bread and circuses for the demos on the Mall, but these high-tech, multimedia revels--a glitzy, faux version of Andy Jackson's inaugural as staged by Silicon Valley and Harry Thomassen--is meant to distract from the pricey power-orgies elsewhere in town. Clinton's last inaugural, the costliest ever, actually made a profit of $9 million thanks to contributions from multinationalist cadres like James Riady and John Huang. Apart from a prudent pruning of a few voyant Asians, this year's will be little different--if you're looking for symbolism, take the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which is offering the Clintonoid fat cats a two-day package at $30,000 (chauffeured Rolls-Royce and butler included). This entrepreneurial gambit is not, rest assured, designed to appeal to soccer moms.

Corporate America so easily embraced Clinton because he signed on to the main features of the Gingrich Revolution, including its crown jewel: welfare abolition. Remember the siren song chanted at last year's Democratic National Convention by the Jesse Jacksons and the Mario Cuomos--that liberals should rally to re-elect Clinton so that he could undo the punitive measures of the welfare bill he'd signed? Well, last week the New York Times front-paged a report on how the Clinton administration is administering the new law in a hyperdraconian fashion that violates the New Federalism so dear to the neo-con denizens of the Democratic Leadership Council.

The Clinton/Gingrich welfare law was supposed to eliminate the federal bureaucracy by shipping money back to the states to do with as they pleased. Instead, the Clinton administration is moving to block states from tempering this Dickensian law with their own humanitarian aid to the helpless. For example, Kansas wants to spend money on legal immigrants in nursing homes who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and are incapable of passing citizenship tests; so does Hawaii, which also wants to help two-parent families who don't meet the new law's exclusionary work requirements. But Clinton's incoming assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, Olivia Golden--the top federal official--is telling states that not only can no federal moneys be used for such purposes, neither can state funds be used to help needy families victimized by the new law.

This heartlessness is concealed beneath a fog of rhetoric about family values--which, we are told by the White House, is one of the top four agenda items for Clinton's second term. Clinton's first weekly radio address of the new year, for instance, was a homily to the drop in the teenage pregnancy rate, for which the president undeservedly tried to take credit. (How poor teens whose single moms have been kicked off the minimal dole are supposed to afford condoms or the pill was something our philandering president did not explain.)

Another harbinger of Clinton's second term was the administration's announcement of its AIDS plan--more vaporous verbiage that turned out to be no plan at all, devoid of concrete initiatives or dollar amounts (it even failed to follow the recommendations of Clinton's own AIDS commission for a clean needles program, a step that has cut the rate of new AIDS infections by 50 percent in Europe).

Four more years--to which the only proper response is an Inaugural Bawl.

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