At this point in time

The clash is heating up between a fading president and the Democrats in Congress who — with the help of a few million votes — just reached into their pants and found some cojones (and I think this applies fairly to Hillary). The Gonzo AG and PudgeBoy Rove could be the flashpoint.

Anybody remember Richard Nixon? Only now is it looking to me that the constitutional and bombastic clashes of today could sink to the level to which the disturbed little soul of Richard Nixon brought America.

Let’s be on language watch. This kind of drama brings out the most preposterous posturing and the most outrageous obfuscating from masters who can peel off whole paragraphs of pettifoggery while the rest of us are brushing our teeth.

Watergate brought us many wonders, but among the most offensive was the phrase “at this point in time.” H.R. Haldeman — who makes Dick Cheney seem like Santa Claus — dropped this absolutely meaningless little phrase into almost every answer he gave before Congressional investigative committees. “And we had not, at this point in time, loaded the Constitution into the back of our van to bring it to the landfill,” he would say. Soon everyone in America was dropping the phrase into their every sentence. “Mom, I have a stomach ache, and, at this point in time, I do not think I should go to school.”

Each great Washington fight has its memorable moments of twisted, ingrown or inflated language. The Clinton impeachment — “That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and “I did not have sex with that woman.” The Reagan Iran-Contra hearings had — let’s see, what was the catch phrase then… I just can’t recall.

So here we go again. Watch the masters. Chuck Schumer ain’t no slouch at the orotund phrase that makes him seem statesmanlike while he sharpens his knives gleefully behind his back. Orrin Hatch sounds like someone stealing a baby from a daycare center when he’s just ordering lunch. Hillary will sound as pious as someone who’s descended to us from another realm, unless she gets pissed and sees that vast right-wing conspiracy again. Ted Kennedy always loves polysyllables, Joe Biden’s a walking filibuster, and Secretary of State (can that really be true?) Rice might just wink at us at the end of one of her meaningless word dances (she did, really, at John Kerry, after tough questioning about why she missed the signs preceding 9-11). Jim Webb, the new senator from Virginia who burned up the airwaves with the Dems response to the State of the Union, is filling his powderhorn right now. The wild card is Nancy Pelosi, bless her heart, who occasionally forgets to couch things in the treacly language of Congressional convention and calls a spade a spade, or an incompetent an incompetent. She might say something in English that a Boston cabbie would understand.

And keep your ears on Fred Fielding, new White House counsel. He was second to John Dean in the Nixon White House, so he’s sat at the feet of bullslingers for decades.

What will the memorable phrase be from this gathering storm? What are your guesses? As the master of verbal disaster said, “Bring ’em on.”