Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2001 / 19 Shevat, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHILE in office Bill Clinton got away with murder. Now he can't get out of bed without being stuck with another PR disaster.
From his expensive Manhattan offices to his pilfering of White House furniture to the ongoing brouhaha over his pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich, how did the slickest politician in America become the stickiest? Because for the first time in his public life, he can't divert attention elsewhere, not even a little.
For example, on Monday Clinton gave his first speech as an ex-president in Boca Raton, Fla., to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which paid him $150,000. During the question-and-answer period, Clinton was asked about his pardon of Rich.
"I pardoned Rich because there was no controversy about the Rich pardon," Clinton told the crowd, according to The Washington Post.
"That's ridiculous!" heckled a woman in the audience. "Rich fled the country and never faced prosecution. There was no controversy about Rich because nobody even knew about Rich."
Clinton replied, "As far as I knew, Marc Rich and his wife were Republicans."
This, of course, is a wild, bald-faced lie. Denise Rich, Marc Rich's ex-wife, was a regular visitor to the White House who lobbied for the pardon. She has personally given more than a million dollars to the Clintons and the Democrats since 1992, and she raised millions more at glitzy fund-raisers she organized. These were attended by Bill, Hillary and Al Gore. If Bill Clinton thought the Riches were Republicans, maybe he really didn't know the meaning of "is."
When president, this sort of lie would have bought Clinton enough time to move on. But now there's nothing for him to move on to. With Bill Clinton the private citizen, what you see is what you get. When he left office, Clinton's job approval rating was around 60 percent while his personal approval rating was closer to 30. Without a job for the American people to approve of, the only rating left is the bad one.
Before he could dazzle and deny, claiming he had to go about the work of the American people. He had the White House staff and the Democratic Party working to make him look good. Now he's all alone, and his lies make everyone angry, like when OJ talks about "finding the real killers."
As president, Clinton did plenty of things just as venal, dishonest, despicable and crude as the Rich pardon, like pardoning Puerto Rican terrorists to help his wife's senate campaign. But whenever things got really bad for him, he could use the presidential prerogative to change the subject. But now the negative stories are left to fester, without being sanitized by a new headline.
This is bad news for Bill because he desperately needs to make a lot of money on the rubber-chicken circuit in order to pay off debts, not to mention cover his share of the rent for his swank new office. If his public image continues to sink, nobody's going to pay him six figures for a speech. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter has already had some clients pull their assets in protest over his Monday address, according to the Wall Street Journal.
What can Clinton do to extricate himself from this mess? Well, the same thing he always did - give the press something else to talk about, preferably something positive. I have a wacky suggestion along these lines.
Bill Clinton should move his office - and his home - to Harlem.
First of all, the press would love it. Second, the black caucus of the Democratic Party would be ecstatic. Third, it would be great for Harlem and Clinton. He is the youngest ex-president since Teddy Roosevelt. With the combination of his celebrity, energy and senator wife, Clinton could help spark a second Harlem renaissance.
By hanging his hat in Harlem, America's most famous and storied black neighborhood, he could solve its enduring economic problems almost overnight and do much to close the racial divide he insists is his life's work. The power of presidents, even ex-presidents, to create trends is immense. After all, JFK is credited for destroying the hat industry because he went topless to his inaugural.
As an ex-president, Jimmy Carter led by example by personally helping to build houses for the rural poor. Bill Clinton could lead by example by helping the urban black poor north of 125th street. In minutes Clinton would erase all memory of the mini-scandals that have plagued him during the last few weeks and would launch himself into an honorable post-presidential career. More importantly, he'd be doing the right thing.
It's just a