- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Bill Clinton has always asked a lot of his friends. But this time he really, really wants a lot.
He's counting on a small circle of spinners, hypesters, prevaricators, hucksters and over-the-hill midway men to find his reputation, disinfect it, scrub it down, polish it up and make it fit for decent company. That's a tall order.
The former president got a few of the old gang together on a conference call the other day to give them their assignments. First they'll compile a list of all the good things he did, the banks he didn't rob, the lies he didn't tell, the women he didn't abuse, the felons he didn't pardon, the spoons he didn't steal, and then try to get people to listen to a recitation of glory. He's particularly eager to redeem his profile on the lecture circuit, where the big bucks are.
"It's important that the president's legacy not be squandered because his own people remain silent and scattered," Bill Richardson, his energy secretary, managed to say with a straight face. "It's important that the Democratic Party not turn away from Clinton's centrist legacy that brought us economic prosperity."
This will be difficult, because other voices from Mr. Clinton's presidential past are speaking up with a different message, particularly about the way he bungled and retreated from confronting Osama bin Laden and the terrorists when there was still time. The man who was there with the shovel to help Mr. Clinton bury a lot of bodies tells, in a remarkably revealing column in the New York Post, how the former president always found a reason to hesitate, vacillate and waver. When the going got tough, Bill Clinton got going, away from the sound of the guns.
"The weekly strategy meetings at the White House through 1995 and 1996 featured an escalating drumbeat of advice to President Clinton to take decisive steps to crack down on terrorism," writes Dick Morris, the guru widely credited with creating the candidate from Arkansas. "The [public-opinion] polls gave these ideas a green light. But Clinton hesitated and failed to act, always finding a reason why some other concern was more important."
One aide suggested a federal law to require that a foreigner's driver's license expire when his visa expires, and that no such permits be issued to illegal aliens. This would allow traffic cops to identify illegals and refer them to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation.
"Had the president adopted this common-sense approach," Dick Morris writes, "Mohammed Atta would have been thrown out of the country and barred re-entry after he was found driving without a valid license by Florida police three months before September 11."
The president's spinners insist that Mr. Clinton shirked his responsibility only because he was "distracted" by his "personal problems." We're urged to consider the "context" of his times. After all, writes Richard Cohen, his reliable liegeman at The Washington Post, "he was sustaining an unprecedented attack on his presidency, an effort to oust him for reasons that had nothing to do with abuse of power. What's more, the entire impeachment process had been propelled by an effort to 'get' Clinton the 'vast right-wing conspiracy' of Hillary's telling and accurate phrase."
But this gets it all backwards. Mr. Clinton was distracted, to be sure, but not from paying attention to Osama bin Laden and assorted other terrorists. It was the terrorists who distracted him from his main business at hand, the pursuit of pleasure with his pants down. He wasn't distracted by a hit on Osama, it was Osama who was distracting him, perhaps as he was about to hit on Kathleen Willey. Making his moves on a fresh widow, with her husband still cooling at the mortuary, should have been catnip for Mr. Slick. He badly bungled the seduction, and who can say he would have struck out if his focus had not been disturbed by having to authorize an attempt to kill a terrorist. A missile misses its mark; worse, Kathleen Willey (or another target of opportunity) tells the president to zip it up. Not exactly a JFK or FDR moment at the White House.
It's difficult for a president with his pants around his ankles to think of missiles, of B-52s, of a mob on the dock in Port-au-Prince, of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. A man can't rightly think of retaliation for evil when he has his mind in his loins.
This is what the likes of Bill Richardson, of Gene Sperling and Doug Sosnik, of Al From and Rodney Slater and the other hypesters and midway men must keep in mind when they go out to explain to America how Bill Clinton meant to do right. He didn't really mean to choke when it was time to make his moves on a luckless lady in the Oval Office. He would have got it right, if it hadn't been for those pesky distractions.

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