- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003


by Rich Lowry

Regnery Publishing, Kansas $27.95, 470 pages

Remember Bill and Hillary Clinton? Rich Lowry, editor of National Review and author of “Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years,” has no intention of anyone forgetting soon. But after the avalanche of published material on America’s former first couple, one could ask why.

The author argues that the Clintons’ legacy needs a new look after the September 11 disasters. Perhaps, but the indictment, although well-written and well-researched, presents little that is news. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect is overwhelming. How in the world did the American people twice elect a commander-in-chief with all his already well-known flaws? Oops, that may be a subject for another book, certainly a doctoral thesis.

I have one suggestion for that work’s future author. Look first at the quality of the opposition, the Republican Party. To Mr. Lowry’s credit, he does not spare the GOP for its ineptness, including, I would argue, the attempt to impeach and remove from office a president caught in a web of lies about a bizarre sexual affair with a woman barely older than his daughter.

So is this yet one more rabid, right-wing attack on the Clintons? Their apologists may well say so, but that would be wrong. Certainly, the author makes no claim as a Clinton-hater, and he spends little time on such conservative bugaboos as Vince Foster’s death. Mercifully, the sexual escapades are featured in only one chapter out of 13, and Mr. Lowry raises doubts about one of them — the Paula Jones matter that no one has yet adequately addressed (if it should be addressed at all).

There are instead chapters on the economy, welfare and crime that are not flattering to the 42nd president, but hardly a picture of Dorian Gray either. There are very unflattering portraits of the former first lady, former Attorney General Janet Reno and ex-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Curiously, the Clinton men, like Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, get little mention.

The campaign finance scandals need more attention, if for no other reason than that, in implications for this regime, the appearance of impropriety vastly outweighs any Kennedyesque sexual misconduct.

This brings us to the discussion of foreign policy, by far the best part of the book. Again the indictment is familiar, but still highly disconcerting. Mr. Clinton was clearly unprepared by background or temperament to make the hard decisions. Here, once again, the ghost of Harry Truman beckons us with his advice about heat and kitchens.

Judging from the evidence presented, the former president was not at home on the range. Nor did he after eight years get used to the brutal fact that presidents have to order servicemen and -women to assume the high risk of death or dismemberment. He even worried about some night watchman at the Saudi aspirin plant. Mr. Clinton’s claim during the ‘92 campaign (not recorded here) that he was ready to assume the burden because of his experience as commander of the Arkansas National Guard remains what it was — risible.

Still, there is reason to pause. Mr. Lowry is unsparing of the former president’s “cowardice” — his word — and refusal to accept responsibility in matters of war and peace. Hence, the author describes the desultory, if not derisive efforts, at tracking down Osama bin Laden even after the murder of our diplomats in East Africa.

But does it matter that Mr. Clinton didn’t know how to salute and had to be taught? And as for Iraq, the certainties of 2001 and 2002 have given way to considerable reflection on the use of force in Mesopotamia — and not from the usual assortment of San Francisco-style liberals, but others who have always had doubts about changing a policy fashioned by two separate administrations that seems to have worked on a number of fronts, including the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

So what about Mrs. Clinton? Although she is one of the raisons of the book, she virtually disappears after an amusing chapter on her work as Nanny-in-Chief. Her detractors are going to have to do much better if they expect to keep her from the White House in 2008. And if the Republicans fatally underestimate her as they did her husband (twice!), then they can expect the reward of those who did the same for Ronald Reagan.

Roger Fontaine served as a National Security Council staff member during the first Reagan administration.

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