Where do we go now with Clinton?

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Feb 26, 2001 12:00 AM
Where on earth do we go, in the matter of Bill Clinton? President Bush is nicely philosophical when he tells the press that he is up to his keister in things to do and that we must move onward -- i.e., attempt a launch that frees us from mundane concerns over the life and times and tribulations of Bill and Hillary.

There are, of course, those who think that President Bush is having us on. One reporter says that White House aides are gleeful over the turn of events. Perhaps a retaliatory prankster will invade the quarters of the Executive Office Building and jiggle the computers so that when you type out the word "Clinton" you get a mug shot of Bill on your screen and, as text, "Wanted: for Bribery and Theft. Last Seen Disavowing Brother-in-Law."

It is fair, I think, to give a pass to conservatives on this round of Clinton dismay. We did our best for years and years, contributing even an impeachment. The effect on the voting public was zero. Now suddenly the Gallup poll shows Mr. Clinton nose-diving from his high-altitude permanent home at 63 percent approval to 42 percent.

Analysts wonder how that can be. Florence King, writing in National Review, comes up with an explanation. She speaks of the "eleventh-hour kleptomania committed by departing Clintonians aboard Air Force One. More Americans were more shocked by the theft of silverware, dishes and blankets than ever cared about Monica, Whitewater and Chinagate combined."

And she recalls the famous Lizzie Borden. That's the lady remembered in Bartlett's Quotations with, "Lizzie Borden took an ax/And gave her mother forty whacks./When she saw what she had done/She gave her father forty-one." "The citizens of Fall River, Massachusetts, reacted the same way when Lizzie Borden was accused of shoplifting 12 years after being acquitted of double homicide. You know God's in his heaven and all's right with the world when rock-ribbed Yankees shake their heads and grumble, 'Murder is one thing, but ...'"

Scarcely a day goes by without a disavowal from a Clinton. The paramount figure is Marc Rich. Mr. Clinton selected the most august confessional in America and wrote to The New York Times averring that Rich Inc.'s contributions to sundry Clinton causes had nothing, nothing to do with the pardon's being granted. But people asked themselves, reasonably: OK, let's take Bill at his word, that there was no formal quid pro quo. But then ask yourselves the question: Suppose that Denise Rich had never given money to the Clinton complex -- would Marc Rich have been given five minutes time on pardon day?

It isn't only money that moved the Rich lobby. Last week, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who is president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, having reflected for a week over pleadings by some Jewish leaders, notably former Prime Minister Barak, in behalf of Rich, wrote an editorial for Jewish weeklies: "We should be ashamed of ourselves. We have undermined our community's moral fabric, jeopardized our political standing, disillusioned our youth and compromised the sacred values of our tradition."

Rabbi Yoffie regrets the transubstantiation of money given to Jewish charities by Mr. Rich into entitlement by Mr. Rich to a pardon. But although Mr. Barak et al. should regret their importunities, it is generally understood that it is only because Clinton is the kind of person who has a Mafia-type sense of favors given, favors returned, that he was approached in the first instance. It is unlikely that Mr. Barak would have telephoned President Carter in similar circumstances.

The rejection by Mrs. Clinton of her brother, Hugh Rodman, is more thunderous than anything she ever directed at Monica. She spoke of her brokenhearted disapproval, of the terrible misjudgment, of her deep disappointment. ... So he gave the money back. What does that tell us about the implicit circumstances of the money's having been offered and accepted in the first place? It is conceivable that Bill and Hillary knew nothing about the involvement of Hugh. But only just barely.

Where will the dismay end? An investment firm last week canceled a proposed appearance by Clinton as guest speaker, even as Morgan Stanley a week before expressed its regrets at having hosted him. It is the feel of silver, the tawdry acquisition of which really hurts, whether in charities to Israel or law fees to Rodham or pots and pans stolen from the White House. Miss King reminds us of Thomas De Quincey, who wrote, "If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination."

And from there to the Gallup underground, leaving faithful Democrats with the question, What do we do about it? Answer: Get rid of Terry McAuliffe.