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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2001/ 29 Teves, 5761


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There's a kind of hush in DC -- THE MINUTES ticked by last Saturday morning like a newsreel from the 1940s: Bill Clinton had orchestrated his final hours as president so that he'd hog 90 percent of an enabling media's attention. There were time-killing weather reports on tv-as if the rain in Washington, DC, were going to stop-but most of the action centered on Clinton's last-minute plea-bargain with Robert Ray, the bizarre list of men and women he pardoned and the record number of "farewell" speeches he'd deliver to anyone still listening. This wasn't the standard Inauguration Day protocol, but it was hardly a surprise. No one, except perhaps the repulsive Alan Dershowitz, has ever accused the 42nd President of being a classy kind of guy.

Flipping channels between Fox, MSNBC and CNN (I'd rather my sons watch guttermouth rappers than the political pornography blasted onto the screen by creeps like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw), it was one faceless anchor after pundit after politician commenting on Clinton's staged frenzy of activity. He'll never go away! This man with the voracious appetite for politics is the incoming shadow president! Goodbye and Hello to the Comeback Kid! The opinion was unanimous: How could an inexperienced and tongue-tied governor from Texas ever compete with this larger-than-life dynamo? This was a man, despite a few personal foibles, who defined an entire decade, and rescued his party from forever wallowing in Dukakis-ville!

It was rough sledding, all this chitchat about that lovable rascal Clinton, the ludicrous praise heaped upon an unscrupulous man who makes a pop-culture speck like Eminem seem quaint in comparison. With all the baloney from Al Gore and Joe Lieberman last fall about cleaning up the "filth" in Hollywood, while they stuffed their pockets with checks from those responsible for it, it was lamentable that the GOP couldn't strategically carpet-bomb battleground states with tv advertising spots that pinpointed the lies, finger-wagging and obfuscation of the Clinton administration. George W. Bush's commercials were gauzy and flat. Because of Clinton's good job-approval ratings, the high-voltage footage-like Al Gore praising his boss on Impeachment Day at the '98 Rose Garden pep rally-was off-limits.

A relatively small number of protesters lined the streets of Washington, but aside from a few tomatoes thrown at Bush's limo, this crew was fairly lethargic. After all, it was windy and cold, and the morning cartoons were still on. The New York Times' David Rosenbaum tried to mold an article out of the dissent, but there was little to work with. It's not as if the Vietnam War, which inflamed the boomer generation, both out of sincere idealism and an instinct for self-preservation, were around now to provide an impetus for a pampered contemporary group of protesters who-whether white, yellow, black or blue-have adopted "Disenfranchised" as their middle names. Rosenbaum delivered a wan report for last Sunday's paper: "Many complained about the ballot procedures and Supreme Court ruling that led to George W. Bush's becoming president. Others demonstrated over global trade, civil rights, abortion, capital punishment, rain forests and corporate power."

The usual lazy Susan of complaints. My favorite passage of the Times reporter's pro forma dispatch was the following: "'It's sort of an inchoate feeling,' said Anna Galland, a 21-year-old college student from Evanston, Ill., who was carrying several different placards this morning and had not decided which one to raise during the inauguration parade." Congratulations, Miss Galland. "Inchoate" is a fancy word. I wonder if you know which generals were present at Appomattox? Whoops, send MUGGER to the showers for alluding to the Land of Dixie! Now I'll never get dinner invites from Sens. Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin.

BUT THEN noon arrived last Saturday, and I swear the howls from Barbra Streisand, Geraldo Rivera, Paul Begala, Tina Brown and Katie Couric could be heard from coast to coast. When President Bush took the oath of office, his proud family providing a Norman Rockwell tableau on the podium, all at once Clinton's visage grew dimmer and dimmer. Snotty journalists made great sport of the fact that both GWB and GHWB shed a tear or two, as if that were a fatal indication of weakness. The heck with 'em. No one in the extended Bush clan will admit it, but part of the reason George W. ran for president was to avenge his father's loss to an inferior man from Arkansas. That he accomplished that long-odds feat, while pelted with unimaginable ridicule, is testament to his determination and singlemindedness, an estimable trait for a chief executive. I'm certain it was the happiest day of former President Bush's life-not to mention his wife Barbara's-witnessing the swearing-in of his oldest son as the new president. I don't care at all for the politics of the arrogant Kennedy family, but their devotion to each other, like the Bush family's, is a glorious trait.


