Clinton Corruption Plays Us for Fools-We Won’t Forget

Some day soon, public interest in the Clinton

administration’s final disgrace will fade, and the former President-if not his

wife, our junior Senator-will retreat from the headlines. Then, after an

appropriate interval, we will start seeing phony photo ops and pious public

pronouncements. Here and there, the Clintons will begin their latest

rehabilitation: Here is the junior Senator, hugging inner-city children; there

is the former President, lecturing his successor on the finer points of

statecraft.

Just as surely as Richard Nixon began planning his comeback

on the airplane that took him to San Clemente on Aug. 9, 1974, the Clintons

even now are preparing their future public-relations assault on the nation’s

better nature. They assume-regrettably, not without reason-that the American

public in general, and New York voters in particular, will forget about the

pardons and the denials and the bald-faced lies that have sickened even their

most stalwart apologists.

They assume that disgust will run its course, that salvation

will be found in short attention spans, that the hyperactivity of the media age

will continue to blur collective memory. And if that doesn’t work, well, they

figure they can rely on this heavily Democratic state to swallow whole their

claims to political victimhood. If public memory cannot be manipulated, there’s

always the crass pandering that has served them so well in the past: The former

President will walk the length of 125th Street to remind his putative neighbors

that he was, after all, the first black President; the junior Senator will hold

news conferences to denounce right-wing conspirators. This combination of

cold-blooded racial politics and partisan hatemongering, the Clintons no doubt

believe, will keep New York pliant. And New York is the key to it all: Without

New York, there is no Senate seat, there is no imperial post-Presidency, there

is no access to the courtiers who can, with words, actions and money, douse the

dealings of grifters with the perfume of

public service.

So the Clintons are playing New Yorkers for fools. Although

they surely know by now that their actions and their words have offended even

their own supporters in the state they laughingly call home, they see no reason

to panic. Mrs. Clinton is in the first weeks of a six-year term of office; in

2006, they believe, who in New York will remember Marc Rich or Hugh Rodham? Who

will remember the White House furniture that found its way to their living room

in Chappaqua?

And so it will be up to New York, finally, to foil the

calculations of this coarse and manipulative couple. New Yorkers now have an

obligation, not only to themselves but to the nation: They must remember. They

must remember exactly how they feel about the Clintons at this moment, exactly

how they felt when their junior Senator claimed she didn’t know that her own

brother was bidding for pardons from her husband. They must remember how their

stomachs turned when their junior Senator professed to be “heartbroken” about

her brother’s rancid involvement in the great pardon auction. They must

remember their astonishment when Mrs. Clinton claimed to know nothing about the

Rich pardon, even though his ex-wife Denise donated more than $100,000 to the

former First Lady’s Senate campaign-not to mention the $1.1 million that Ms.

Rich has given the national Democratic Party, and the $450,000 she gave to the

Clinton Presidential Library.

Mrs. Clinton is

heartbroken? She’s always either heartbroken or

disappointed. What about her constituents? Doesn’t she feel our shame? After

all, her husband felt our pain. Does she not understand our embarrassment? With

the nation and indeed the world watching, we entrusted her with the U.S. Senate

seat once held by Robert F. Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It is clear

now that we have made a terrible mistake, for Hillary Rodham Clinton is unfit

for elective office. Had she any shame, she would resign. If federal

officeholders were subject to popular recall, she’d be thrown out of office by

springtime, the season of renewal.

Only two months ago, serious people believed that Mrs.

Clinton would be a candidate for President in 2004. Even true believers-gathered

in Manhattan’s few remaining telephone booths-must admit that the plan to get

Mrs. Clinton back into the White House must now be relegated to history’s

dustbin, where it will share space with the proceedings of the ClintonCare

commission, canceled checks to the Whitewater Development Corporation and the

billing records of the Rose Law Firm. Mrs. Clinton’s political viability has

come to an end after fewer than eight weeks in office.

Unlike the tawdry dealings that led to Bill Clinton’s

impeachment, the pardon scandal implicates Mrs. Clinton as much as, and perhaps

even more than, her husband. After all, it was her brother, not his, who accepted $400,000 to lobby for pardons

for a drug kingpin and a swindler. (Hugh Rodham says he’ll give the money back-although

he hasn’t done it just yet. Even if he does, the restitution won’t make

everything right. Just ask a bank robber.) The Hasidic village in upstate New

Square voted en masse for her , not

him, last fall, after she met with the village’s religious leader. The pardons

for four felons from the village who bilked the federal government out of $40

million raise questions about her

campaign, not his. It was her

campaign treasurer, not his, who helped and advised two of those felons with

their pardon applications.

Mrs. Clinton’s press conference on Feb. 22 was a masterpiece

of evasion-so much so that she deserves a new (if you’ll forgive us) moniker:

“Slick Hillie.” She said she knew nothing about the pardons. She said she knew

nothing of her brother’s involvement. No, no-she didn’t concern herself with

these little matters, because she was very busy preparing to represent the

people of New York. If we had any questions about the pardons, she said, we

ought to ask him , the “him” in

question being her husband.

A move worthy of the Big He himself.

The Clintons have spent the last eight years treating the

American electorate with dismissive contempt. The rage unleashed in the last

few weeks is that of an aggrieved partner who has wised up at last. The

President’s supporters in politics and the press understood all along that they

were in a high-risk relationship, but they had persuaded themselves that, in

his heart, Mr. Clinton loved what they loved. Their devotion only deepened when

they were warned to be wary of him; his enemies were their enemies, too.

Now, with Mr. Clinton stripped of the power and protection

of the Presidency, his supporters see him exactly as he is. And the image that

presents itself is terrifyingly close to the caricature his enemies drew of

him. They were right, after all. Mr. Clinton was, in fact, an untrustworthy

low-life who used people for his own purposes and then discarded them. How

could they have been fooled so badly?

Even now, some continue to delude themselves. They attack

Mr. Clinton’s actions, but they can’t bring themselves to admit that Senator

Hillary also is at fault. Most of us, however, now realize that she is an

equally detestable partner in a scandal whose sleazy dealings finally have been

brought to light.

Conservative critics of the Clintons have been amused to see

the former President’s friends writhing in agony on talk shows and in op-ed

columns in recent weeks. They wonder why other Democrats and liberal

commentators are so angry. It’s not as though the Clintons have suddenly become

something they’re not; they’ve been selling their principles to the highest

bidder for years. It’s not as though they’ve betrayed their core values; what

core values did they ever have?

What the critics-understandably satisfied to see their

judgment confirmed yet again-miss is the amount of self-loathing in the Clinton

pile-on. Pro-Clinton commentators and colleagues now realize just how much they

compromised, just how much they excused, just how ridiculous they looked in

their defense of this corrupt couple. The end of the Clinton Presidency and the

beginning of another Bush era has inspired a round of reflection, and Clinton

supporters find they can’t look at themselves in the mirror.

They are ashamed of themselves, which is a good deal more

than anybody can say of the Clintons. Indeed, they remain smug and

self-righteous, certain that New York will forget the early weeks of 2001,

certain that New York will embrace its junior Senator once again.

They have fooled the public before. They believe they can do

so again.

Let’s hope that this time, they are wrong.