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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 1999 /25 Tishrei, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Annals of Clintoniana -- THERE IT WAS, buried on Page 12A of the New York Times in a story about Janet Reno's latest change of memory or just position about what happened to all those people at Waco.

It had to be the quote of the week and maybe of the decade. Yet it seems to have slithered by unnoted, like the kind of art that is so common nobody appreciates it any more. We pass it by like obscene graffiti on crumbling city walls. Yet it may be the emblematic quote of this whole administration, summing up both the compleat self-righteousness and by now automatic moral amnesia of the Clinton Years.

This single, exquisite sentence came from one of the current Mike McCurrys on the White House staff, a spokesman named Jake Siewert. His name scarcely matters; his art lies in the complete forgettableness of what he has said. Because if anyone really paid attention, the bitter smiles would be unbearable. This is what he said: "The president is deeply concerned that the attorney general appears to have been misled and may have been lied to.''

Shocking. Yes, by now we all know how this president feels about being misled and lied to.

Unless of course he is the one doing the lying and misleading.

Did anyone else notice that single, classic sentence -- the sheer, doubtless unconscious, contumacious sweep of it, as if it were possible to take such a pose seriously? Or did it just disappear into the vast, uncaring air of public indifference into which this fading administration now seems destined to disappear without a trace?

Clinton Fatigue, they call it, the unspoken and almost mutual recognition that nothing about this endgame is worth paying attention to, that we are all just playing out the moves in a ritual that no longer matters. And yet that one sentence is worth recording somewhere, like an epitaph for meaning when it has died:

The president is deeply concerned that the attorney general appears to have been misled and may have been lied to.


This guy Siewert either has mastered the art of unconscious irony, or he's the last of the great straight-faced kidders.

A final irony: Even the most blatant ironies now go unremarked. They have become unremarkable.


As still another Clinton scandal grinds on toward its sad end, I keep hearing from others in Arkansas urging a pardon for Tyson's Archie Schaffer. It seems he got caught up in a mess involving illegal gifts to this administration's first secretary of agriculture, Mike Espy. But he remains everybody's favorite Arkansas lobbyist.

I can understand that. But I'd be opposed to a pardon for Archie now, likable a guy as he is. Even when arguing with him over some petty political matter. I've always found him candid, convivial, convinced -- the way everybody in politics should be.

Okay, maybe a little cantankerous on occasion, but who isn't? I certainly am. If curmudgeonhood were a crime, who should 'scape whipping? Life would be so much poorer without its Menckens or even Carvilles. And certainly without its Archie Schaffers.

Though he may not believe it, and it certainly doesn't help him, I feel for Archie -- and think of him with some frequency and even more sympathy. He doesn't deserve all this. And it's the kind of mess almost any lobbyist could have gotten himself into. But that's how the law often raises standards: by making the usual the criminal.

Archie Schaffer was just caught practicing an older, shoddier, almost expected kind of gift-giving when the standards got ratcheted up on him, and now he's being ground in the gears.

But as a general principle, pardons should not be granted till the law has run its course. I say as a general principle, excepting cases where an obvious injustice has been done the accused. One thinks of Captain Dreyfus, he of the famous trial in France. Closer to home and our time, I would've pardoned Caspar Weinberger, the former secretary of defense, as soon as Lawrence Walsh managed to get him indicted on the eve of a presidential election. Because that ploy was so clearly a product of political, and by that time fanatical, prejudice.

And I would've pardoned Robert E. Lee as soon as he filled out the application, instead of waiting a century or so. By then I doubt our generation was worthy of pardoning a Robert E. Lee, though doubtless, magnanimous as always, the general would have accepted the pardon in the name of peace and unity.

If, after all his appeals are exhausted, Archie Schaffer stays convicted, I'd be all for fully pardoning him 24 hours after sentence was pronounced; he's suffered enough. I know it's easy enough for me to say this, but letting his case play out in the courts might be better for Archie's sake, too. He would be afforded an opportunity to exhaust every appeal and maybe even win a dismissal and vindication.

Besides, I think the Clinton-appointed judge who tried Archie Schaffer's case (The Hon. James Robertson) is one of the more prejudiced clintonoids on the bench, as his overturned rulings in this case and Webb Hubbell's amply demonstrate.


How quaint: A judge in Columbia, South Carolina, has sentenced a lawyer to four months in prison for lying to a grand jury about some taped conversations he leaked to the press. To quote the judge, The Hon. and honorable Dennis Shedd: "To have an officer representing the bar calculatingly lie and commit perjury to the grand jury is the worst thing I can think of.'' Not only is the judge's imagination limited, but his standards sound sadly outdated.

Judge Shedd clearly hasn't kept up with the latest in impeachment law. His Honor sounds positively pre-Clinton. Maybe we could send Arkansas' Dale Bumpers over to South Carolina to straighten him out.


Talk about an abstract exercise: The independent counsel investigating the secretary of labor, Alexis Herman, went to the White House the other day to take sworn testimony from this president. To what end? Who would believe him under oath?

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate