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It was early in the year 2000. In the White House, Bill and Hillary both faced unemployment at the end of the year, though without the usual worries that this entails for most folks. The last couple of years of most 8-year presidencies are difficult, but Bill's had been worse than most. Scandal erupting over the "Clinton Motel" – the Clintons' habit of rewarding political contributors with nights in the Lincoln bedroom –, Bill being the second President in our history to be impeached by the House (the Senate concurring though not with the 2/3 majority required to convict), his Vice President calling his behavior reprehensible, a special prosecutor concluding that he had committed perjury, his lies and prevarications ("it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is") broadcast live to the American people and repeated nightly by TV comedians for everyone's amusement, his chronic and public unfaithfulness to his wife, this self-perceived Casanova's long history of sexual abuse of female employees (even while Governor of Arkansas), his defiling of the oval office and shaming of the presidency, and being made a laughing stock around the world, ... no, it had not been a good couple of years. The Clinton presidency had ended in disgrace.Abstract:
Only the immense, though well hidden, personal ambition of Hillary kept the marriage together. She was of course used to Bill's years-long history of sexual philandering and habitual lying, which as a good and faithful wife she had kept to herself, and as a politician-in-waiting she had decided she'd have to put up with to reach her goals, but sex with an intern in the oval office (despite his broadcast lie: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman") took his brazenness too far. Hillary had been publicly humiliated by his actions. Bill owed his wife a lot.
Fortunately, Bill Clinton was in a position to pay up. We can't know the details until the principals come clean, but it must have been an interesting phone call to the chair of the New York Democratic Party, sometime in early 2000:
"Yo, this is Bill Clinton. President Clinton."Who knows what magic wand Bill waved – jobs, influence, money, pardons – , but the result was that the many New York Congressmen and others who had ambitions of being Senator all magically pulled out of the race, leaving the field to the wife of the President. The lady from Arkansas was suddenly the Democratic nominee for Senator from New York. Which normally means a walk-over in the general election. And then, as if to remind the Republicans that He's not necessarily on their side, God intervened and gave Rudy Giuliani cancer, after which the young Republican replacement candidate was without a chance.
One might have thought that Bill had paid off his debt to Hillary by making her a Senator, but she had greater ambitions. Before long the junior Senator from New York realized that she still had the star power of the First Lady. (I happened to be in Europe in 2005 when a group of senators, led by John McCain, made a European junket for some reason. In all the newspapers I saw, the stories and pictures featured not the leadership of the Senate group, but the junior member, Mrs.Clinton. She was, for some reason, the story.) She found that she attracted attention beyond the ordinary, and her New York Senate race suggested that she could draw votes.
Somehow, although she claimed her political partnership with Bill in the Clinton administration as the core of her CV, the Clinton sleaze didn't seem to have stuck to her. (It hadn't really stuck to "Teflon" Bill, either – he was making millions writing and speaking, shortly after having left office in disgrace.) Not even the pardons handed out to his criminal political cronies and personal friends (including his own brother Roger) on the last day of his presidency had tainted Hillary. (Bill had had the foresight to shift the job of assessing pardon requests from the Justice Department, whose job had for decades been to objectively evaluate the legal merits of such requests, to his White House staff, so that political merit would not be blemished by bothersome legal evaluations.) Somehow, not even the pardon of the fugitive expatriate Marc Rich, who had swindled corporations and individuals out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and who lived in Europe on his winnings, refusing to return to the U.S. to face trial, and whose wife (a friend of Hillary) gave hundreds of thousands of dollars (honestly gained, for sure) to Hillary's Senate campaign, as well as to the Clinton Library, managed to raise any sense of disgust in the electorate. Of course, the media have been very kind to the Clintons after Bill's presidency, and have been content to let these sleeping dogs lie.
Well, now that one of the sleeping dogs has awakened and is running for President, the time may have come to ask those difficult questions. Hillary, What about the Clinton Motel? The Lincoln bedroom to the highest donor? Is that your view of our White House? Perhaps you thought it was your White House? What about the pardons of your crooked personal friends and campaign donors (are those really honestly gotten funds?), and what about your brother representing pardon applicants to your husband? Wasn't that an ethical problem? What about your lies to the American people that the stories of Monica servicing Bill in the oval office were fabrications of the Republicans, when you must have known they were true? And about your CV: If the chief experience you claim is that of being a wife and unofficial collaborator in the White House in the 1990s (and it is), aren't you responsible for the sleaze as well? Presenting yourself as the faithful wife, aren't you in part responsible for presenting Bill to the nation as a worthy candidate for President, when you were the only one of us who knew him to be a cad with the morals of a dog? You put one over on us, Hillary.
Well, Hillary in the end deserves to be evaluated on her own merits and demerits. But those must of course include the totality of the experience she presents us with. Taking credit for successes of the Clinton administration won't fly unless she is also held to account for its failures, including the disastrous ethical and moral failures of the "Clinton team". But what's her alternative? She could disown the Clinton years, erase them somehow from her CV, but then what is left? We're then looking at someone who held some minor lawyer jobs in Arkansas twenty-some years ago, and who has never been in charge of anything. Nothing at all!
Perhaps the position of Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Government and Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces would be a nice place for someone like that to get their start at organizational leadership. America, you can't be serious.
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