"It's a dirty, rotten, no-good, gosh-darned, by-golly shame," I tell my wife. I'm holding my nose while I tell her. "And it stinks. Don't you think?"
"You sound funny when you talk and hold your nose at the same time," she says. "What dirty, rotten, no-good, gosh-darned, by-golly shame do you mean this time?"
She's mocking me. I can tell she's mocking me when she repeats my words verbatim.
"The Clinton family," I say. "Bill and Hillary. Probably Chelsea too. The whole bunch except maybe the dog, and I'm not sure about him."
"Chelsea?" she says. "What did Chelsea do?"
"She's a Clinton," I say. "And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"Meaning what in this case?" she says.
"Meaning that the Clinton tree is rotten to the core," I say, "so its little apple, Chelsea, has rotten roots that keep her from rolling very far from the tree."
"That," she says, "is the most screwed-up metaphor I've heard you utter in 44 years of uttering screwed-up metaphors. I suppose you're holding your nose and talking funny to call attention to Bill's pardon of Marc Rich in exchange for his ex-wife's contributions. But how does Chelsea fit in?"
"I don't know," I say. "Nobody knows. That's what's so sinister. Since nobody knows, it could be anything. Nothing's ruled out."
"You are a boob," she says, "and in your boobery, you've become a certifiable Clintonphobe."
"So you don't care?" I say. "You don't care that Clinton sold a pardon in exchange for donations to Hillary's senate campaign and to Bill's library fund and to whatever it is that Chelsea's in on?"
"Of course I care," she says. "Thatís why Iím in favor of campaign finance reform."
"Arrgh!" I say, clutching my chest with one hand and holding my nose with the other. "My own wife favoring campaign finance reform! Don't you know that limiting political donations limits our freedom of speech?"
"Only if you confuse money with language," she says. "Only if you buy the notion that the rich should have more free speech than the rest of us."
"But," I say, "the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled that political donations are a form of free speech, and the U.S. Supreme Court knows what's best for us."
She looks at me for a long, long time without saying anything. Then she holds her nose too. Now we're both holding our noses.
"Well then," she finally says (and she sounds funny too), "I don't suppose you and the Supreme Court would have any objection to Rich's contribution to the Clintons. Just an exercise in free speech, hey?"
"Ah ha!" I say. "It's not the contribution that's outrageous. It's the payback. Denise Rich pays money, Clinton pardons her husband. There's the outrage."
The Truth, Mainly
"So," she says, "there's nothing wrong with giving politicians vast amounts of money so long as you get nothing in return. Is that right?"
"You got it," I say, pleased with my pedagogical progress.
"And conversely if the donor gets something in return," she says, "say a pardon or an ambassadorship or a cabinet post, that's wrong. Right?"
She's using the tone of voice that means she's about to hoist me by my own petard. And I don't even know what my own petard is. So I get canny.
"Well," I say cannily, "maybe yes, maybe no."
That's when she whips the Feb. 9 issue of the New York Daily News out of her knitting basket.
"Says here that about $40 million was donated for the Bush-Cheney inauguration," she says. "Says here thatís $10 million more than Clinton raised for his second inauguration. Says here that outfits like Philip Morris, GMC, Exxon, Dow Chemical forked over $100,000 each."
"They're very patriotic companies," I say. "Doesn't mean they got anything in return."
"Ah ha!" she says. "You're about to be hoist by your own petard. A guy whose company makes uniforms gave $100,000 and now he's on Bush's Veterans Advisory Team. Another guy's computer business gave $100,000 and now he's on Bush's Commerce Advisory Team. Head of Enron gave $100,000 and now he's on Bush's Energy Advisory Team. Odd, huh?"
"But," I say, still holding my nose, "it's not the same as pardoning a tax evader because his ex-wife gave money. That's really stinky."
"No, it's not the same," she says, still holding her nose. "But it's close enough to be really smelly, no matter what the Supreme Court says. And hey, last week Clinton sent a $450 check to a guy in Omaha who'd given him a leather jacket. That's a start."
"Let's talk about something else now," I say. "When do you think Rush Limbaugh will break the news about Chelsea?"
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail