It’s Tricky Hillary Clinton, New Age Nixon for the 90’s

A year and a half ago, seeker that I am, I went to a panel on politics organized by the New York Open Center at the Community Church of New York on East 35th Street. New Age gurus were on the stage, and during the question period someone asked about the blowup over channeler Jean Houston’s relationship to Hillary Rodham Clinton. The First Lady, you may remember, had mocked reports of her work with Ms. Houston and dissociated herself from New Agers. The question elicited surprising anger and pain.

“I know I was lied to by Mrs. Clinton and that I was lied about,” said Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun . “And that you”-he turned to the writer Marianne Williamson-“were lied about if not to, and that Jean was lied about if not to. And I’ve tried to understand that because it hurt me. It made it much more difficult to defend the ideas I had.” Ms. Williamson nodded her agreement with Michael Lerner, then offered spiritual advice to the First Lady: “If you say something and they get down on you … don’t say I didn’t mean it.… Say, yeah, these people are my friends, what about it! Yes, I had them to the White House, what about it?”

I thought about Mrs. Clinton’s friends’ pain after Dick Morris’ assertion that the current scandals have put Hillary Clinton in command at the White House and The Washington Post ‘s revelation that the First Lady ordered a report at taxpayer expense of Post reporter Susan Schmidt’s Whitewater coverage, comparing Administration quotes with coverage in other papers, an inquiry Michael McCurry shelved as one of the stupidest things he’d heard of. The Post report is the latest in Mrs. Clinton’s long record of secretive, deceptive and overly suspicious actions, a record that broaches an issue that is deeply painful for liberals: Is Hillary our Richard Nixon?

That record began right off the bat in 1993 with the health care initiative and the Travel Office firings, one a noble undertaking, one a perfectly legitimate piece of political chicanery, both made corrosive and never-ending because of Orwellian secrecy and outright lies. Secrecy and stonewalling also surround the treatment of the papers in Vince Foster’s office and the First Lady’s absurd claim that she did not know her former partner Webster Hubbell was in legal trouble when he left the Justice Department in 1994. (“I told the Clintons that, in my opinion, Webb Hubbell needed to resign as quickly as possible,” said her cattle futures patron James Blair.)

And the record culminates in one of the darkest but least covered of the Clinton scandals, Filegate, where hundreds of people’s civil rights were trampled.

After holding out for years over Congressional subpoenas regarding its use of the F.B.I. to cover the Travel Office firings, the White House in 1996 coughed up documents showing that it had obtained F.B.I. files on 900 individuals, including leading Republicans. The President called it a “snafu.” Craig Livingstone, the director of White House personnel security, took the rap and announced his resignation at a Congressional hearing.

Congress wanted to know who hired Craig Livingstone. A former bar bouncer, Mr. Livingstone had gotten the big job despite serious questions from the Secret Service and F.B.I. In House hearings, no one in the White House took responsibility. They put the hire on the safely dead Vincent Foster. But reports by two F.B.I. agents quoted White House officials as saying that Mrs. Clinton wanted Mr. Livingstone in the job. The First Lady denied this, saying breezily in July 1996 that she did not even meet Mr. Livingstone until sometime in 1995.

The House report on Filegate, never covered in depth, all but accused Mrs. Clinton of lying. It pointed out Craig Livingstone’s intimate involvement with Clinton events-requiring a cell phone to be on call to “assist” the President on weekends, spending five days in Arkansas to coordinate the President’s mother’s funeral-and quoted a White House intern as saying that she witnessed Mrs. Clinton saying “Hello, Craig” to Mr. Livingstone in the White House in spring 1994.

In 1996, call girl Sherry Rowlands published a diary quoting White House adviser-insider Dick Morris as telling her that Mrs. Clinton was behind the ordering of files: “It was Hillary, in 1993. She’s a paranoid lady, she did it.” Dick Morris denied the report. He said he was merely quoting polls demonstrating the public’s belief that the First Lady was responsible. But I think the call girl was reporting him accurately. As the Susan Schmidt inquest shows, the First Lady has always been keen to find enemies.

Kenneth Starr was called on to investigate Filegate nearly two years ago, but the Babbittish bumbler hasn’t been heard from since.

Nixonite Charles Colson went to jail for mishandling several F.B.I. files (that according to Sam Smith of The Progressive Review ), which is a powerful reminder that Whitewater is not about a 10-year-old land deal, it’s about finding out who was behind signal abuses in Washington. At some level, even those who now hate Mr. Starr know this, and the Clintons recognize that. (I mean, if they really believe that Mr. Starr is on a political witch hunt in conspiracy with the right wing, they should do the honorable thing: fire him.)

All the same, there is plainly something to Mrs. Clinton’s belief in a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that now wants to bring the Administration down.

The number of Clinton haters is unquestionably now vast. And the great majority are right-wingers. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Rutherford Institute, Judicial Watch, Senator Lauch Faircloth, etc.

But a good portion of these militants are not right-wing. Cliff Jackson, the Arkansas lawyer who represented the state troopers, is an independent with a strong moral bent. Linda Tripp seems to be your classic whistle-blower with the attendant Joan of Arc syndrome. Hugh Sprunt, the Texas lawyer who has asked the most intelligent questions about the Foster matter, is a libertarian. The Progressive Review ‘s Sam Smith is a Green Party populist.

As to the conspiracy charge, yes, with varying degrees of sanctimony, moralism, nausea and belligerence, these people have formed a loose network. But tell me something: If Richard Mellon Scaife is so nefariously influential over the thoughts of Kenneth Starr, how come the pudgy lawyer has completely written off that cause most dear to Mr. Scaife’s heart, issuing a thin report dismissing the (serious) questions that surround Vince Foster’s death?

When is it a conspiracy and when is it a discussion? When the White House counsel’s office conspires with lawyers for people who are deposed about the Clintons, making sure that everyone knows what everyone has said, the witnesses stay in line and the wall doesn’t crack, and this is perfectly legal (as legal as some of Mr. Starr’s sharp tools). Making the case that the Monica Lewinsky affair grew out of a conspiracy-rather than zeal, opportunity, Mr. Clinton’s screw-ups and clever entrapment-is, as Mr. Faircloth would say, as easy as eating ice cream with a knitting needle.

Years ago, Nixon, too, had many zealous enemies who couldn’t wait to catch him out. Powerhouse editor Ben Bradlee and powerhouse lawyer Edward Bennett Williams were teaming up behind closed doors. Dan Ellsberg, bless him, was righteously and underhandedly questioning United States policy in Vietnam. At Harvard, we inscribed the bathroom stalls with scatological graffiti about Tricky Dick. And Hillary Clinton on the House impeachment committee was one of our soldiers.

In one of his few graceful acts, Nixon left the White House in a spirit of reflection. “Always remember,” he told his staff, “others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them-and then you destroy yourself.”

Paranoids really do have enemies. And they make them powerful.

It’s Tricky Hillary Clinton, New Age Nixon for the 90’s