In dipping into Daniel Halper’s interesting new book about the Clintons’ return from the grave that they had dug for themselves during their White House years (from an approval rating of 66 percent after his impeachment, he plummeted to 39 percent upon leaving the White House to a chorus of pardon-induced Bronx cheers), a thought occurs: We have been reading these exposes about the malfeasance of the most corrupt presidential family in American history for more than two decades. For some reason, the scandals that these books reveal never sinks into the American mind. Today, despite Bill Clinton’s public record of shoddy financial deals, brutal politics and endless abuse of women, he is the most beloved of recent presidents.
It is not like the Clintons presided over a tremendously successful presidency, save for Bill’s innocent lapses with Monica Lewinsky, with her stained dress, and with his subsequent impeachment. Bill’s first year in office was so appalling he scored the worst first-year approval rating in history. From there on, he was up and he was down with the pollsters — as we have seen, really down upon leaving the White House. Moreover, what helped his current appraisal as president was the health of the economy, which would not have been possible without Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Before Bill confronted Newt, he was always a big spender. His budget plans called for extravagant spending.
Now Bill and Hillary are back in the running for the presidency; at least Hillary is. The revelations of their mendacity and general corruption are all out there, featured in a dozen critical books written over the years. Yet the Clintons have come back. Why have these books been so ineffectual? One answer I have proffered in this column and in my own books is the phenomenon of the Episodic Apologist. There is in the press an amazing collection of journalists who simply view the Clintons with resilient high hopes. They have, for more than 20 years, proceeded through every Clinton scandal episodically, from great expectations to deep indignation at the Clintons’ revealed turpitude to sudden amnesia and finally hope renewed. The cycle has gone on through all of Bill’s scandals and all of Hillary’s too. Any other politicians would have been put out of business years ago.
Yet in reading Mr. Halper’s book, “Clinton, Inc.,” I have hit on another reason for the Clinton critics’ ineffectiveness. Time and again an author writes as though he is the first to discover just how corrupt the Clintons really are. The Clintons have been caught red-handed by a whole range of authors. When Bill left the White House having signed hundreds of dubious pardons and commutations, even leading Democrats denounced him publicly; for instance, Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter. Even a dozen of so Episodic Apologists publicly washed their hands of him. It is all chronicled on the public record. Go ahead and Google it.
In writing as though he is the first author to reveal the Clintons’ tawdriness or outright corruption, each writer isolates himself and renders his findings susceptible to the Clinton Machine’s politics of personal destruction. Each author can be portrayed as an “extremist” or a “crank.” I personally observed this phenomenon in Mr. Halper’s book. On Page 251 he reports, “there was another potential bombshell, never before reported.” He is referring to foreign intelligence operatives eavesdropping on President Clinton’s telephone calls; namely, his “phone sex” calls with Monica late at night from the White House, sometimes early in the morning. Of course, as readers of this column might recall, I reported this as early as 2007 in my book “The Clinton Crack-Up” and have not been hesitant to repeat it.
In “The Clinton Crack-Up,” I reported that the calls had been intercepted by such intelligence agencies as the Israelis and the Russians. The tapes existed and could be used against Bill and Hillary whenever she ran for the White House. Mr. Halper delivers his “bombshell” without a hint that any other writer had done work in this area. He does the same with his revelation of Vince Foster’s long affair with Hillary, though that story, too, first appeared in The American Spectator, and at the time we braved public opprobrium for publishing it. There are other examples of a lack of attribution for my work and doubtless for the work of others.
Yet Mr. Halper has unearthed information that advances our knowledge of the Clintons. For instance, in the case of the sex tapes, he reveals that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ever so gingerly revealed his knowledge of them to Bill in the hope that the president would free Jonathan Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel. According to Mr. Halper, the “stricken Clinton appeared to buckle.” It took the resistance of Clinton’s national security team to restrain him from going further with Mr. Netanyahu’s request.
Well, at any rate, Mr. Halper’s book is now in the bookstores, and I hope it sells hugely. It breaks new ground with the Clintons. Still, as he finds the Clinton Machine slamming him as an “extremist” and a “crank” he has only himself to blame. He could have marshaled the work of many previous writers, at least in his footnotes, to support his new revelations, but he did not. He wanted to go it alone, much like Don Quixote.
It will take a long time to assemble the full case against the Clintons. By the time it is done, however, I doubt anyone will care about them.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is editor in chief of the American Spectator, a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author of “The Death of Liberalism” (Thomas Nelson, 2012).