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
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
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.