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