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Newsweek continues to consider itself a legitimate news source and not a vehicle for the Left, a fact which endlessly fascinates your author. Now, as vehicles for the Left go, Newsweek is fairly harmless, in that it states its case rather plainly under the cover of its reporting. It’s not Ramparts, so at least you can take the material at its face, and occasionally learn something you didn’t know four dollars ago.
These observations occur to me because, as there were no viable alternatives in the magazine rack, I bought the April eighth Newsweek for the Bill Clinton feature. This was the first issue I’d purchased since their abortion of a cover story on professional wrestling (February seventh, 2000) and not for years before; flipping through the occasional issue lead only to eye rolling and stifled laughter, but no purchase. What bothersome about Newsweek is not that it’s a Leftist vehicle, certainly I of all people can relate to wanting to take a side. No, what bothers me is the fact there are very few serious news magazines left, and Newsweek is not one of them. As it stands now, take away this issue’s spread on the Israel / Palestinian conflict and George Will’s token conservative column, and what you have is a slightly more serious version of People.
Jonathan Alter has written, with a few superficial bumps, a love letter to Bill Clinton. Not once does Alter challenge the former President on serious points of contention other than the Marc Rich pardon, a non-starter by anyone’s definition. Instead the reader is treated to a five-and-a-half page review of an interview you would much rather read, followed by four pages of very badly constructed softball questions and answers. Interviews of this sort irritate because the layout leaves the reader with no sense of a complete conversation between two people where valuable knowledge or insights may have been imparted. I would have preferred a Playboy-type piece; if you’re going to dedicate nine pages to any former President, you could at least dedicate nine full pages, ignoring the rough copy of his daily schedule, pictures of the celebrities he hangs with, et cetera.
Onward: the article (a term meant to include the interview excerpts as well) employs a few constant principles, the main topic being the Right-wing’s obsession with Bill Clinton. This is eluded to loosely in the very first sentence (“Living well is at least some revenge.”) and specifically for the first time in the third paragraph (“The man’s still a radioactive isotope for millions, so here’s a little speculative math to drive the Clinton haters nuts …”). Clinton’s newfound wealth is indeed spectacular , but we are now lead to assume that, in amassing dozens of millions of dollars, he has stuck it to the Right. Well, no. Reasonable people cannot begrudge him any money he makes, but the Republican does hope the former President appreciates how much money he loses due to direct taxation, in which he had no small hand.
Here I will permit myself to speak for the Right: We would love to completely forget about the ex-President – oh! how we would love to forget him – if only he would go away, and then forget about the Right in return. But neither of these has been immediately forthcoming, and won’t be any time soon. Former Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush did what they did afterward (books, speeches, whatever) and went away, leaving their public lives to history. Bill Clinton won’t ever fully go away because he’s so in love with the attention afforded him.
And yet, scattered throughout the article, direct and indirect slaps are taken at the Right. In addition to the “speculative math” bit, the article makes repeated references to how the Right headhunted him, one reference to the “Right-wing conspiracy,” direct comparisons to the Reagan and Bush administrations and the “double standard” when he’s compared to those men … this goes on and on, nearly to the point of irritation. One gets the impression Bill Clinton relies just as heavily on the Right as the Right relies on him; that if the Right suddenly abandoned his sustained silliness, no matter how contained, he would be miserable. Clinton draws energy from the Right, as it’s part of what makes and motivates him, and vice versa. He needs us, we need him.
None of this escapes me. In this space months ago I announced my intention to stop writing about and referencing Bill Clinton so often. In my case, Clinton is an example of what’s wrong with particular political and social philosophies among liberals … in addition, I rallied against Clintonism itself (liberalism taken to its most illogical extremes), no matter who employed it. The problem is, Bill Clinton lies and exaggerates rather consistently (in public, or else no one would notice), and Jonathan Alter is only the latest historical constructionist willing to lie and distort on his behalf. The Right continues against Clinton because he and his supporters continue to lie.
Here are the things about Bill Clinton I believe no rational person can dispute: He is a public relations freak of nature, a once-in-a-generation politician, a political genius. As a free man left to his own means, he’s worth whatever other free men are willing to pay him (though I question Knopf in the matter of his autobiography; Knopf stands virtually no chance of making a substantive profit given the $12 million advance). I’ll allow he’s probably a hell of a guy to drink beer, chase chicks and watch football with. I’d even allow he’s an able debater, a brilliant public speaker and a great conversationalist. I believe he’s a man of grand ideas, a few of them worthwhile. And in the end, I believe Bill Clinton was in a position to spearhead a truly meaningful presidency, had he not acted like himself.
