Imagine this scene, in the heart of the Kremlin, circa 1970:
Ivan: Da, Dmitri, these Americans are too clever for us. All of our spies they find and send home.
Dmitri: Do not worry, comrade--I have a plan. We will recruit one of these bright American students coming to visit our country. He will be a leader, and finally he will become President and turn their country over to us.
Ivan: It will never happen. Those imperialist pigs will never vote for a socialist.
Dmitri: No, no. This will be deep cover. First we will have him spend years working to make their Democratic Party less liberal, so that no one will suspect him. Ivan: Still, a friend of the Soviet Union will have a very hard time with those running dogs of capitalism.
Dmitri: Here is the real genius of my plan. Two years before he runs, we will pretend to let our empire crumble. We will tear down the Berlin Wall and pull our troops out of Europe. We will even let the republics of the Soviet Union secede. No one will ever suspect.
Ivan: Comrade, you are a genius. But we must hurry. These college boys are only here for a week.
Far-fetched? This is the picture the Bush campaign is trying to paint with their latest attacks on Gov. Bill Clinton. The Bush campaign has nicknamed this offensive "Red Willie." On "Larry King Live," the President himself weighed in, asserting that Clinton needed to "come clean" about his 1970 vacation in the Soviet Union.
Although the Clinton campaign is right to dismiss this latest approach as the pathetic flounderings of a desperate candidate, it is also appropriate to consider what inspires this tactic. The campaign's--and now the President's--tactics are drawn directly from one of America's darkest hours--the anti-communist witch hunts led by Sen. Joe McCarthy.
The Bush approach relies on all of McCarthy's standard tactics: guilt by association, accusation by innuendo and the assumption that the accused is guilty until proved innocent.
Guilt by association: This smear campaign rests on the assumption that Clinton going to Moscow indicates he must like those commies, right? Well, every weekend I travel 40 miles north of my home to the town of Appleton, Wis. That town recently had the "honor" of housing the headquarters of the John Birch Society. I guess that means that I have John Birch leanings.
Accusation by innuendo: Of course this tactic is based on nothing. There is absolutely no shred of evidence that Clinton's trip was anything other than a student vacation. But that doesn't stop Bush.
According to news reports, the "attack fax" by Bush's deputy campaign manager, Mary Matalin, asserted that Clinton may have been recruited as an "agent of influence" by the KGB. On what grounds? Well, he was the kind of guy they would have liked to recruit. How does she know this? Well, the Washington Times carried a story speculating that.
Let's think about this. I once read a story that said terrorist groups like to use pregnant women to carry bombs, as they're less likely to be searched. I was once pregnant. Put that together with my known sympathy for right-wing extremists and things are starting to look pretty suspicious.
Guilty until proved innocent: Bush said Clinton needs to "come clean." He hinted there's something troubling about the fact that Clinton doesn't know who he talked to in Moscow, although he does remember people he stayed with in Oslo. Come clean about what, Mr. President? In Oslo, he stayed with family friends. In Moscow, he was alone.
The only time I ever left the country was when I traveled in Ireland 12 years ago. Guess what--I can't remember the name of a single Irish person I met, though, unlike Clinton in Moscow, I spoke the language and thus was able to talk freely. Maybe I'm in the clutches of the IRA.
Worse yet, last summer I went on vacation to our state playland, Wisconsin Dells. While I can tell you the names of the friends I traveled with, and I do recall that just about every lifeguard was named Matt, I can't tell you the name of a single one of the other Dellsians I talked to.
Darn suspicious, isn't it? Put together my suspicious trips, my fitting the terrorist profile and my convenient amnesia, all in Wisconsin, and the answer is clear: I must be a dupe of the international cheese cartel.
Mr. President, you are the person who needs to come clean. You said you would fire anyone involved with your campaign who engaged in sleazy politics. Problem is, you'd have to fire yourself. We'll have to leave that up to the American people.