Can Sen. Clinton Ever Settle With Political Enemies?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) certainly has the brains, political acumen and drive to be president some day. The worry is that she’s so consumed with score-settling that Washington’s savage political wars would never end.
Her new book, “Living History,” and recent interviews are replete with references to “the politics of personal destruction” carried out against herself and her husband.
[IMGCAP(1)] Granted, she makes no vows to get even. But neither does she show any signs of forgiveness, reflect on the Clintons’ own responsibility for the combat or suggest any means of instituting a cease-fire.
As a Senator, she has reached across the partisan and ideological divide — to get aid for New York from the Bush administration and work with arch-conservative Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on adoption issues. On the other hand, her sense of ongoing, all-out war seems very deep.
Asked by ABC’s Barbara Walters about her famous statement that the Monica Lewinsky scandal was the work of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” she said, “I would say there is a very well-financed, right-wing network of people … that was after his presidency from the very beginning, really stopped at nothing, even to the point of perverting the Constitution in order to undermine what he was trying to do for the country.”
There’s no question that some right-wing groups and individuals spread scandalous stories about Bill Clinton from the outset of his 1992 candidacy and persistently opposed his policies.
On the other hand, the burden of the evidence gathered by reputable journalists suggests that the stories the right-wingers spread — such as Clinton’s use of Arkansas state troopers to facilitate his rampant philandering — turned out to be true.
Moreover, the mark of a talented politician is to isolate his or her extreme enemies and render them inconsequential. Clinton somehow managed to galvanize his opponents to include nearly the entire House Republican majority, which impeached him.
And, as much as the Clintons may have been savaged by their enemies, they savaged back — or savaged first — against those who threatened them.
According to former Clinton aide Dick Morris, Clinton’s 1992 campaign used $100,000, including federal matching funds, “to hire private detectives to go into the personal lives of women who were alleged to have had sex with Bill Clinton … to coerce them into signing affidavits” denying involvement with him.
Clinton loyalists savaged special prosecutor Kenneth Starr as a “sex-obsessed zealot on a mission divined from higher authority” and waged what Time magazine called a “clandestine war” to investigate the ethics and sex lives of members of his prosecutorial team.
In her Barbara Walters interview, Sen. Clinton claimed that her husband’s liaison with Lewinsky, while immoral, was essentially off-limits for public concern.
“The only people with the right to hold him accountable for his private conduct,” she said, “were Chelsea and me.” This ignores, of course, the responsibility of a president to set a moral tone for the nation and to — at a minimum — behave discreetly.
President Clinton engaged in what he later called “improper sexual activity” in the White House with a government intern and then persistently lied about it — to the public, under oath in a court proceeding and to his staff and wife, who spent countless hours and public money defending him.
All this was the public’s business, a point which Sen. Clinton still doesn’t seem to get.
Her husband’s infidelities wouldn’t be an issue if Sen. Clinton ever became president, but the tendency to make enemies might be. She has a tendency to demonize, not co-opt, those who disagree with her.
In her book, for instance, she primarily blames interest groups — especially the insurance and pharmaceutical industries — for the failure of her 1994 health care reform plan and casts them as being “part of the political war that was bigger than Bill or the issues we championed.”
But my own recollection from covering the health reform debate — bolstered by that of one of Sen. Clinton’s adversaries — is that she set out in advance to exclude potential foes, not take their concerns into account.
“She could have co-opted the Health Insurance Industry Association, but she wasn’t interested,” its former director, Chip Kahn, told me.
HIAA sponsored the famous “Harry and Louise” television ads that galvanized opposition to Clinton’s comprehensive health plan, but Kahn said the ads originally were simply designed to win HIAA a role in formulating health policy.
“It was so clear when you talked to her agent, Ira Magaziner [director of Clinton’s health care task force], that if you weren’t one of their favored groups, they just didn’t listen to you,” said Kahn, now head of the Federation of American Hospitals.
Talented and bright as she is, there’s a paranoid streak in Sen. Clinton’s politics. It’s true, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once wryly observed, that “even paranoids have enemies.” But it’s also true that paranoids make enemies when they don’t need to. That’s the potential danger in a second Clinton presidency.