Jewish World Review Nov. 24, 2004 / 11 Kislev5765

Paul Greenberg

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The Clinton library's sanitized history

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. - George Orwell

Maybe I haven't visited enough presidential libraries. And, yes, I do know they all inevitably have something worshipful about them; it's in their nature. But I can't recall anything - anything! - so blatantly partisan, so full of just plain bullfeathers, so completely . . . Orwellian in its approach to the truth as one display at the newly opened Clinton Library here in Little Rock.

You really need to see it to disbelieve it. I never spotted anything quite like it at Hyde Park, which is dedicated to the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt, or even at Austin, where Lyndon B. Johnson's greatness is celebrated in typically Texas-style hyperbole. And certainly not at Independence, Mo., where plainspoken Harry Truman used to take US awed history students on fast-paced tours complete with his Show-Me commentary, which spared none of his rivals. Now there was a man who could be counted on to call a spade a damned shovel!

The description of his impeachment in Bill Clinton's new presidential library beats anything I've ever seen at a supposedly historical exhibit. Its flawless Newspeak brings to mind the airbrushed prose of the Late Great Soviet Encyclopedia, in which any embarrassing images would be dutifully erased in successive annual editions.

Maybe there's something at the Nixon Library out in California that compares to the Clinton Library's attempt to whitewash history, but I doubt it could surpass this exhibit and, yes, exhibition.

Here generations of innocent schoolchildren will be told how an innocent president, the sainted William Jefferson Clinton, was martyred by a Republican mob, aka the Radical Right. Not since those endless, unreadable editorials in the old Pravda has a text adhered so faithfully and dully to a party line.

To get the full, gagging effect, you'd have to slog your way through the whole, indigestible text, which I'll mercifully spare you. Suffice it to say that any resemblance to the real history of that era, which many of us suffered through in stunned embarrassment, is purely coincidental. The text of the exhibits reflects reality only in the way a funhouse mirror does:

In the 1990s, it became common right-wing practice not just to attack Democrats' ideas, but also to question their motives, morals and patriotism. The 'politics of personal destruction' was central to the Republican strategy. . . . Seeking to steer America sharply to the right, Republican leaders pursued a radical agenda through radical means. They used new tools and tactics - lawsuits, investigations, new partisan media, front groups, a secret slush fund, and deeply divisive rhetoric . . . . attempting to deny the very legitimacy of the president's election.

Sound familiar? Is this a retread of the Nixon Defense or a reference to the attempt to deny the legitimacy of George W. Bush's presidency after the election of 2000? No, it's a supposedly objective view of the second presidential impeachment in American history. And it concludes:

The impeachment battle was not about the Constitution or rule of law, but was instead a quest for power that the president's opponents could not win at the ballot box.

Law? Truth? Sacred Oaths?

All irrelevant. Just a cover for the "politics of persecution."


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Can this be what Skip Rutherford, official keeper of the Clinton flame, meant when he assured us that the library would present an objective picture of the Clinton presidency, with both sides of the impeachment debate fairly and factually depicted? What a farce he's lent himself to.

I'm not surprised by the usual Clintonoids, who've always been ready to rationalize anything their boss did or said. And who look upon history as just another test of raw political power - just a kind of tug-of-war between differing viewpoints: "We have our perspective. If Mr. Starr gets his own library, he'll get his perspective." - former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

What arrogance. What cynicism. As if history were nothing more than the product of some Carvillian war room.

But as every apparatchik knows, the real trick to disguising propaganda as history isn't what's said but what isn't. Some terms are clearly verboten in these sacred precincts. For example: Never mention Perjury and Obstruction of Justice. And in all the words devoted to this whitewash, I didn't see what will surely be the most (in)famous words Bill Clinton ever uttered: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman - Miss Lewinsky." Surely that one will make "Bartlett's" if it hasn't already.

And never, never say that Bill Clinton repeatedly lied to his friends and family, his Cabinet and of course the American people. Or that, under threat of criminal prosecution, he finally admitted to testifying falsely under oath as part of an informal plea bargain. His fine for contempt of court? His five-year suspension from the Arkansas bar? That's all down the memory hole, too.

Who wrote this drivel, and how can he or she or they look at themselves in the mirror? According to the AP story, "A group of the president's speechwriters drafted the text." What a surprise. Another story, this one in the Detroit Free Press, quotes John Podesta as crediting the ex-president with the final exhibit texts. "The final edits were done by the president," said Mr. Podesta. "He read every little bit of this."

But, yes, students should be introduced to this partisan text. They could read it in conjunction with George Orwell's "1984" to understand how propaganda works.

Yes, by all means, let the children see. For this kind of propaganda, however unintentionally, says more than any pious lecture about the dangers of official history. Have no fear, the kids will catch on. They always do. Why? Because, to quote a Republican from another century: It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time. - A. Lincoln.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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