- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

Pity the Democrats. They seem to have run out of the kind of double-edged adjectives that cut Bill Clinton down to size and pump themselves up to a righteous, if temporary, stature. The subject what else? is the presidential pardons that have all but put on a lock on the news since Mr. Clinton (thankfully) became our former president on January 20.

The adjectives range from "indefensible" and "squalid," choice terms now branded across once-Clintonite editorial pages, to "disgraceful," a word that summed up the situation for Jimmy Carter. Barney Frank picked "outrageous," as did Hamilton Jordan, while Bill Daley, the man who directed Al Gore's presidential campaign both before and after Election Day, couldn't decide between "terrible," "devastating" or "rather" rather? "appalling."

Ed Koch settled for nothing less than "snake oil pitchman." All this and more, according to reports, have left Mr. Clinton "perplexed." And why shouldn't he be? These are the same folks who hung tough with him through scandals far seamier than this current batch. Having gotten their last cuff link emblazoned with the presidential seal from the man, these stalwart supporters have finally turned into vociferous opponents.

No wonder Mr. Clinton is in a "funk." Lead-off apologist Paul Begala (a man who offers, straight-faced, a pardon-mess explanation to the effect that Mr. Clinton is just "a big-hearted guy") described the former president's current state of mind to the New York Times: "More than anything, I've found him to be puzzled. It's like: 'How can anyone think that way?' " How, indeed.

This sort of reaction verges on what's known as being in denial. The paper also reports, rather coyly, that "people who have spoken to [Mr. Clinton] say he believes that Republicans would have found a way to demonize him out of office without" this is the coy part "what even his friends acknowledge is the assistance he has provided them."

In other words, damned if he did provide "Republicans" with "assistance" by issuing pardons to a fugitive billionaire who trafficked with terrorist nations, a Cali-connected drug king-pin, and assorted fraudsters and scam artists who tried to fill his brother (brothers?)-in-law's pockets and dammed if he didn't. This notion definitely comes under the heading of being in denial.

But Mr. Clinton is not alone. Where conservatives see just one more assault by the Clintons on the presidency, his erstwhile allies feign an almost maidenly shock at discovering a pay-per-pardon scheme run by the Clinton family out of the Oval Office. Look how The New York Times described the scandal's impact: The nation, the paper opined, "seldom finds itself in the state of stunned bipartisan unanimity produced by President Clinton's pardons." "Bipartisan unanimity," sure but "stunned"?

It is in such protestations of shock that Mr. Clinton finds company in denial. No one who faces up to the facts every day could be stunned by anything Bill or Hillary Clinton might do. Of course, for liberals to place Pardongate in context to see it as a seamless extension of the serial lawlessness of the Clinton years they would have to do something truly great: Admit that they were wrong. No matter how many big words they'll throw around these days, they don't seem up to the task.

"The idea that somehow there was a bunch of criminality that went on for eight years and this just proves it, that is, utter, complete nonsense," said the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt. In an essay headlined, "Unpardonable" one of those righteous word choices Salon.com editor Joan Walsh writes that conservatives "insist that Clinton's demoralized backers really only have themselves to blame since they looked away from eight years of scandals from Whitewater to Travelgate to the Lewinsky mess. I don't buy that." Too bad she chooses not to explain why.

The New Republic, meanwhile, looks at the paralysis Pardongate has inflicted on national affairs and writes that because Mr. Clinton is now being punished "politically," "the system is working." But the system is not working, not unless the mechanisms that prevent such grotesque dishonesties are in good order. This hasn't been the case since, oh, say, some time around 1993.

The fact is, with the indispensable collaboration of American liberals, Mr. Clinton was able to throw monkey-wrench after monkey-wrench into the works until the system broke down around him not to mention the rest of us. Why? Even Ms. Walsh goes so far as to admit that "maybe" after impeachment, "the normal rules just didn't apply to him." Too many Americans thought that was just hunky dory. And no matter how many bad names people call Mr. Clinton now, that fact, more than anything Mr. Clinton ever did, is the problem.



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