When you consider the matter fully, that may be the most frustrating part: Bill Clinton could have been a superior President (as opposed to the mediocre President he was) but couldn’t, given his constant failings and steadfast refusal to act like a grown man for at least four years (as a lame duck, he could have certainly skated a bit in his second term). One detects an odd immaturity that flies in the face of his age, displayed (in my mind) no more prominently than in a passage regarding the Marc Rich pardon, where Alter takes his firmest shot. “Even now, Clinton cannot admit the obvious point that the [pardon] was simply wrong, insisting heatedly in his first sit down interview about life after the presidency … that he ‘got mugged on the way out the door.”
What?! You’d think Alter, who goes far out of his way to compare Clinton’s reign to previous Republican administrations, would have made reference to the relative firestorm that surrounded George H.W. Bush’s pardons on the day he left office. Even I have mentioned them in the negative connotation, as recently as last May and frequently in 1996. Alas, Clinton’s contention that his being “mugged on the way out the door” neglects the fact he’s not the only President to have this trouble. At 55, he’s still too much of a child to accept the fact he’s to be blamed for his own mistakes.
Later, Jonathan Alter asks, “Why do you think the right wing [sic] was so obsessed with you?” Clinton’s answer begins with, “I think because I won. I think the people in the permanent right-wing establishment just thought they were entitled to rule. That’s why they were so traumatized when I got elected.” This must have been the permanent Right-wing establishment that, prior to 1995, hadn’t had a majority in both seats of Congress since the Eisenhower administration. Maybe it was the permanent Right-wing establishment that stood steady and allowed each closing session of Congress to represent a step closer to complete American socialism. Perhaps it was the permanent Right-wing establishment who allowed the Constitution to become not only a full service social and welfare services document, but a piece of toilet paper as well. Or was it the permanent Right-wing establishment who was generally derided, laughed at and chastised for making note after note of this society’s intellectual and moral failings (no more prevalent than within Clinton himself)?
Certainly he cannot mean the permanent Right-wing establishment within the presidency itself? Would this be anything like the permanent Left-wing establishment that began in 1933 when That Old Socialist won his first term and continued unabated until Harry Truman left office twenty years later? Or the permanent Left-wing establishment within Congress that existed for most of the four decades preceding the 1994 mid-term elections? Or the permanent Left-wing establishment that has for decades taken the media as its own? The point is, there aren’t so much permanent establishments within political office as there are choices made my majorities of voters. Bill Clinton would be wise to remember that if not for Ross Perot, he himself would be another footnote in the storied Reagan / Bush permanent Right-wing establishment.
Remember also that when Bill Clinton references the permanent Right-wing establishment, he hopes to not only invoke the grand old Right-wing conspiracy, but perhaps add several years to its alleged life. I will state this again here as forcefully as I can, in hope some liberals will read this column and finally understand: Yes, there were people willing to go to any extreme to have Bill Clinton removed from office, a train of thought I cannot understand as long as they could have stood back and allowed the man to disintegrate on his own. But there was no more a contained conspiracy against Bill Clinton than there was against Richard Nixon, in that both men created by themselves the circumstances under which they imploded.
There is not a conspiracy so grand it can force the president of the United States to lie two or three dozen times in two separate sets of federal testimony; or force him to have his staff defend him out of their ignorance; or bomb foreign countries in hopes of hiding the fact his mistress was testifying that day. Even if the Republican party could have convinced an Arkansas State trooper to bring Paula Jones to Clinton’s hotel room, they couldn’t have made him drop his pants and ask for service. Even if the Republican party could have produced a half naked, soaking wet from the waist down Monica Lewinsky to Clinton in the Oval Office, they couldn’t make him an adulterer, or force him to use Lewinsky as a humidor.
