Lip Reading at the GOP Inquisition
Jude Wanniski
October 22, 1997


Memo To: Rep. Dan Burton
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Lip-Reading the Oval Office

The American people surely appreciate the oversight responsibilities the Republican majority in Congress has regarding the campaign financing by the Democrats in 1996. I must tell you, though, that I felt repulsed by the idea you endorsed on "Face the Nation" last Sunday, when you told Bob Schieffer your committee would hire experts in lip reading to fish for White House felonies. As I understand it, the President of the United States sent you 100 hours of camcorder tapes taken during the White House "coffees" which he and the Democratic National Committee chairman employed to romance fundraisers. You have been able to pick up some conversations on the tapes, which indicate the President was aware that the "soft" money being raised and spent on behalf of the Democratic Party and its priority issues would benefit his re-election prospects. Knowing this really constitutes no "smoking gun," you have decided to hire experts in lip reading, to carefully observe the men and women sitting or standing around the President in these 100 hours, to see if they might be caught whispering something incriminating to each other. Bob Schieffer could not believe his ears when you said this, and asked you to repeat what you had said, which you did. If you stop and think about it a moment, I think you might see the point of view that would see this as Orwellian in the extreme.

It was not long ago that fierce debates took place on whether or not there was any excuse for federal wiretapping. On the assumption that organized crime and organized labor were part of the Democratic Establishment, Republicans pressed for deeper and deeper government interventions into the personal living space of those suspected of wrongdoing. The idea of lip-reading in the Oval Office to catch a supporter of the President in a remark that might be interpreted as insidious and evil is in itself an evil idea, if I may say so congressman. I'm not in the slightest suggesting that there is evil intent on your part. You want to do good. The method you suggest is what Alan Greenspan might term "irrational exuberance." We are getting to the point where satellites in outer space can have scopes that will be able to train on your lips as you and your supporters sit around chewing the fat at a Lincoln Day picnic. Are you prepared to have these tapes made available to your inquisitors?

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