WASHINGTON — Question: Name one thing beneath Bill Clinton’s dignity.
Answer: This is a trick question, like asking whether zero is odd or even. It has no known answer.
The following story dramatizes the point. On the eve of George Washington’s birthday, Bill Clinton acknowledged that his brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, had accepted loot from criminals eager to obtain presidential pardons.
Clinton said he learned of the scam from “press inquiries” and professed shock that anybody would trade on his good name. “Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments,” he said of the $400,000 or so that appeared in Hugh Rodham’s bank account on the first business day after the pardons. “We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any monies received.”
This alibi has holes. Hugh Rodham lived in the White House during the final days of the Clinton presidency. Clinton did know his brother-in-law was pushing a pardon for scam artist Glen Braswell and a commutation for convicted drug kingpin Carlos Vignali.
Braswell, who is still under investigation for tax evasion and money laundering, actually hired Rodham on a contingency basis. That’s pretty cheeky, but not surprising considering that Braswell once peddled a compound he said could a) regrow hair, b) dissolve cellulite and c) create larger, fuller bosoms for the ladies: Something for everybody in the Rich family!
Horacio Vignali, father of the drug-convict son, similarly embarked on a well-documented crusade to spring his kid from prison. He donated handsomely to a lot of politicians, scattered a few greenbacks in the general direction of the Clinton family and somehow suckered Roger Cardinal Mahoney, the Catholic prelate of Los Angeles.
So, envision the chain of events: Rodham promises to deliver the legal goods. He’s hanging out in the White House. He has a history of trying to turn a buck on the basis of family ties — most famously, by inserting himself into tobacco-litigation talks in 1996-97 and trying to broker a $118 million deal in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, using as his business partner a bitter enemy of Georgian President Eduard Schevardnadze, an old friend of the United States.
So the pardons go through. And who is playing golf with Bill Clinton the day the checks clear? Hugh Rodham! Past testimony from Vernon Jordan indicates that no topic is too lewd for discussion when Bill Clinton goes duffing. But Clinton says the topic never came up, ever.
Fine: Let’s turn to the truly important point. In recent days, the nation’s Democratic officeholders have described Clinton’s behavior as shocking, embarrassing, inappropriate, troubling, disturbing, mortifying and so on — but not one has mustered the moral courage to say: Clinton is a bad man, and he should leave the Democratic Party alone. Only Jimmy Carter and Hamilton Jordan, men who left politics two decades ago, have spoken out.
Here’s the Democrats’ dilemma: Bill Clinton has forced each and every one of his allies to surrender their souls — to defend the indefensible, deny the obvious, proclaim the fallacious; to assault the righteous and protect the corrupt; to say good is evil and evil is good. Democrats took hits for Clinton out of party loyalty, persuading themselves that a few lies on Clinton’s behalf were preferable to giving Republicans the satisfaction of saying, “Told you so!”
The problem is that souls don’t grow back as swiftly as crab claws; often, they don’t grow back at all. In saving Bill Clinton, Democrats gutted themselves — turned their backs on a proud heritage of standing boldly for their beliefs. When Richard Nixon wanted to weather the Watergate fury, Republican elder Barry Goldwater led a delegation to the White House and told Nixon he had to go.
There is a simple reason why Hugh Rodham, Jack Quinn and others thought they could secure controversial pardons for fun and profit. They knew nobody in Casa Clinton would bat an eye. The White House had become a zone freed from the rule of law, the governance of traditional standards and the restraints of conscience.
Yet, today’s Democratic leaders remain silent — perhaps afraid of surrendering the best fund-raiser they have ever seen; perhaps frightful of what may appear when reporters lift the next rock.
But sooner or later, someone will have to say what’s obvious to one and all: The man made fools of us all — and in the end, he saved the worst abuses and humiliations for his fellow Democrats.