The Republican party in the mid to late 1990s couldn’t have conspired to complete a Congress-wide lunch order, much less undermine and destroy the President of the United States. There wasn’t in place the leadership required to destroy an amazingly (and mysteriously) popular President, no matter how badly some of them may have wanted him gone (Bob Barr comes to mind). Hell, the Republican party of today can’t even conspire to get its judicial nominees approved. The idea of a conspiracy / establishment comes off as foolish and childish. If Bill Clinton had done nothing wrong – if he hadn’t broken the law, if he hadn’t perjured himself, if he hadn’t suborned perjury from others, if he hadn’t hidden and destroyed evidence – he would have been fine.
Elsewhere Alter mentions, “Of course, the news last month that the eight-year, $73 million Whitewater investigation … turned up no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Clintons confirmed all over again his contempt for the prosecutors and the press (which, typically, buried the exonerating story after hyping the charges for years).” I struggle here in determining where to begin, this one sentence is so wrong … most of can agree that most substantive news stories involving things other than the Tragedies, the Afghan War and the Israeli / Palestinian conflict have gone away rather quickly since last September, with or without good reason. Robert Ray’s final report was generally left to the 24 hour cable news channels to dissect, and it should indeed have been a bigger story, but not because it found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
In total, the independent counsel convicted 14 co-conspirators and plea bargained with Jim and Susan McDougal, Jim Guy Tucker and Webster Hubbell, all connected to Bill and Hillary Clinton. The report states, “[W]hile evidence does exist to indicate Governor Clinton’s knowing participation, that evidence was, ultimately, of insufficient weight and insufficiently corroborated, to obtain and sustain a criminal prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, they had him and they lost him; although certain strong cases could have been made for perjury and obstruction of justice cases against the former President, Ray dealt with those issues in his own way.
That way was the “Agreed Order of Discipline.” The Wall Street Journal on April eighth best summed up the agreement this way: “It stipulated that [Clinton] ‘knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers’ about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, violating Arkansas legal ethics. He agreed to accept suspension of his law license for five years [as if he had plans on using it] and to pay a fine of $25,000.” What’s more, “[T]he Arkansas judge found him in contempt for the same testimony, and he paid more than $90,000, not to mention the $850,000 settlement in the Paula Jones suit.” Now I ask you, Are any of those the actions of a man who lives in the confidence of his actions, who knows he can stand up to any substantive legal challenge?
The last excerpt I’d like to mention here comes about as close to offending me as possible by a politician. In fact, not since President Bush came up with “compassionate conservatism” have I been this close to being offended by a politician. In regards to the Tragedies, “Clinton made no secret of his frustration over missing the biggest presidential leadership challenge of his generation. ‘It was painful for him,’ says one person who saw him last fall. ‘He has prepared all of his life for something truly big like this.’ Now the ex-president is contesting even that, insisting that the war on terrorism, while important, ‘is not like World War II at all’ and will eventually be seen in the context not of the Bush presidency but of Clinton’s global achievements [emphasis original].”
The idea repels because it suggests Bill Clinton was waiting around for a profound tragedy before he could take the threat of foreign terrorists, or their actions in the meantime, seriously. It also suggests it would have taken something like the World Trade Center collapse for him to shine brilliantly against foreign powers, and anything other than what president Bush had to face in the weeks and months following the Tragedies was strictly small time, not worthy of his full attention.
Can you even begin to understand the depth of depravity that must fester inside of a man who’s disappointed because he wasn’t in office at the time of this country’s greatest catastrophe? This is beyond even egotism and self-centeredness; so remarkably shallow I cannot fathom for a minute this is what was intended when the article was written. That’s right, not even I can believe Bill Clinton is this incredibly small-minded and ridiculous; this cannot possibly be as it sounds. On this I’m giving the full benefit of the doubt, because the implication is too awful to consider, even for the intellectual wasteland that is Clintonism.
In the end, the Newsweek article could have been a pivotal point in the magazine’s recent history. All Presidents carry with them decisions and issues on which they should be directly questioned by interviewers, hopefully those whose vested interest is uncovering a truth no one else could uncover. Unfortunately for Newsweek and anyone in search of specific knowledge, Jonathan Alter was not the man for the job. After finishing the article, one gets the impression Alter sat across from Clinton, laughing now and again, tapping him on his foot and saying things like, “You’re terrible!” As much as I’d like to believe otherwise, Newsweek has left me no choice. More importantly, it left its normal readers no other choice, and in publishing a very bad article, cheated them out of four dollars besides.
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