Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#13, September 2, 1998

Us Against THEM

by Marylaine Block

Perhaps you've noticed that the pundits are dissatisfied with the American people. Obsessed as they have been for month's with the president's sex life, they cannot understand why we are not equally disgusted. They can't understand why the president's approval ratings remain so high.

They have concluded that the fault, dear public, "lies in ourselves, that we are underlings." They believe that we are either immoral or so fat and happy with our economic state that we're willing to ignore Clinton's personal excesses and stupidity.

I have an alternative theory.

I believe that when we elect a president, what we want above all is someone who stands on our side against THEM.

Now, different people have different THEMs - maybe health insurers who drop your coverage when you actually need medical care, or employers who send our jobs to Thailand, or companies that dump toxic waste into our drinking water.

Enough people saw Bill Clinton as the man who was on their side that they elected him president. Twice. Once on promises, and once on performance, because he fought for people who had no health insurance, put more police on our streets, and reduced taxes on the working poor.

But from the moment he took office, THEY fought back. The insurance companies, tobacco companies, the NRA and other powerful interests spent millions of dollars on ads attacking his programs. Within six months of his taking office, a permanent investigation was in place. The content varied, but as soon as one investigation didn't pan out, another replaced it, from the White House travel office to Vince Foster's death (investigated THREE times!), Whitewater, and finally, Monica.

The public repeatedly told pollsters they thought these investigations were politically motivated, designed to stop or slow down Clinton's agenda. Certainly for Clinton to get anything done during the permanent investigation was a lot like running a race with an elephant strapped to his leg.

For Clinton's enemies, that was good. But to a lot of ordinary people, it looked like the guy who was on our side was pathetically outspent by THEM. THEY had the money to buy Congress, and the press and talking heads were on THEIR side.

And yet, like the little engine that could, Bill Clinton kept chugging along, trying to do the people's business, and in many cases, succeeding.

I think Americans have never been fond of Goliath. We love our Davids. We root for eternal underdogs like the Cubs not in spite of, but because of, their resemblance to us - ordinary folks who often do a good job but never quite manage to win it all.

I suspect we still may have a gut conviction that it's OUR job to vote a president in or out, and that the permanent investigation is a rolling coup d'etat, an effort by the powerful to overrule election results they didn't like.

Since we only hold presidential elections every four years, the only way we have to tell THEM we don't like what they're doing to the president is the opinion poll. The louder the attacks, and the closer the baying hounds, the better Clinton's numbers got. It's at least possible that we see the steady artillery fire as an attack not just on Clinton but on US, and our right to elect the president we want.

And of course many people were simply deferring judgment. We'd heard the prosecution's case, a collection of unverifiable stories from unidentified or partisan sources. We were waiting for the defense.

Now that the defense has been heard, the poll numbers may change. Clinton lost a lot of defenders with his mea sorta culpa, his nonapology apology. He left a lot of people saying, "If you did it, why did you put us through all this for seven months?" Lying to Hillary was bad enough; lying to us was worse.

But if his poll numbers remain the same, it may not mean we like him. It may simply mean that we don't want THEM to overrule our elections and prove that what WE want doesn't count.

I can't prove my theory. But it sure beats hell out of the theory that Clinton's numbers are high because the American people are less moral than Sam Donaldson.

Read the rest of
these columns

home to all my
other writing