Medical Tuesday Blog
The Case Against Hillary Clinton
By Peggy Noonan
WSJ contributing editor is author of “The Case Against Hillary Clinton” (Regan Books, 2000).
WSJ April 24, 2000
From the beginning it was a story marked by the miraculous. It was a miracle a six-year-old boy survived the storm at sea and floated safely in an inner tube for two days and nights toward shore; a miracle that when he tired and began to slip, the dolphins who surrounded him like a contingent of angels pushed him upward; a miracle that a fisherman saw him bobbing in the shark-infested waters and scooped him aboard on the morning of Nov. 25, 1999, the day celebrated in America, the country his mother died bringing him to, as Thanksgiving.
And of course this Saturday, in the darkness, came the nightmare: the battering ram, the gas, the masks, the guns, the threats, the shattered glass and smashed statue of the Blessed Mother, the blanket thrown over the sobbing child’s head as they tore him from the house like a hostage. And the last one in the house to hold him, trying desperately to protect him, was the fisherman who’d saved him from the sea—which seemed fitting as it was Eastertide, the time that marks the sacrifice and resurrection of the Big Fisherman.
Which really, once again, tells you a lot about who they are. But then their actions always have a saving obviousness: From Waco to the FBI files to the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory during impeachment to taking money from Chinese agents, through every scandal and corruption, they always tell you who they are by what they do. It’s almost honest.
All weekend you could hear the calls to radio stations, to television, from commentators, from the 40% who are wounded, grieving and alive to the implications of what this act tells us about what is allowed in our country now. “This couldn’t happen in America,” they say, and “This isn’t the America we know.”
This is the America of Bill Clinton’s cynicism and cowardice, and Janet Reno’s desperate confusion about right and wrong, as she continues in her great schmaltzy dither to prove how sensitive she is, how concerned for the best interests of the child, as she sends in armed troops who point guns at the child sobbing in the closet. So removed from reality is she that she claims the famous picture of the agent pointing the gun at the fisherman and the child did not in fact show that.
The great unanswered question of course is: What was driving Mr. Clinton? What made him do such a thing? What accounts for his commitment in this case? Concern for the father? But such concern is wholly out of character for this president; he showed no such concern for parents at Waco or when he freed the Puerto Rican terrorists. Concern for his vision of the rule of law? But Mr. Clinton views the law as a thing to suit his purposes or a thing to get around.
Why did he do this thing? He will no doubt never say, a pliant press will never push him on it, and in any case if they did who would expect him to speak with candor and honesty? Absent the knowledge of what happened in this great public policy question, the mind inevitably wonders.
Was it fear of Fidel Castro—fear that the dictator will unleash another flood of refugees, like the Mariel boatlift of 1980? Mr. Clinton would take that seriously, because he lost his gubernatorial election that year after he agreed to house some of the Cubans. In Bill Clinton’s universe anything that ever hurt Bill Clinton is bad, and must not be repeated. But such a threat, if it was made, is not a child custody matter but a national security matter, and should be dealt with in national security terms.
Was it another threat from Havana? Was it normalization with Cuba—Mr. Clinton’s lust for a legacy, and Mr. Castro’s insistence that the gift come at a price? If the price was a child, well, that’s a price Mr. Clinton would likely pay. What is a mere child compared with this president’s need to be considered important by history?
Was Mr. Clinton being blackmailed? The Starr report tells us of what the president said to Monica Lewinsky about their telephone sex: that there was reason to believe that they were monitored by a foreign intelligence service. Naturally the service would have taped the calls, to use in the blackmail of the president. Maybe it was Mr. Castro’s intelligence service, or that of a Castro friend. . .
For now we’re left with the famous photo, the picture of the agent pointing his gun at the sobbing child and fisherman, the one that is already as famous as the picture taken 30 Easters ago, during another tragedy, as a student cried over the prone body of a dead fellow student at Kent State. It is an inconvenient photo for the administration. One wonders if it will be reproduced, or forced down the memory hole.
We are left with Elian’s courageous cousin, Marisleysis, who Easter morning told truth to power, an American citizen speaking to the nation about the actions of the American government. We are left with the hoarse-voiced fisherman, who continues trying to save the child. We are left wondering if there was a single federal law-enforcement official who, ordered to go in and put guns at the heads of children, said no. Was there a single agent or policeman who said, “I can’t be part of this”? Are they all just following orders?
We are left wondering if Mr. Clinton will, once again, get what he seems to want. Having failed to become FDR over health care, or anything else for that matter, he will now “be” JFK, finishing the business of 1961 and the missile crisis. . . “In an odd way Elian helped us—the intensity of the experience, the talks and negotiations, were the most intense byplay our two countries have had since JFK. The trauma brought us together.” . . .
Voters have the impression Hillary isn’t trustworthy. She’s been reinforcing it since 1993. —
If you give the prompt “Clinton scandal” to someone under 30, they might say “emails,” or Benghazi” or “Clinton Foundation,” or now “health questions.” But for those who are older, whose memories encompass the Clinton era, the scandals stretch back further, all the way to her beginnings as a national figure.
