- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

As Christmas approaches, newspapers and television traditionally report those special stories that warm the heart. It's the only time of the year in which good news is deemed news at all. Usually, when the public complains there is no good news in the paper, journalists are quick to point out that it is not news when a person is not murdered. Like all readers, I look forward to the story of the mother cat that rushes into a burning house to save the neighbor's puppy dog, with nothing worse than singed whiskers to show for her heroism.

It does seem a little coincidental that those stories reliably appear every Christmas. I have often wondered whether a couple of fat, bald guys sit at the back of the newsroom sharing a bottle of whiskey, and cynically make up those stories that remind us of the real point of Christmas. But, from whatever source, I hadn't yet seen my idyllic Christmas story this year until last Sunday.

I found the fairy tale in no less a newspaper than The Washington Post. It was headlined: "Clinton, Hastert Create Thaw." I could tell it was a Christmas story because such stories often involve the theme of the lion lying down with the lamb. The gist of the story was that, after all these years, Mr. Clinton has finally found someone he can do business with because a bond of trust has developed between the president and the speaker of the House and apparently for the first time in seven years both men have a mutual interest in passing some legislation.

The most touching moment of the story was when Speaker Denny Hastert in a performance reminiscent of the guileless Tiny Tim is quoted as saying: "We have a good working relationship. He knows he can take me at my word. We're able to talk straight to each other, go through the process and get our work done." From the mouths of babes. Of course the president can trust Denny. Everyone who has ever met Mr. Hastert knows he can be trusted. He is an honest man. The question is whether Denny can reliably trust Mr. Clinton. Many people have tried; all have failed.

My old boss Newt Gingrich, a man who had dealt with plenty of sneaky politicians in his day, thought he could do business with Mr. Clinton in 1995. For Newt, Mr. Clinton played on the intellectual camaraderie of a fellow policy expert. I sat in the Cabinet room of The White House with them while Mr. Clinton offered up his intellectual flirtation. Of course, all the time he was pretending to negotiate a balanced budget he was secretly writing the soft money ads that would viciously blame Newt for the collapse of those budget talks.

But it didn't start with Newt. The year before, Rep. John Kasich, one of the smartest members of Congress, had Hillary over to his home for spaghetti dinner to talk about health care. He came out of that thinking he could do health care business with the Clintons. But of course, as we later learned, Hillary was holding secret White House health care meetings, where the real legislation was being written. You can't trust a Clinton.

It didn't end with Newt, either. After Newt, it was Bob Dole's turn. Here was a man with four decades of Washington experience. The only person who ever took Bob Dole to the cleaners was his driver. He had been making honest deals with dishonest men when Mr. Clinton was still having his nappies changed. Mr. Dole had grown to like and respect Newt, but he correctly considered himself the senior partner when it came to getting Washington business done. And Mr. Clinton played right into Mr. Dole's self-image as a practical deal-maker.

But I remember the day Newt, Bob Dole and the guys were coming back from the White House after getting an ironclad promise from Mr. Clinton to agree to balance the budget in 7 years. In the five minutes it took for us to drive back to the Capitol, Mr. Clinton had publicly renounced that agreement. Mr. Dole turned to us in the Senate elevator and said, "He's just a liar."

Next up was Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. After Newt had wised up and Mr. Dole had lost the election, in the spring of 1997 it was Mr. Lott's turn to be bamboozled. While I was not privy to his conversations with the president, one might reasonably guess the general line of conversation: Mr. Clinton might be able to play those Northern boys for suckers, but he couldn't trick a smart Southern pol like Trent. Needless to say, the spring and early summer of 1997 were difficult months for the new majority leader, as he paid the price for trusting the president.

It's Christmas time, and you may believe that all those mother cats really did run into the burning houses. But I've watched the president for too long. I think the story that Mr. Clinton can be trusted was written by one of those fat guys at the back of the newsroom. Bah, humbug.

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