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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2001/ 28 Shevat 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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It's Hot Springs week in downtown Harlem -- THE incredible shrinking diehard Clinton apologists, searching for a brass lining in the pungent cloud hanging over their man, are looking as usual in all the wrong places.

The likes of Charlie Rangel, the jolly congressman from Harlem; the Rev. Al Sharpton, the eminent Brooklyn theologian, and maybe even Julian Bond think Bill Clinton is making up with his conscience by "going home" to the brothers in the shadow of the Apollo Theater, eager to usher in Harlem Renaissance II.

Jerry Rivers, the television talk-show host who masquerades as "Geraldo Rivera," calls him "the president of 125th Street," and the ex-prez himself insists that he first walked Harlem streets in the '60s, sneaking in for a visit from London, where he was hiding out from his draft board.

"People would come up to me and ask me what I was doing here, and I said, 'I don't know, I just like it.' It felt like home." This sounds a lot like the fish stories he told about how sad he was as a barefoot boy down in Arkansas, sitting in the family's outdoor privy, reading about the wave of Arkansas church-burnings that never happened. But if people are willing to believe it, why not say it? (He also says he went straight to Harlem on landing at LaGuardia Airport. If he wants to sound like a New Yorker, he has to remember that the flights from London land at Kennedy, not LaGuardia.)

There's a Harlem connection in Mr. Slick's past, all right, but it has nothing to do with solidarity with the brothers and the younger sisters. The Harlem connection is by way of the Hot Springs connection.

Mr. Slick is merely following the example of Owney Madden, whom Lucky Luciano allowed to retire to Hot Springs in the 1940s to look after the digs set aside for Mafia bosses who were sent to take the waters in Hot Springs when they needed a nice place to cool for a spell. Owney was the button man behind the Cotton Club when it was the place where all the Manhattan swells went to slum, to watch long-legged chocolate bunnies dance to the cool jazz of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. The only blacks allowed in the Cotton Club were there to wait on and entertain the white folks.

Owney was big in Hot Springs by the time Mr. Slick was just a little shaver, nodding off with his head on the coffee-shop counter at Owney's Southern Club on Central Avenue in Hot Springs while his mama was upstairs with the Buick dealers, plumbing-supplies salesmen, visiting feed-and-grain men from Memphis and other down-home socialites at the slots, blackjack tables and roulette wheels. Owney was appreciated in Hot Springs, but from a distance. When I was assigned by my newspaper in Little Rock to cover the winter dinner of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce circa 1955, they put Owney and his missus at the out-of-the-way table in the corner set aside for the reporters. He didn't seem to mind, but he noticed. "I know most of the guys in the room," he said, looking up from the hickory-smoked ham and raisin sauce a la Arlington Hotel, "but they don't want to say hello tonight. That's all right. They put me in good company." He was amused to settle for a place next to the son of a locally famous Baptist preacher.

Mr. Slick's venture in Harlem is a lot like Owney Madden's venture at the Cotton Club. He's a big-eye man when it suits him, but when it's time to live his life, he goes downtown. If it's golf, he goes all the way to Miami, where there's a nice golf club on Indian Creek with no Indians, no blacks and no Jews. He couldn't play with Vernon Jordan there. "He is a complicated man, Clinton," writes Jay Nordlinger in the Weekly Standard. "Harlem, the Met, Indian Creek. A coalition politician for sure."

But maybe not so complicated as all that. His apologists can't be so dense as they want us to think they were. Joe Biden calls him "brain dead." Chuck Schumer, rested up from trying to save the Justice Department from the Christian hordes, affects to be horrified by the Marc Rich pardon. Arlen Specter, trying to make up for voting against impeachment (if not trying to set up the ex-president's critics again), threatens a new impeachment inquiry. The story of the ex-president at bay, intones the New York Times, as if only now discovering where babies come from, "begins and ends with money and the access afforded by money. That is the unique circumstances that will linger in the minds of Americans whenever they contemplate this gross misuse of a solemn presidential responsibility."

But there's nothing unique about Bill Clinton's "circumstances" at all. He's only doing what he has been doing since he left Hot Springs, G-d love him. Owney Madden would be proud of him. Aren't we all?

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


02/13/01: Some of our riots seem to be missing
02/07/01: When a hate crime is something to love
02/07/01: Lifting a few spoons, cutting a few taxes
02/02/01: A few small surprises and a large lesson
01/31/01: Serving fried crow in the press mess
01/26/01: The gathering storm over Jesse Jackson
01/23/01: A graceless getaway, a graceful beginning
01/19/01: Once more to wave the bloody shirt
01/16/01: Bring on the lions, the clowns are ready
01/12/01: The dastardly plot to restore slavery
01/10/01: Mr. Lott's generosity to the Dems
01/05/01: Looking to the past for a bad example
01/03/01: A modest proposal for Arkansas folk
12/19/00: The reflexive sneer at George W. Bush
12/15/00: Taking inspiration from John Birch
12/12/00: It's time to raise high Florida's standards
12/08/00: A President Bush, and about time, too
12/05/00: Here come the judge --- and he's got a hook
11/28/00: Cry no tears for Al, lawyers are the losers
11/21/00: The useful loathing of America's sons
11/17/00: When this is all over, we spray for lawyers
11/14/00: Something murky in the twilight zone

11/10/00: Something sinister in Palm Beach

11/07/00: Low days in the life of the ruptured duck

11/06/00: A little race baiting in the final hours

11/01/00: Creator gets a hard time on the hustings

10/27/00: The sorcerer rides to rescue his apprentice

10/25/00: The founding father with a story to tell

10/23/00: A lonely passion for religious rights

10/16/00: Spending blood on the folly of fools

10/11/00: A big night for the embellisher-in-chief

10/06/00: AlGore's black problem

10/04/00: In headlong pursuit of the bigot vote

10/02/00: A modest proposal for Rick Lazio

09/27/00: When folks at home give up on a scamp

09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes

09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply

09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'

09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye

09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset

09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap

08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal

08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost

08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash

08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme

08/07/00: After insulin shock, an authentic rouser

08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy

07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers

07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself

07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?

07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?

07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit

07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink

07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season

07/05/00: No Mexican standoff in these results

07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate

06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!

06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve

06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman

06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat

06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation

06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'

06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch

06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak

05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper

05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks

05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes

05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example

05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans

05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales

05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man

05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat

05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary

04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood

04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks

04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go

04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno

04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)

04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts

03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table

03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day

03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult

03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology

03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain

03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden