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CLINTONS DESERVE A FRIEND IN COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION

Sooner or later, it's all bound to die down. The Clintons will stop drawing censure and japery with every breath. The former president will get on with whatever it is that requires an entire floor of the old office of Talk magazine to do. And the new junior senator from New York will get on with the very serious business of fulfilling the promises she made to a hopeful and needy upstate electorate.

They can't leave the White House again so the world won't, in horror, catch them in the act of carting off furnishings, and for all we know, gift cases of peanut brittle. Bill Clinton can't give any more people presidential pardons, thereby giving ammunition to those who can't seem to enjoy getting up in the morning if there isn't a Clinton in their gunsights.

And the only memoir to get more publisher's millions will be Bill's himself and you can bet your guppy food that he's not shopping around a "Been There, Done That" Eddie Fisher-style yarn about all the women he's enchanted with illicit impromptu recitals of zipper music. What we won't get, after all, is the kind of talk Vernon Jordan said that he and Bill used to exchange on their golf cart.

What that leaves, the way I see it, is defending the Clintons which I'm beginning to think is one of the more rigorous intellectual exercises of our time. No Jesuit school ever offered theological training more gymnastic than this.

At the very least, it's good mental exercise to defend the Clintons against all current mud-flingers. It's the devil's advocate position, you see -- the pro argument in a good spirited school debate that no one wants to take but someone has to. So I'm going to take a crack at it.

Absconding with the spoons. This one, let's admit, doesn't look good. When presidents depart the White House, they're not supposed to pack up Franklin Pierce's old tea cups and Franklin Roosevelt's doggie bed for Fala. They didn't literally take those, but let's all pay attention to the most obvious facts of Clintonian life: for a huge chunk of their married lives, they seem to have been recipients of charity living in a governor's manse or a White House. If you don't also have your own pied-a-terre in Oshkosh and ranch house in Rancho Mirage that you really do call home, you can lose perspective on what really belongs to you. You can also lose all sense of how, in a life of giving service to your country, what was given to you wasn't given to you but to the service you gave. You might begin to figure "doesn't anything belong to us?"

This really is our fault to some extent. We've grown so dependent on millionaires in the White House that we've forgotten what it's like to have needy non-millionaire citizens occupy it. Why should we castigate them for being as needful as anyone else, including ourselves?

The Marc Rich pardon. This is the one the Clinton-haters are stoked about. It may yet produce proof of quid pro quo corruption. But presidential pardons are an old outgoing presidential tradition. And it stands to reason that everyone pardoned had to do something wrong (otherwise they wouldn't need pardoning).

Is it not likely that you'd pardon a friend or a friend of a friend rather than a sworn enemy? If your whole public life has been lived out on a kind of massive private assistance program, why wouldn't you think forgivingly about the ex-husband of one your larger benefactors? The book deal. Sorry, the mud-flingers never had a leg to stand on here. Eight million dollars for Hillary Clinton's memoirs seems like a sound investment to me. What's going to come out of this, no doubt, is not an "and then he groped . . ." memoir or a confession that it takes a village (of women) to please a president.

The potential here is for one woman's Up From Humiliation saga, an Oprah book to End All Oprah books about How to Be a Wronged Wife and Misunderstood Woman and Still Triumph. There's probably a way to write her story that is juicy, revelatory and, most importantly, "inspirational" all at the same time. It will sell a ton. An $8 million bet that she can do it seems like sound business to me.

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