- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

At this late date the last day of Bill Clinton's presidency it's more than a little tempting to heed what are probably the most significant words of the Clinton years: It's time to move on. This phrase in all its variations became the signal cry of an administration whose strategic, administrative, and emotional energies were mainly harnessed not to produce the centrist reforms Mr. Clinton promised during his 1992 presidential campaign, but to generate sufficient forward thrust to leave the detritus of scandal and deception in its wake.
The old Chinese curse may you live in interesting times may be said to have played out during the Clinton years, particularly if the phrase "interesting times" aptly describes the litany of scandals the nation has been exposed to from the administration's earliest days. But are unceasing cycles of scandal interesting? They are diverting, to be sure, although they have proven to be a draining and desensitizing national experience. Worth noting is that the meaning of scandal carries with it the sense of shocking the moral feelings of a community. A community, however, cannot live in perpetual shock. The ability to be shocked, which is an essentially civilizing trait, has been blunted in the Clinton years, sapped by our exposure to a set of behaviors and acts whose place in the political sphere has traditionally been confined to the study of the more hysterical emperors of Imperial Rome.
But there is more to the imperial nature of the Clinton years than Mr. Clinton's unrestrained appetites. Accountability, sunshine and honesty have been casualties of what often appeared to be a lawless and distinctly undemocratic power-grab. Oaths were trashed and words were minced; subpoenas were ignored and inconvenient women harassed; fingers were wagged and reputations destroyed. Thousand of key White House e-mails were mysteriously "lost." Long-subpoenaed Whitewater billing records were suddenly "found."
And, of course, there was more. Under Bill Clinton, the Justice Department became a base political tool of the White House (and even the Democratic National Committee), as did the Commerce Department, the INS, and, it would seem, the IRS. Mr. Clinton even attempted to create the Secret Service in the image of a modern-day praetorian guard. The souped-up spin machine emerged on a scale and complexity that makes a Model T out of the machinations of past guardians of presidential imagery. And then there's the dispiriting fact that influence peddlers were always welcome at the Clinton White House, where the Oval Office became a private boudoir and the Lincoln Bedroom a publicly traded commodity. In short, the public trust, whether the public cared or, rather, could care was betrayed. Maybe after a few Clinton years, it just became hard for the public to feel its pain anymore.
Long after Mr. Clinton has returned to private life or, to as private a life a publicity-needy former president can return to and long after the man has been indicted or not indicted, pardoned or not pardoned, disbarred or not disbarred, the moment Bill Clinton has been waiting for will come. The hoopla will die down. The heat will cool, the rancor will be neutralized (somewhat), and gasp the legacy will emerge. How will the administration between that of George Bush the father and George Bush the son be remembered? Impeachment, a period of great economic prosperity, and a presidency whose foreign policy was unduly influenced by illegal campaign contributions are likely to figure prominently in history's assessment. But what else will stand out? This is a matter of intense concern to Mr. Clinton. Funny thing. At this moment, eight years after Mr. Clinton came to Washington, it's almost hard to care.


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