The latest Clinton scandal spasm was much like all the
others that had preceded it: a sudden deluge of facts, rumors, assumptions and
contradictions, mostly devoid of context, framed by weak, slow or nonexistent
explanations from the targets themselves. As usual, the outrage that greeted
the alleged misbehavior of the departing First Family and their associates was
selective and somewhat fraudulent. And all too familiar, as well, was the
collusion of the Clintons in their own embarrassment.
This farewell frenzy began with tough, fully justified
questions about the scores of pardons signed by Bill Clinton during the final
morning of his Presidency. Of particular concern were the mercies Mr. Clinton
bestowed upon the unrepentant fugitive swindler Marc Rich, and also upon four
felons from the upstate Hasidic community of New Square. Rather than grand
gestures of magnanimity, those pardons looked and smelled like small-time
favors awarded to political supporters in an abuse of Constitutional authority.
But the pardons issue was quickly overtaken by tales of wild
Clintonite excess, with the vanquished barbarians looting and vandalizing as
they fled. The Clintons themselves were said to have stripped the executive
residence of $190,000 worth of art, furnishings and various costly trinkets.
Many of those items had supposedly been given by friends and donors since
Election Day at the behest of Hillary Rodham Clinton, to avoid Senate rules
that prohibit acceptance of expensive gifts. Indeed, the new junior Senator
from New York had reportedly gone so far as to register her gift preferences at
Borsheim’s, a tony emporium in Omaha.
Meanwhile, gossip trickled out (to be posted instantaneously
on the Drudge Report) about horrendous offenses perpetrated by the Clintons’
faithful staffers on their way out. Anonymous sources claimed that the Clintonites
hadn’t merely removed the W’s on some computer keyboards, but had wrecked the
executive offices, cut telephone lines, sabotaged machinery and, of course,
festooned the joint with pornography. Then these Democrat delinquents were
accused, still anonymously, of absconding with every piece of linen and
crockery on Air Force One.
Encouraged none too subtly by the Bush communications team,
those stories enabled the Washington media to create an image they had long
wished for: the cleansing of the capital by an upstanding Republican. Like so
much of the media’s depiction of the Clintons and their associates over the
past eight years, this too was largely fantasy. In recent days, Bush adviser
Karl Rove has been heard chortling over polling data that showed how
effectively these smears had played into a
desired propaganda theme of national renewal, according to a Washington
source. (Mr. Rove didn’t return a call seeking comment.)
The Clintons no longer possess their vaunted
“rapid-response” capability, but gradually the truth emerged about all those
awful accusations regarding their last days in office. More than merely
exaggerated, the stories of looting and vandalizing were almost entirely without foundation in fact. That didn’t stop them from being printed
and broadcast, with hardly an attempt at checking for accuracy.
Asked to verify the trashing of the White House offices, the
Bush press office quickly backed down. The Air Force released a statement
denying that anything of consequence had been stolen from the President’s
plane. Both Borsheim’s and Mrs. Clinton denied that she had placed any wish
list with the store. And the gifts turned out to be personal items given to the
Clintons over the past several years-with an inflation-adjusted value roughly equal
to what the elder Bushes had taken with them in 1993, and far lower than the
house bought for the Reagans by Presidential friends in 1987. (For a thorough
critique, see Eric Boehlert’s Jan. 30 article on Salon.com.)
The Washington media’s obsession with trivia and baseless
rumor does not, however, excuse the former President’s poor judgment on the
Rich and New Square pardons. Whatever reasoned basis may exist for those
decisions, it was clearly wrong for Mr. Clinton to stretch his own procedures
for granting pardons in those cases, while others who obeyed his regulations
got so little relief. It was wrong because the odor of favoritism was so
powerful, and because once again the wealthy and well-connected were proved to
have an unfair advantage in a justice system
that should treat everyone equally. Instead Mr. Rich, a man who
renounced his citizenship rather than submit to an American jury, was freed
from criminal liability, while more deserving citizens remain imprisoned.
In addition to being morally suspect, the Rich and New
Square pardons were stupid mistakes. They let the restored Bush administration
ostentatiously fumigate the White House, while simultaneously stinking up the
fresh start of Mrs. Clinton’s political career. For a man who is probably the
brightest President this country has elected in many years, Mr. Clinton managed
to look pretty dumb at the end.
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