Media’s Clinton Obsession Is Giving Bush a Free Pass

That era of bipartisan good feeling promised by George W.

Bush didn’t last long, did it? Three weeks after their leader took up residence

in the White House, Mr. Bush’s friends, appointees and media claque are in hot,

barking pursuit of the prior occupants.

With the President’s mild demurral, Republican politicians and

Washington talking heads have displayed little interest in any topic besides

their obsession with bringing down the Clintons. Phony charges about illicit

gifts and office vandalism proliferated, along with valid complaints about

inappropriate pardons and excessive rental costs. In the reporting of these

latest “scandals,” few distinctions were made between facts and fantasies, or

between the serious and the trivial.

Over the past week the clamor grew louder still, with two

Congressional committees mounting new probes of Bill Clinton and the new

Attorney General announcing that he would welcome a probe of the Marc Rich

pardon. The Sunday New York Post

fronted a fabricated story by Dick Morris claiming that Hillary Clinton had

illegally concealed gifts of jewelry and clothing. They were all topped,

however, by Senator Arlen Specter, who hinted bizarrely in a televised

interview that the former President could be impeached again, and thus deprived

of his pension and Secret Service protection. This is the sort of brilliant

idea that has made the Pennsylvania Republican such an ornament of statecraft.

Let’s catch our breath for a few moments and consider the

historical context of this post-inaugural eruption.

The last time anyone accused a President of abusing the

pardon power was when the senior George Bush awarded amnesty to six key

defendants in the Iran-contra affair. Certain conservative pundits, like Robert

Novak, praised this butt-covering proclamation as the greatest moment of the

elder Mr. Bush’s career, but others admitted

that it was merely a scheme to avoid embarrassing testimony about his

own role in the scandal.

The departing President Bush had to endure nothing worse

than a few weeks of scathing editorial commentary. His offense was quickly

forgotten, along with his own lies and concealment of crucial evidence from the

special prosecutor. And by contrast with the current controversy, there was no

hint of a Congressional investigation; incoming President Clinton heeded the

urgings of Washington’s establishment and let the unpleasantness fade away.

Or at least he hoped to

do so, presumably under the illusion that he might enjoy some respite from

partisan warfare. Instead Mr. Clinton had the briefest honeymoon of any

President in recent history, with the Republicans immediately declaring his election illegitimate and commencing their eternal jihad

against him and his wife.

Still, Mr. Clinton never sought an investigation of the Bush

pardons, particularly the mercy extended to former Defense Secretary Caspar

Weinberger. The circumstances were at least as troubling as the deplorable Rich

case, but the Democrats let it pass. Had anyone cared then about pardons that

seemed suspiciously related to campaign contributions, they might also have

scrutinized President Bush’s 1989 pardon of the late Armand Hammer. That case

excited no great indignation, although Hammer had given more than $100,000 to

the Republican Party in 1988, and then, just months before he was pardoned, the

crooked industrialist had guaranteed another loan of $100,000 to the first Bush

inauguration.

Speaking of dubious inaugural sponsors, there are fresher

indications of influence-buying that deserve journalistic attention-that is, if

the national media ever become bored with the Clintons. Alert citizens have

probably heard that the entire state of California is being gouged by energy

companies unleashed to do their worst. Among those profiting big time from the Golden State’s distress is a firm called Enron,

whose chief executive, Kenneth Lay, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to

the Bush-Cheney campaign and to the recent inaugural. Naturally, Mr. Lay has

been advising his friend George W. on how to cope with the California crisis,

which has meant doing nothing to stop the banditry encouraged by deregulation.

Amazingly, Mr. Bush’s fund-raisers managed to solicit nearly $40 million for their January celebrations in

just a month of pleading telephone calls. Most of the loot came from corporate

leaders who desire favors from the White House. The pharmaceutical industry,

for instance, gave generously and saw its main lobbyist appointed to head the

Office of Management and Budget. Yet the corporate domination of the Bush White

House is deemed far less worthy of investigation and comment by the Washington

press corps than whether the Clintons took the wrong sofa with them to

Chappaqua.

For all his rhetoric

about it being “time to move on,” Mr. Bush must be well pleased by the angry

uproar over the Clintons’ departure. And why not? So long as the country is

preoccupied with the former President’s mistakes, both real and imagined,

nobody is likely to notice what mischief his successor is up to. Media’s Clinton Obsession Is Giving Bush a Free Pass