Column

Clinton defenders are rewriting history

At least Nixon had the decency to see that his trial would profoundly embarrass and rend America— and he resigned

Barbara Amiel August 24 1998
Column

Clinton defenders are rewriting history

At least Nixon had the decency to see that his trial would profoundly embarrass and rend America— and he resigned

Barbara Amiel August 24 1998

Clinton defenders are rewriting history

Column

At least Nixon had the decency to see that his trial would profoundly embarrass and rend America— and he resigned

Barbara Amiel

Some exceptionally witty columns are being written about President Clinton’s woes. “The dress is back,” begins Mark Steyn in The Spectator. “It’s a simple little cocktail number in basic navy blue but with a tasteful accent of dried semen in the middle.” Mr. Clinton’s priapic exploits are irresistible in this sense. But damn it, watching Clinton being crucified for his consensual sexual activity is like seeing Nero damned for fiddling while Rome burned—a distraction from the ills for which these men actually are responsible.

The endless media preoccupation with Miss Lewinsky’s drycleaning needs and oral hygiene methods has become a handy peg for Clinton apologists to hang their arguments on. A new theme, too, has emerged in their anti-Ken Starr, pro-Clinton protestations and it is this:

Richard Nixon was a bad president who committed dire crimes in stark contrast to the innocent and accomplished, if somewhat libidinous, Bill.

We live in both an ahistorical age and one of memory-challenged media, so let’s briefly review the Middle Ages when Richard Nixon resigned. On June 17,1972, some slimy people broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Nixon— not, I hasten to add, a man I admired in policies or person—knew anything about the break-in in advance. However, he lied to the American people on television (sound familiar?) when he said all he had done was ask for an investigation into the Watergate affair.

In a “smoking gun” tape, it became clear that the minute Nixon learned about the break-in, he began planning a coverup, urging some of his people to lie about aspects of the burglary. He saw the break-in as a major threat to his re-election campaign and tried to keep it hushed up by refusing to let staff testify to Congress until after the November vote, which he won by the greatest majority in American history.

There were also charges that he tried to influence the FBI investigation of Watergate and sidetrack it into the blind alley of a CIA matter by suggesting the break-in was a foreign conspiracy on the basis that the burglars included Cubans. The House of Representatives voted three articles of impeachment, but what is not at all clear is whether a serious judicial process could have convicted Nixon beyond a reasonable doubt of the constitutionally required criterion for removal from office of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Nixon’s deep neurosis, which at times bordered on paranoia, was so self-destructive that he had a presidential death wish, and is actualized in the tape recordings he made of his own ill-conceived acts. The best punishment for him might have been to see a psychiatrist for a couple of months and then we all might have been spared the

horror of the Carter presidency. At least Nixon had the decency to see that his trial would rend and profoundly embarrass America— and he resigned. He lived long enough to overcome the neurosis and opprobrium.

Nothing, it seems, can embarrass Bill Clinton. The Whitewater investigation into the financial dealings of Bill, Hillary and friends has already seen his associate attorney general and former Hillary law partner Webster Hubbell convicted of embezzling. What is the relevance of this conviction (and other investigations of Clinton cronies, staff and cabinet members) to Starr’s inquiry? It is to show a pattern of corruption leading in an unbroken path from Arkansas to Washington that includes inappropriate use of campaign funds and involvement in sleazy business deals facilitated by the power of high office—whether as governor or president.

Nixon’s circle cracked when its members were sentenced to jail for contempt of court after refusing to answer questions about Watergate (with the exception of Gordon Liddy). Clinton’s circle bites bullets rather than answer questions about Whitewater.

But if the questions about Whitewater remain unanswered, there are issues that ought to be the stuff of intense national and media debate. A Hillary protégé in Clinton’s office tried to get from the FBI over 900 files on prominent Republicans. What sort of a presidency does such a thing? More important is the very serious matter of the possible subversion of the American election by Chinese and Indonesian money. Clinton’s implication in his recent trip to China that Taiwan’s future status would be an internal Chinese matter may well have been his policy without campaign funds from Chinese sources, but the granting of satellite export licences for China

after questionable campaign donations was surely a bridge too far. For my money, that alone is an impeachment issue.

Because of the rivetting sexual soap opera, little attention is paid to the sort of America Bill Clinton has tried to create. Congress, for one, has stopped Clinton’s attempts for more affirmative action policies in the private workplace, but the public service is full of politically correct divisiveness including the politics of ethnicity, gender and “diversity.” Hillary and Bill were the great proponents of inane and insane definitions of sexual harassment and now they are being hoisted on their own petard.

But delicious as poetic justice may be, I really wish Ken Starr had not latched on to this. I do hope Clinton gets off on these sexual charges as much as I hope that Attorney General Janet Reno will re-define her job as the prosecution of potential criminals in high government office rather than as a frenetic defender of the president, vice-president and her cabinet colleagues—five of whom have already had their own special prosecutors. But I’m not holding my breath.