WASHINGTON -- Well, here we go again with the Clintons. Once more one of them or both are braving a scandal over lurid charges that no first family ever braved before. This time it is Hillary and she is being charged with calling a former political aide a "f---ing Jew bastard" 26 years ago. Somewhat surprisingly she remembers the altercation. She denies the slur. Do you remember any previous first lady in such a pickle?
Bill has weighed in, too. He called the New York Daily News to say that "she might have called him (the former aide) a bastard. I wouldn't rule that out. She's never claimed that she was pure on profanity." Yet she has, and Bill has insisted on her purity too. Foul language and a bad temper have been consistently alleged against Mrs. Clinton. The White House has always insisted she was the perfect lady.
Though all this happened 26 years ago, both Clintons seem to remember quite a lot about the matter. The three witnesses are, one would think, very dim figures in the Clintons' faraway past, yet Bill in particular has been quick to recall them. One, a Neill McDonald who claimed to hear Hillary utter the profanity, is described by the president of the United States as a business failure who had to move from Arkansas and work with a brother because "no one else would hire him." The target of the slur, a Paul Fray, and his wife are now described by the president as "losers." "I don't think I've known any other couple basically where their lives peaked in their 20s, and it's all downhill from there," he told the Daily News, calling in from Camp David.
Reflect, if you will. The Clintons are one of the busiest couples in the world. For three decades their lives have been hurly upon burly, two chaotic schedules maintained by government staffs in Arkansas and during the 1990s in Washington. Even this weekend when the slur story broke Hillary was off in New York campaigning for the Senate. Bill was in Camp David juggling delicate diplomacy between ancient rivals, the Israelis and Palestinians. As president he doubtless had dozens of other distractions.
Yet when this story broke, both were quick with recollections of the historic event, of the Frays and of the unfortunate McDonald. The White House even rushed out with a letter from Paul Fray, which Hillary amazingly remembered receiving three years ago. Like the letters Bill remembered receiving from the begroped Kathleen Willey, this was a letter of friendship. What does it tell you that this busy couple keeps letters from such remote acquaintances so fresh in memory's eye?
I am reminded that when I was researching my biography, "Boy Clinton, the Political Biography," how astounded I was to see the Clinton White House instantly respond to charges leveled by figures from the Clintons' past. Each time they had instant smears. It was as though they had a special defamatory file on past acquaintances. It suggested to me that they knew that these people had tales of scandal on them that they had better be able to defend against.
The explanation for all these scandalous stories from the Clintons' past (and some from their present -- remember Monica, Travelgate, campaign indelicacies?) is that throughout their lives they have hung out with a pretty rough crowd. Even in Washington they have not brought the finest flower of Democratic intellect and talent into the White House. When one hangs with such coarse characters and cuts the many corners that the Clintons have so obviously cut, one of course accumulates scandal. Again, no other first family has matched them.
As to whether Hillary uttered this particular anti-Semitic slur, let me stand back from this imbroglio. For me, after chronicling so many of the famous couples earlier misdeeds, this scandal comes long after the time when we should be placing the burden of proof on them, not on the accusers. The fact is that these two are rogues who have played on the credulity and partisanship of Democrats and journalists like master snake-oil salesmen. Historians are going to have a feast, and the double-talking Clinton defenders who have grown so fat eating their own words with every exposé are going to look very stupid.
I would point out to the editors of The New York Times and to others now pulling on their chins and weighing whether Hillary made a rude remark long ago that this remark is not an isolated case, as so many of them claim. Her long-time adviser Dick Morris, now sobered and repentant, reported on "Fox News Sunday" that "in my dealings with her, she's always had a consciousness that she's talking to somebody who's Jewish." And Morris went on to describe an episode of Hillary engaging in malign ethnic stereotyping that is not inconsistent with the Frays' claims.
Hillary is a very unlikely heir to the mantle of Eleanor Roosevelt or any pre-1990s liberal icon.