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Jewish World Review August 17, 2000 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

The Joyful Clinton Nation -- THE STEEL beneath the bubbles of the long, warm bath of self-praise that Bill Clinton presented Monday night was presented as a stark and brutal choice.

America, Clinton said over and over again, could choose to continue the unprecedented glory--the peace, the prosperity, the greatness and goodness--of the Clinton era. Or it could return to a life of poverty, backwardness and unhappiness under Republican rule.

The high point came when Clinton painted a picture of modern history in America. In 1964, he said, with Democrats running the country, all was milk and honey. But then there was the election of 1968, and the country chose, tragically, "a far different and more divisive course." Only months later, the nation's then-longest economic expansion ended. The good times did not return until Bill Clinton took the White House.

So: Republican rule equals national misery (never mind Reagan), Democratic rule equals national joy (never mind Carter). And not just fiscal joy. Under his guidance, said Clinton, the nation had become "a better country" all around, "more confident, hopeful and just." So now, "our people face a fundamental choice--are we going to keep this progress and prosperity going?"

This is actually a reasonable framework in which to view the election--as long as you factor in what Clinton left out. Give Clinton his share of credit for the great boom in national wealth, for "ending welfare as we know it," for the reductions in crime, for balancing the budget.

But there is another side to the choice. This may be summed up in a question: Did the Clinton administration leave the nation worse off as well as better?

The subject here is corruption. In the view desperately favored by Clinton and Gore, scandal in the Clinton years should be viewed as essentially one (admittedly large) "mistake," involving one White House intern, an isolated event having nothing to do with Clinton's overall performance in office or Gore's potential performance.

But of course, the scandalous nature of the Clinton administration (or Clinton-Gore, as they used to like to say) was not limited to Lewinsky. It was structural, systemic; and it was rooted in a deep conviction of the moral superiority of Democrats and in the propriety, therefore, of employing any means necessary to perpetuate Democratic power. The Clinton administration ran government as a permanent war room.

It polarized Congress and the nation; it openly sold access to the president, the vice president and other high officials to favor-seekers from around the world; it helped destroy (to be fair, Republicans helped too) the good government reforms that liberal Democrats had spent lifetimes building; it openly worked to subvert the law in matters small (the travel office) and large (the Starr investigation); it politicized policy more thoroughly than any administration since that of Richard M. Nixon.

In 1998, addressing the bipartisan fundraising corruption of 1996--a corruption that gave rise to the most significant Clinton scandal--a thoughtful judge of these matters wrote:

"The fund-raising scandal of 1996 was a very real tragedy, with very real consequences for our democracy. People at the highest levels in both parties did more than just strain credulity; they betrayed the public trust. In their breathless, unbounded rush to raise even more money for even more television advertising, they effectively hung a giant FOR SALE sign on our government and the whole of our political process. They also gave Americans, already beset by cynicism, good reason to doubt whether citizens have a true and equal voice in their own government. The dangers here must not be dismissed; corruption is a great killer in experiments in self-government."

Recalling the nakedly favor-seeking exploits of Clinton-Gore donors such as Johnny Chung and Roger Tamraz, the writer noted that, while "it has yet to be proved that any U.S. policy . . . was altered by any of the hustlers and opportunists who bought access to some of our top leaders, we cannot deny that the potential existed for this kind of purchase. Nor can we ignore the dangers inherent in the simple appearance of influence-peddling." We are left, he said, with "a system that suggests to the public that power will be exercised chiefly in behalf of those who pay top dollar."

That was Sen. Joseph Lieberman, writing in the July 1998 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The questions now for Lieberman, and for voters, are these: Was Al Gore one of those "people at the highest levels" who "betrayed the public trust"? And was the harm thus done to the nation of at least equal importance to any benefits of Clinton-Gore government? And why should we reward with the presidency someone who played a major role in this harm?

Clinton is right: There is a fundamental choice here.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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