Seventeen years ago, when word first came that Mrs. Clinton might come to New York, a state where she’d never lived, and seek its open U.S. Senate seat, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” It asserted that she would win and use the Senate to run for president, likely in 2008. That, I argued, was a bad thing. In the previous eight years she’d done little to elevate our politics and much to lower it. So I laid out the case as best I could, starting with the first significant scandal of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
It is worth revisiting to make a point about why her poll numbers on trustworthiness are so bad.
It was early 1993. The Clintons had just entered the White House after a solid win that broke the Republicans’ 12-year hold. He was a young and dashing New Democrat. She too was something new, a professional woman with modern attitudes and pronounced policy interests. They had captured the national imagination and were in a strong position.
Then she—not he—messed it up. It was the first big case in which she showed poor judgment, a cool willingness to mislead, and a level of political aggression that gave even those around her pause. It was after this mess that her critics said she’d revealed the soul of an East German border guard.
The Clinton White House was internally a dramatic one, as George Stephanopoulos later recounted in “All Too Human,” his sharply observed, and in retrospect somewhat harrowing, memoir of his time as Mr. Clinton’s communications director and senior adviser. He reported staffers and officials yelling, crying, shouting swear words and verbally threatening each other. It was a real hothouse. There was a sense the gargoyles had taken over the cathedral. But that wouldn’t become apparent until later.
On May 19, 1993, less than four months into the administration, the seven men who had long worked in the White House travel office were suddenly and brutally fired. The seven nonpartisan government workers, who helped arrange presidential trips, served at the pleasure of the president. But each new president had kept them on because they were good at their jobs.
A veteran civil servant named Billy Dale had worked in the office 30 years and headed it the last 10. He and his colleagues were ordered to clear out their desks and were escorted from the White House, which quickly announced they were the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI.
They were in shock. So were members of the press, who knew Mr. Dale and his colleagues as honest and professional. A firestorm ensued.
Under criticism the White House changed its story. They said that they were just trying to cut unneeded staff and save money. Then they said they were trying to impose a competitive bidding process. They tried a new explanation—the travel office shake-up was connected to Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review. (Almost immediately Mr. Gore said that was not true.) The White House then said it was connected to a campaign pledge to cut the White House staff by 25%. Finally they claimed the workers hadn’t been fired at all but placed on indefinite “administrative leave.”
Why so many stories? Because the real one wasn’t pretty.
It emerged in contemporaneous notes of a high White House staffer that the travel-office workers were removed because Mrs. Clinton wanted to give their jobs—their “slots,” as she put it, according to the notes of director of administration David Watkins—to political operatives who’d worked for Mr. Clinton’s campaign. And she wanted to give the travel office business itself to loyalists. There was a travel company based in Arkansas with long ties to the Clintons. There was a charter travel company founded by Harry Thomason, a longtime friend and fundraiser, which had provided services in the 1992 campaign. If the travel office were privatized and put to bid, he could get the business. On top of that, a staffer named Catherine Cornelius, said to be the new president’s cousin, also wanted to run the travel office. In his book “Blood Sport,” the reporter James B. Stewart described her as “dazzled by her proximity to power, full of a sense of her own importance.” Soon rumors from her office, and others, were floating through the White House: The travel office staff were disloyal crooks.
The White House pressed the FBI to investigate, FBI agents balked—on what evidence?—but ultimately there was an investigation, and an audit.
All along Mrs. Clinton publicly insisted she had no knowledge of the firings. Then it became barely any knowledge, then barely any involvement. When the story blew up she said under oath that she had “no role in the decision to terminate the employees.” She did not “direct that any action be taken by anyone.” In a deposition she denied having had a role in the firings, and said she was unable to remember conversations with various staffers with any specificity.
A General Accounting Office report found she did play a role. But three years later a memo written by David Watkins to the White House chief of staff, recounting the history of the firings, suddenly surfaced. (“Suddenly surfaced” is a phrase one reads a lot in Clinton scandal stories.) It showed Mrs. Clinton herself directed them. “There would be hell to pay,” he wrote, if staffers did not conform “to the first lady’s wishes.”
Billy Dale was indicted on charges including embezzlement. The trial lasted almost two weeks. Mr. Dale, it emerged, could have kept better books. The jury acquitted him in less than two hours. In the end he retired, as did his assistant. The five others were given new government jobs.
So—that was the Clintons’ first big Washington scandal. It showed what has now become the Clinton Scandal Ritual: lie, deny, revise, claim not to remember specifics, stall for time. When it passes, call the story “old news” full of questions that have already been answered. “As I’ve repeatedly said. . .”
More scandals would follow. They all showed poor judgment on the part of the president, and usually Mrs. Clinton. They all included a startling willingness—and ability—to dissemble.
People watched and got a poor impression.
The point is it didn’t start the past few years, it started almost a quarter-century ago. You have to wonder, what are the chances it will change?
Read the entire review at the WSJ . . . Be sure to read the links.
Read the entire Clinton Archives from Arkansas to Washington, DC. . . It may take several hours to read the entire archives before next Tuesday. But it is a “Must Read” before voting.
The Review Section Is an Insider’s View of What Doctors are Reading.