Friday, January 26, 2001

When critics originally began referring to the Clinton White House as Motel 1600, they meant it as a jibe about the casual transformation of a national symbol into a commercial enterprise: The light was always on for big-dollar Democratic donors. But now the motel metaphor has begun to take on new meaning, as news of the administration’s last days and hours leaks out.
Like students on spring break run amok, White House personnel apparently spent their closing moments in public service by vandalizing their quarters in the White House and the Old Executive Office Building next door. Reuters reports that a number of “W” keys from computer keyboards in the Old Executive Office Building were removed, in some cases broken or taped to the tops of doorways. Some keyboards, the news service said, will have to be replaced. Reportedly, in come cases, phone lines were cut, and some that weren’t cut were redirected to the wrong offices. Voice mail messages were changed to “obscene, scatological greetings.” Some new Bush employees found pornographic pictures and obscene slogans when they printed documents from tainted computers. Filing cabinets were glued shut. In retrospect, perhaps the comparison to spring break is inappropriate it is unfair to the students.
Meanwhile, this newspaper’s John McCaslin reports in “Inside the Beltway” that President Clinton’s farewell journey on Air Force One involved stripping the plane of everything that wasn’t at least loosely tied down. Porcelain china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases even a container of Colgate toothpaste without a presidential seal on it all gone. Consider again the motel metaphor, this time of overnighters grabbing the ashtrays, towels, and bathrobes on the way to the car. Think of it as Clinton class. James Carville once tried to suggest that dragging a $20 bill through a trailer park would flush out all manner of Clinton critics, in particular Paula Jones, interested in the prospect of easy money. To judge from what happened on Air Force Once, traveling under the guise of “Special Air Mission,” Mr. Carville is in no position to criticize the ethics of anyone living in a trailer park. Let’s drag some salt and pepper shakers through Chappaqua or Hillary Clinton’s Senate offices and see what turns up.
Of course, if Clinton staffers were counting on a little moral direction from the top, they got it … after a fashion. There wasn’t much “tied down” in the Clinton administration. News of the vandalism and the strip search of Air Force One comes against a backdrop of familiar Clinton scandal. In their last days, the Clintons released a list of some $200,000 in gifts they had collected from contributors and just happened to be taking with them. The gifts, said Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, “lent a flavor of a gangster’s getaway to the enterprise.” Interestingly, the announcement came days ahead of Mrs. Clinton’s entry into the Senate, where ethics rules would have prevented her from accepting them without a waiver from the chamber’s ethics committee. One is reminded of Mrs. Clinton’s Arkansas maneuver to pull a 1993 bonus from her law firm into tax year 1992, the better to avoid the higher income taxes that Mr. Clinton signed into law in 1993. For the Clintons, rules, like taxes, are for little people. And when it comes to looting and sacking Motel 1600, it’s every man for himself.

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