- - Monday, August 4, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

CLINTON, INC.: THE AUDACIOUS REBUILDING OF A POLITICAL MACHINE
By Daniel Halper
Broadside Books, $27.99, 319 pages

Daniel Halper, online editor of The Weekly Standard, opens “Clinton, Inc.” with a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby”: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The Clintons and their messes (or, more accurately, his) have been almost continuously in the news and the national consciousness for two decades, with every aspect of their resumes chronicled, investigated, analyzed, praised, deplored. To anyone with some awareness of national politics over those decades, the minutiae of the Clinton careers and scandals are drearily familiar, and there’s little pleasure in revisiting them.

But if it’s assumed, as Mr. Halper and a legion of pundits and pollsters assume, that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, it’s necessary to reopen the Clinton dossier compiled over the decades — Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, the blue dress, all the women, impeachment, Vince Foster. Call the roll.

As distasteful as they might be, and despite the cautions that they no longer matter, there’s good reason to raise the old issues and update them for the edification of a generation of newly minted voters, many of whom first saw the light of day at the time the president was denying entertaining “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

It might startle new voters to learn, for instance, that there were intercepts by foreign intelligence services of the telephonic sex games that Bill Clinton played with Miss Lewinsky from the White House. (This story was first broken by American Spectator editor Bob Tyrrell in his 2007 book, “The Clinton Crack-Up”). Or that Bill Clinton, according to sources cited by Mr. Halper, continues to keep mistresses.

How much of this is about Hillary Clinton and how much about her husband is an open question. Early on, Bill Clinton observed, famously, that voters were going to get two for the price of one. Is that still in any way an attractive offer? Or is the image of the senior partner, padding around the White House, still insisting on having a hand in formulating policy, somewhat unsettling?

If not, what has she done, besides marrying Bill Clinton, to merit the presidency? Given the time she’s played a leading role on the national scene, the real accomplishments are in fact few, with one notable failure — the total hash she made of her husband’s attempt to give us Clintoncare.

Since then, there was an uneventful term in the Senate, followed by a resume-boosting stint at the State Department, where as Mr. Halper points out, she logged 956,733 miles of travel — perhaps her most impressive accomplishment.

Her campaign will highlight those areas where she claims a positive role — supporting the assassination of Osama bin Laden, while taking shots at Bill Gates and Joe Biden for opposing it, and downplaying her role in the blunders, among them the president’s support for the “Arab Spring,” and our role in the destruction of Libya, which she enthusiastically supported, while throwing proven allies such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to the wolves and the whole Mideast into total chaos — all punctuated by Benghazi and the political attempts to avoid responsibility.

Mr. Halper deals with these and other items in the Clinton dossier in fast, interesting and immediate prose — heavy with anecdote and quote, sure to light up the blogosphere, with emphasis on the single-sourced sound bite. This serves him well, although in one case — the chapter on Chelsea Clinton titled “Daddy’s Little Girl,” it may be overkill, with the unnamed sources who call Chelsea Clinton “tremendously coddled and entitled,” or “the royal child,” sounding very much like envy-stung, grudge-nursing second-raters who don’t rate a hearing.

Chelsea Clinton may one day take firm control of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, but as Mr. Halper writes, there are questions about its operations raised by investigative reporters from a variety of publications. Of especial interest are the foundation’s reach and money-making activities; its reputation as a place of employment for Clintonites waiting for slots in a new administration; and its huge amounts of donated cash, special favors and quid pro quos.

However, that may all be academic. If no Clinton holds high office, the foundation will wither away — and that could happen. The Democrats’ excitable McGovernite wing could nominate someone like Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016. Or Mrs. Clinton could win the nomination but lose the election, especially if forced to defend the Obama record. Or for reasons of health, she could just bow out.

Robert Merry, in a thoughtful column for The Washington Times, believes she is the wrong candidate for a transitional period in which the old is giving way to something new. She blew her chance in 2008, he writes, and now she’s a person out of time.

In his endnotes, Mr. Halper cites the 1994 American Spectator article titled “His Cheatin’ Heart” that played a key role in setting off the Clinton investigations. The title comes from the song by Hank Williams, written in the 1950s. At about the same time, Hank Thompson wrote and sang another country classic, “Yesterday’s Girl.” Not bad bookends for the careers of the Clintons.

John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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