Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001/ 29 Teves, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE MINUTES ticked by last Saturday morning like a newsreel from the 1940s: Bill Clinton had orchestrated his final hours as president so that he'd hog 90 percent of an enabling media's attention. There were time-killing weather reports on tv-as if the rain in Washington, DC, were going to stop-but most of the action centered on Clinton's last-minute plea-bargain with Robert Ray, the bizarre list of men and women he pardoned and the record number of "farewell" speeches he'd deliver to anyone still listening. This wasn't the standard Inauguration Day protocol, but it was hardly a surprise. No one, except perhaps the repulsive Alan Dershowitz, has ever accused the 42nd President of being a classy kind of guy.
Flipping channels between Fox, MSNBC and CNN (I'd rather my sons watch guttermouth rappers than the political pornography blasted onto the screen by creeps like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw), it was one faceless anchor after pundit after politician commenting on Clinton's staged frenzy of activity. He'll never go away! This man with the voracious appetite for politics is the incoming shadow president! Goodbye and Hello to the Comeback Kid! The opinion was unanimous: How could an inexperienced and tongue-tied governor from Texas ever compete with this larger-than-life dynamo? This was a man, despite a few personal foibles, who defined an entire decade, and rescued his party from forever wallowing in Dukakis-ville!
It was rough sledding, all this chitchat about that lovable rascal Clinton, the ludicrous praise heaped upon an unscrupulous man who makes a pop-culture speck like Eminem seem quaint in comparison. With all the baloney from Al Gore and Joe Lieberman last fall about cleaning up the "filth" in Hollywood, while they stuffed their pockets with checks from those responsible for it, it was lamentable that the GOP couldn't strategically carpet-bomb battleground states with tv advertising spots that pinpointed the lies, finger-wagging and obfuscation of the Clinton administration. George W. Bush's commercials were gauzy and flat. Because of Clinton's good job-approval ratings, the high-voltage footage-like Al Gore praising his boss on Impeachment Day at the '98 Rose Garden pep rally-was off-limits.
A relatively small number of protesters lined the streets of
Washington, but aside from a few tomatoes thrown at Bush's limo, this
crew was fairly lethargic. After all, it was windy and cold, and the
morning cartoons were still on. The New York Times' David Rosenbaum
tried to mold an article out of the dissent, but there was little to
work with. It's not as if the Vietnam War, which inflamed the boomer
generation, both out of sincere idealism and an instinct for
self-preservation, were around now to provide an impetus for a pampered
contemporary group of protesters who-whether white, yellow, black or
blue-have adopted "Disenfranchised" as their middle names. Rosenbaum
delivered a wan report for last Sunday's paper: "Many complained about
the ballot procedures and Supreme Court ruling that led to George W.
Bush's becoming president. Others demonstrated over global trade, civil
rights, abortion, capital punishment, rain forests and corporate power."
The usual lazy Susan of complaints. My favorite passage of the Times reporter's pro forma dispatch was the following: "'It's sort of an inchoate feeling,' said Anna Galland, a 21-year-old college student from Evanston, Ill., who was carrying several different placards this morning and had not decided which one to raise during the inauguration parade." Congratulations, Miss Galland. "Inchoate" is a fancy word. I wonder if you know which generals were present at Appomattox? Whoops, send MUGGER to the showers for alluding to the Land of Dixie! Now I'll never get dinner invites from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin.
W: STRONG OUT OF THE GATE
Suddenly, the political focus of the United States was clear. I don't like to indulge in cornpone, but as Bush spoke, it was like when The Wizard of Oz turned from black and white to color. Bush's brief but sharp description of his administration's goals was as clear a declaration of intent as has been heard since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency 20 years ago.
He said: "Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character... Together, we will reclaim America's schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans. We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors."
There it was. The essence of Bush's campaign, presented not in a verbose laundry list, but in several simple sentences. It doesn't take a political scholar to interpret his goals: school vouchers, privatization of inefficient government programs and institutions (how about the U.S. Postal Service?), equitable tax reform, the welcoming of immigrants and a refurbished, reinvigorated military. It remains to be seen how much of this agenda Bush can accomplish-any number of failures will certainly make him a one-term president-but he can't be accused of espousing mushy, feel-good ambitions.
GET HIM OUTTA HERE
I have no beef with Clinton pardoning his half-brother Roger, who traded on the President's status in a skeezy but sometimes entertaining way, not unlike the late Billy Carter. And the inclusion of Patty Hearst on the list was long overdue. Webb Hubbell must be muttering about not making the cut, while Susan McDougal got her reward. Them's the breaks, Webb. Besides, you probably never flashed a little ankle to the King of Dogpatch.
But the most inexcusable recipient of Clinton's hodgepodge government-sanctioned generosity was fugitive Marc Rich, the 66-year-old commodities trader who's still on the lam in Switzerland after his indictment for tax evasion, racketeering, fraud and suspect oil deals with Iran. A story in Sunday's New York Post noted that Rich, as of Saturday night, was still listed as an "international fugitive" on the Justice Dept.'s website, along with partner Pinky Green, who was also given a pass by Clinton.
On Sunday, kibitzing with reporters at a Chappaqua deli, Clinton defended his pardons, saying, "You're not saying these people didn't commit the offense. You're saying they paid. They paid in full and they've been out enough after their sentence to show they're good citizens, so they ought to have a chance to get full citizenship." Rich didn't "pay" a debt to society in the usual sense, and he never served a jail sentence. But there were, typically, extenuating circumstances. Does it surprise anyone that Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, who served in the Clinton administration, lobbied successfully for the pardon?
The New York Times-surprise-didn't make much of this eye-popping pardon, burying Rich's name deep into its story about the 140 people who received pardons. However, the paper did devote a separate story to Michael Milken, the unfairly maligned financier-turned-philanthropist (after a detour in the pokey), who wasn't let off the hook in Clinton's last hours as president. As I wrote recently, Milken didn't need to dirty himself by accepting a gift from a lesser man like Clinton. As it turned out, he was quoted in the Times as saying, "Back in '93, I was given a year to live [he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer], so in that context, it's hard to be disappointed about this."
Clinton might've skated on his own obstruction of justice charges-and
maybe he'll never be held accountable for the crimes he committed while
president-but investigative reporters will be busy for years piecing
together the corruption, financial and political, that will ultimately
define his two terms in