Jewish World Review July 19, 2000/16 Tamuz, 5760
a lie about a slur?
Just when we thought there could be nothing new in another book about Hillary Clinton, we get the latest profanity from the first lady. One of her old friends in Arkansas says she once, in a hissy fit of anger and frustration, yelled at a hapless hireling, "you *%$#% Jew bastard."
"I wanted to unequivocally state it never happened," Hillary said on Sunday.
But maybe "it" depends on what your meaning of "it" is. The plot thickened yesterday. The first husband interrupted the tension at the Middle East peace talks, of all places, to say he was there on that Arkansas election night 26 years ago and he agreed, it didn't happen. Uh, ummm, on reflection, he said some of it didn't happen. Maybe part of it did. Could be.
"She might have called him a bastard," Mr. Clinton told a reporter for the New York Daily News, breaking the rule he established himself that there would be no conversations between the principals at Camp David and the reporters looking for something to write. Of course, when he made the rule he didn't know Hillary would need a little help with her Senate campaign.
"I wouldn't rule that out," he said of her use of the word bastard. "She's never claimed that she was pure on profanity. But I've never heard her tell a joke with an ethnic connotation."
It's difficult to imagine Hillary telling a joke about anything, or getting the punch line straight if she did, and the president is the greatest living authority on the sewer mouth of his lady. So maybe he's right. But we're not talking about a joke. All we have here is the word of the president and the first lady, and the last eight years —the last 26 years for those of us who knew them down in Arkansas — have taught us that nobody tells a lie with greater ease and conviction than a Clinton, even a synthetic Clinton.
Hillary and her handlers were thoroughly rattled by the assertion of one Paul Fray that young Hillary was looking for someone to blame when Bill Clinton's first political campaign crashed and burned on an Arkansas election night in 1974, and he was chosen. Mr. Fray, as it happens, is not Jewish, but Hillary knew that he, like she, has Jewish relatives.
Mr. Fray's wife said she was there, and heard it the way her husband did. A third witness, Neil McDonald, was standing outside the room and he heard it, too. If Hillary threw a lamp, as she sometimes does to emphasize a point in her discussions with her husband at the White House, nobody claims to have seen that. Ethnic slurs are not unknown in Arkansas, but Jewish slurs are rarer than they might be in, say, a suburb of Chicago. The only Jews most Arkansawyers know own department stores, and a public slur like "Jew bastard" would be remembered.
This could be the pivotal issue in her Senate race. Some Jews may not mind defamation, as long as the defamators are liberal Democrats, but others, calculating that together with similar incidents this one accurately reflects Hillary's private disdain for Jews, do mind. Rick Lazio has no chance to win the Jewish vote, but he might shave a percentage point or two from Hillary's share of that vote. That could very well be his margin of victory. The panic in the Clinton camp over the weekend was real, and justified.
The only evidence of innocence that Hillary could offer was an ambiguous handwritten letter from Mr. Fray, written three years ago, apologizing for offenses the letter does not describe. Hillary is careful not to describe what Mr. Fray's letter is talking about, either, but she released the letter in the hopes that Jewish voters in New York would be thick enough to misread it as proof of Hillary's innocence.
In his letter, Mr. Fray writes: "I have wronged you. I ask for your forgiveness because I did say things against you, and called you names, not only to your face — but behind your back . . . names that are unmentionable. At one time in my life, I would say things without thinking, without factual foundation. . . . I beg your forgiveness."
An apology, even an apology to a Clinton, no doubt makes a transgressor feel better, but on its face the letter says nothing about whether Hillary called Mr. Fray a "Jew bastard." Mrs. Fray says she heard it. Neil McDonald says he heard it. Neither has apologized. Nobody has retracted anything.
Yesterday, on the Fox News Chanel, Fray offered to take a lie detector test to prove his charges are true.
Hillary's defense is the familiar one, that the Clintons are entitled to the benefit of the usual doubt. The president sent Joe Lockhart, his press agent, out to put the White House spin on the story: "Well, I think . . . the president probably has more experience than any living human being about how deep in the gutter some people can go."
You said it,
07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit