By Elizabeth Khalil

It’s time for all Washingtonians, intern and paid, LC and LA, elected and appointed, Republican and Democrat, to face this fact: no one cares what goes on here.

I was reminded of that fact over winter vacation, when I went home to Detroit. In Washington, I am surrounded by people who live and die by a clause in an omnibus bill. In Detroit, I am surrounded by people who wouldn’t know an omnibus bill if it ran them over; they’d just be shocked that the bus came at all. In Detroit, a channel called “Animal Planet” has just replaced C-SPAN 2, and this is fine with us. After all, we also got Comedy Central.

The impeachment trial shows perfectly the dichotomy between Washington and the rest of the world. For Congress, this is something very, very serious. For the rest of the country, it’s something very, very silly. Congress seems to feel they are defending truth, justice, and the American way, or something like that, but really, no one else feels that way. Americans just want a job, a car in the garage and something interesting to watch on television. This isn’t it.

The last time this nation experienced a trial en masse – the O.J. Simpson case – it was the “trial of the century.” People tuned in to CNN for the opinion of the latest panel of experts. Everyone wanted to know the legalese of the matter, right down to the DNA specifics.

The impeachment has been called many things, but “trial of the century” is not one of them.

Maybe it’s just that this case has no showy characters like the Simpson trial. Take a millionaire ex-football star, a Hollywood lawyer with a knack for rhyme and a few Vanity Fair reporters, put them in an L.A. courtroom, and how can anything but wackiness ensue?

Congress’ own wacky characters just don’t play as well in Peoria. The most interesting figures in this drama, Linda Tripp and Monica, are not part of the day-to-day proceedings. Henry Hyde and Robert Byrd aren’t quite as compelling to watch.

From time to time, of course, the oh-so-serious members of Congress do provide unintentional comic relief. There were a few weeks when it seemed like every day another of these guardians of public morality was revealed to have had an affair, an illegitimate child, a penchant for transvestite call girls, or some such twisted thing. (That was the last time it was remotely interesting to mainstream America.) The rest of the country realizes what they, who take themselves so seriously, don’t: they think they’re in “All the President’s Men.” In reality, it’s more like “Night Court,” complete with costumes: William Rehnquist has added stripes to his robe in imitation of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Basically, the whole thing is just another TV show to surf over on the way to “ER” or “Jerry Springer,” which both have better-drawn characters. Without entertainment value, the Clinton affair simply has little relevance to the average American’s life. Whatever the outcome, people outside the Beltway know that their lives will go on as usual – with or without a president. A president just needs to go to some official dinners, pose for paparazzi – a sort of male Miss America. At this Clinton excels, and his climbing approval ratings show it. The legislative branch is supposed to take care of the serious stuff like allocating funds for roads and eliminating free-lunch programs.

Now that impeachment is the single order of business, though, we can’t hope to see any legislation passed or even introduced. What is the average American getting out of this Congressional hiatus besides a detailed rundown of whether a blow job counts as sex? Maybe people feel that it’s not worth putting off legislative activity while members of Congress try to make their way into USPS textbooks.

The legislator-kings (and queens) also don’t seem to have a clue that anyone feels this way. In one of their few addresses to the public, we saw Trent Lott and Tom Daschle grinning, shaking hands, and congratulating themselves on forming a bipartisan coalition. That’s great, guys. I hope thinking about, say, welfare isn’t interrupting your plans to all go to the spa together.

As for me, a former White House intern and Congressional aide, I’m still in back-home mode. Snow removal seems a more pressing issue right now than the legal definition of “is.” Before Potomac fever overtakes me yet again, I offer one final thought, what the rest of the country already knows: it’s just a show.

Elizabeth Khalil is the Assistant Features Editor of The Hoya.

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