Maybe it was the weather in Washington, but as the cameras panned to the outgoing President, he looked gray and white-not unlike third-day snow on the ground-as if he'd aged 10 years in just five minutes. And when Bush gave his inaugural address, Clinton looked pained. Because what the 43rd President said for posterity was that his administration would stand for dignity and character, two words that have been erased from the Oval Office dictionary these past eight years.

Suddenly, the political focus of the United States was clear. I don't like to indulge in cornpone, but as Bush spoke, it was like when The Wizard of Oz turned from black and white to color. Bush's brief but sharp description of his administration's goals was as clear a declaration of intent as has been heard since Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency 20 years ago.

He said: "Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character... Together, we will reclaim America's schools before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives. We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans. We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors."

There it was. The essence of Bush's campaign, presented not in a verbose laundry list, but in several simple sentences. It doesn't take a political scholar to interpret his goals: school vouchers, privatization of inefficient government programs and institutions (how about the U.S. Postal Service?), equitable tax reform, the welcoming of immigrants and a refurbished, reinvigorated military. It remains to be seen how much of this agenda Bush can accomplish-any number of failures will certainly make him a one-term president-but he can't be accused of espousing mushy, feel-good ambitions.

CLINTON WAS shameless even after he'd given up the White House keys. At another farewell, this one staged at Andrews Air Force Base, the nation's number-one narcissist told supporters: "You see that sign there that says please don't go? I left the White House, but I'm still here! I wish you well. You gave me the ride of my life, and I probably gave as good as I got." Once again: me, myself and I.

I have no beef with Clinton pardoning his half-brother Roger, who traded on the President's status in a skeezy but sometimes entertaining way, not unlike the late Billy Carter. And the inclusion of Patty Hearst on the list was long overdue. Webb Hubbell must be muttering about not making the cut, while Susan McDougal got her reward. Them's the breaks, Webb. Besides, you probably never flashed a little ankle to the King of Dogpatch.

But the most inexcusable recipient of Clinton's hodgepodge government-sanctioned generosity was fugitive Marc Rich, the 66-year-old commodities trader who's still on the lam in Switzerland after his indictment for tax evasion, racketeering, fraud and suspect oil deals with Iran. A story in Sunday's New York Post noted that Rich, as of Saturday night, was still listed as an "international fugitive" on the Justice Dept.'s website, along with partner Pinky Green, who was also given a pass by Clinton.


Crooks living abroad, who haven't demonstrated any contrition, aren't usually treated by U.S. presidents in such a cordial manner. But then, Rich, whose ex-wife Denise has raised large amounts of cash (the Washington Times reported nearly $1.3 million) for the Democratic Party, isn't just a run-of-the-mill criminal. It's not hard to connect the dots: for all the public knows, Marc and Denise Rich, although divorced, may have a businesslike relationship not unlike the Clintons'. And so, since we know that Clinton was indiscriminate about where his campaign funds came from, it's not a stretch to believe that Rich dug deep into that Swiss bank account to make sure Bob Dole was rubbed out early in the '96 election. I can envision a Marc Rich wing of the Clinton Presidential Library-how about you?

On Sunday, kibitzing with reporters at a Chappaqua deli, Clinton defended his pardons, saying, "You're not saying these people didn't commit the offense. You're saying they paid. They paid in full and they've been out enough after their sentence to show they're good citizens, so they ought to have a chance to get full citizenship." Rich didn't "pay" a debt to society in the usual sense, and he never served a jail sentence. But there were, typically, extenuating circumstances. Does it surprise anyone that Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, who served in the Clinton administration, lobbied successfully for the pardon?

The New York Times-surprise-didn't make much of this eye-popping pardon, burying Rich's name deep into its story about the 140 people who received pardons. However, the paper did devote a separate story to Michael Milken, the unfairly maligned financier-turned-philanthropist (after a detour in the pokey), who wasn't let off the hook in Clinton's last hours as president. As I wrote recently, Milken didn't need to dirty himself by accepting a gift from a lesser man like Clinton. As it turned out, he was quoted in the Times as saying, "Back in '93, I was given a year to live [he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer], so in that context, it's hard to be disappointed about this."

Clinton might've skated on his own obstruction of justice charges-and maybe he'll never be held accountable for the crimes he committed while president-but investigative reporters will be busy for years piecing together the corruption, financial and political, that will ultimately define his two terms in office.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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