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From a Distance: Nothing but a Sitcom to Bostonian

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Pamela Ferdinand
    Special to The Washington Post
    Monday, February 1, 1999; Page A12

    BOSTON – As he follows the impeachment proceedings on the radio each morning, Jim Edwards cannot help but visualize all those Washington politicians with their starched white shirts and shiny leather briefcases in a prime-time sitcom of their own making.

    It is riveting, entertaining, terrifying, sometimes hilarious and frustrating all at once, just like a good miniseries during sweeps. Only longer, with far too many characters, and too little suspense because, let's face it, everyone knows the ending.

    "Honestly, it's a charade. It's a means for senators to show themselves off. It's a television show they're starring in," said Edwards, unwinding at the end of a recent weekday with a pint of Anchor Steam beer at Doyle's Cafe, a political Irish saloon in the Boston tradition.

    "It's self-ingratiating, even on the Democratic side. We're involved with certain acts in the Middle East that deserve much more attention, and it seems to be a real kind of smoke screen. This is just such a spectacle."

    Edwards, a 40-year-old with an elfin face and thinnish goatee, does not come across as the type who appreciates spectacle for spectacle's sake, particularly when it comes to the body politic. He seems far too liberal, far too politically conscious and far too cerebral for that.

    "I think the Republicans are making fools of themselves," he said. "In a way, the damage that they're doing their party might benefit the country in the long run. It might rob them of some of their power."

    Massachusetts still means registered Democrat, and Edwards, who considers himself a skeptic and bit of a conspiracy theorist, is no exception.

    He grew up in a middle-class home in a suburb south of Boston, the Catholic middle son of a housewife whose Polish parents escaped from Warsaw and a retired salesman who tape-recorded the Watergate hearings in their entirety. "They'll be worth something one day, son," his father said.

    These days, Edwards lives and works out of a three-bedroom split level ranch house in the same modest community with his German-born wife, Heidi, and his 3-year-old son, Luke. A visiting lecturer at the Massachusetts College of Art in downtown Boston, he is also a free-lance illustrator and painter. He sings too with a band named "Circle of Willis," named for the area at the back of the head where blood is distributed to the brain.

    Once a week, he ducks into Doyle's for a quick pint on his way home from class. The single television set over the bar is switched on only for the occasional big game, or notable death, but you would have to be blind and deaf to disregard politics altogether in this establishment with walls covered in campaign posters and rooms named after the likes of John F. "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald and Irish republican patriot Michael Collins.

    Surrounded by images of the dead and infamous, Edwards expressed sympathy for this particular president's plight. He voted for President Clinton. At first, he related to his youthfulness and ideas. Now, even though Edwards said he has never had an affair, he said he understands how easily it could happen – especially for a public figure in demand.

    "He's just a . . . he's a man, he's a person. We all make mistakes," Edwards said. "This is pretty much fluff. The real crime was to ask Clinton the questions in the first place. Personal questions like that shouldn't need to become public.

    "I'm angry that the Republicans are willing to stretch it out and carry it on even further, knowing he will not be impeached. Where's the compassion? If they are so concerned about the dishonor he's caused his family, don't they realize they are dragging Hillary through the mud too?"

    Clinton, who has exercised "incredible restraint" during the trial, deserves forgiveness, he said. However, he believes Linda R. Tripp is the true scoundrel, launching a saga that was part espionage, part coffee klatch.

    "There should be a law against what Linda Tripp did. Actually, that seems to be certainly the most immoral aspect of this scenario because it's pure deception," he said. "That's a pure lie."

    Edwards described how one of his students is working on a theatrical poster that mixes Broadway with politics. Her project features a montage of personalities from Monica S. Lewinsky to Janet Reno and Marilyn Monroe. The working title: "The Best Little Whorehouse of Washington."

    His own aesthetic tastes run a little deeper and darker, along the lines of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and Georg Grosz, a German Expressionist known for his unsettling urban landscapes.

    Were Edwards commissioned to sketch a caricature of the Senate trial, he would depict Democrats as near-religious figures pleading to soften the hearts of Republicans. The former would be drawn in round shapes; the latter, sculpted in granite with their ties too tight and collars too high.

    "The caricature of the Republican is really the stony-faced, tight-lipped, angry individual who hates everything that they don't know, who fears change and who lives by established rules and principles," he said.

    So what's next? Vice President Gore as president? Doubtful, according to this liberal Democrat.

    "Gore seems very silent to me, like a piece of furniture. He seems like a good man and all, but I don't know if he's a leadership type," Edwards said, taking a final sip of his beer. "I'd vote for[first lady] Hillary [Rodham Clinton] before I'd vote for him with her level of intelligence, her benevolence, her energy. She has my vote. Plus, she comes out of this whole thing as a hero."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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