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Jewish World Review Dec. 28, 2000 / 2 Teves, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Hypocrisy police pounce on Clinton book deal -- AMONG THE MANY PERILS of being a hypocrisy cop, the worst is that you may end up accepting precisely the position you think your enemy was wrong to adopt in the first place.

Remember during the Iran-Contra affair when most conservatives considered the Independent Counsel law to be an idea hatched by Satan's brain trust? There were conservatives who swore that this extra-constitutional office would do everything from undermine the rule of law to prevent puppies from getting a good night's sleep.

Then, along came Clinton with behavior that made "eight years of Reagan sleaze" look like a monastery bake-off. Overnight, my fellow conservatives hailed the Independent Counsel law as the last best hope for mankind.

The same thing happened with sexual harassment. For years, we denounced Orwellian standards symbolized in the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. But then Clinton summoned Monica Lewinsky to his tent like an Arabian sultan, and the political right miraculously turned on a dime.

Conservatives are risking the same sort of problem again. Hillary Clinton, that paragon of haughty liberal virtue, has signed a whopping book deal with Simon & Schuster. She will reportedly receive an $8 million advance, a record surpassed only by the Pope.

How tempting for partisans to make life difficult for Hillary, considering the grief Newt Gingrich received for his $4.5 million advance six years ago. In 1995, the news networks considered such an outlandish sum tantamount to a bribe from Rupert Murdoch, the owner of HarperCollins and the CEO of News Corp.

How could the speaker of the House conduct business fairly, asked ostensibly scandalized Democrats, when a giant multinational cut him such a fat check? "I made $36,000 a year for 12 years and was glad of it. I don't even know how to think in those terms," said, at the time, a shocked, shocked President Clinton, who is expected to charge $100k for a single rubber-chicken speech when he leaves office.

Michigan Rep. David Bonior, a veritable bile factory, declared of the Gingrich deal, "This latest $4 million book deal wades 10 feet deep into the ethical swamp." Gingrich was charged with hypocrisy, since he himself helped depose former Speaker Jim Wright, who apparently had been, among other things, selling his "privately published" doorstop of a book to fat cats.

Amid the flak, Gingrich declined the $4.5 million, accepting $1 instead. Republicans cheered Gringrich's graciousness and the Bonior crowd grumbled in their disappointment that Newt hadn't done the right thing by leaping off a cliff.

Now, a reasonable person might expect Bonior to be twice as outraged by an advance twice as large coming from another multinational corporation (Simon & Schuster's parent is Viacom, which owns CBS). Of course he's not. Unsaddled by intellectual consistency, Mrs. Clinton's defenders see nothing wrong with her raking in millions under almost identical circumstances to Gingrich (full disclosure, Newt Gingrich writes for National Review Online, which I edit).

Some Hillary defenders invoke legalisms, arguing that Senate rules are looser than the House rules that applied to Gingrich at the time. But the accusation was that Gingrich was essentially taking a bribe. "More tonight about whether Australian-born billionaire Rupert Murdoch is trying to buy influence with politically connected authors," was how Dan Rather introduced a Gingrich book story in 1995.

Well, a bribe is a bribe. It doesn't matter if there's a loophole for senators that doesn't exist for House members. If taking enough money to choke a hippo from a huge corporation is tantamount to corruption, or the appearance of corruption, for the speaker-elect, then it's corrupt for a senator-elect, too.

But the truth is that there's nothing corrupt about either. Sure, there are things about Hillary's book deal, and Newt's for that matter, that are politically unpalatable, but it's simply ludicrous to tell people that there's something ethically wrong with getting paid to write a book.

Indeed, the odds that Simon & Schuster is trying to buy favor with Clinton are vastly more remote than the probability that its editors, like most people in the publishing world, are deeply smitten by Mrs. Clinton and her status as a liberal victim-saint. (The political tastes of the book world is a subject for a different column.)

But the fact remains that if Hillary Clinton can sell $8 million worth of books, then she should be allowed to try. If she ends up bending over backward to help Viacom, let the voters decide whether she did so on the merits or not. And if she starts demanding donors buy her book by the truckload, let's send her packing like Jim Wright.

But conservatives shouldn't allow themselves to get caught endorsing the idea that regulating political speech - what else is a book by a politician than political speech? - is the high road. Conservatives should use this opportunity to avoid the perils of hypocrisy policing, even if their opponents are, indeed, guilty as charged.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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