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Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2001 / 5 Shevat 5761

Philip Terzian

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The quantity of mercy -- AS BILL CLINTON walked toward the podium at the Democratic National Convention, last summer, NBC's Geraldo Rivera hummed the theme from Rocky, and grew weepy at the spectacle of his favorite president. "You're going to miss that guy," he said. "Don't tell me you're not gonna miss that guy. This is a master. He may be a rogue, but he is an artful and pleasant rogue."

I think part of what I am going to miss about Bill Clinton has something to do with Geraldo's formula: He was an artful rogue, although not so pleasant, and you were never certain about the depths he was capable of plumbing.

Consider Inauguration Day. On the very morning that George W. Bush was assuming the mantle of the presidency, you might have expected that Clinton would refrain from broadcasting his weekly political radio address -- acknowledging, as it were, his successor's polite deference. But it was not to be. Clinton's final radio speech was full of his standard, self-aggrandizing nonsense. In the last few days of his sad administration, Clinton made more farewell appearances than Frank Sinatra had in a lifetime, and their self-infatuation seemed to grow with repetition.

In the past, it has been customary for retiring presidents to depart quietly from Washington, after their successor's swearing-in, retaining a measure of dignity and manners. But that has never been ex-President Clinton's style. The weather prevented him from floating out of the capital by helicopter -- the chosen venue for George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan -- so he commandeered a huge Air Force plane, complete with bands and honor guards, at Andrews Air Force Base. There was a big rally in the hangar, where he reassured the faithful that he isn't "going away," and then traveed to New York, where he introduced himself to a smaller airport claque as "Citizen Clinton."

Clinton had promised not to issue controversial pardons on his last day in office lest the public grow even more cynical about politics. Well, the public be damned! Along with the ex-President's hapless half-brother, Roger Clinton, Webster Hubbell, Susan McDougal, Jim Guy Tucker and a host of crooked Arkansas cronies, Clinton performed some stunning acts of mercy.

Among those pardoned were the fugitive financiers Marc Rich and Pincus Green, both of whom stole some $50 million from the federal government in an oil trading scheme, before seeking refuge in Switzerland. Over the years Mrs. Rich, who lives in New York, has been a generous contributor to the Democratic National Committee and, lately, to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. And Marc Rich's lawyer is Jack Quinn, Clinton's White House counsel. Any connections?

Then there is William Borders, who went to prison rather than testify about a bribery scheme which led to the impeachment of a Florida federal judge named Alcee Hastings. If that name is familiar, it should be: Hastings was later elected to Congress, and was part of Al Gore's sound-bite team during the post-election follies.

Most instructive of all, however, is the kindness of Clinton's friends. A perusal of the former First Couple's financial disclosure forms reveals that, during their tenure in the White House, Bill and Hillary Clinton have accepted more "gifts" from friendly citizens than very nearly all their predecessors combined. Just this past year, for example, while the Clintons listed $1 million in a Citibank personal account, insurance policies and trusts worth another million, and Mrs. Clinton garnered an $8 million book deal, it has been learned that the First Family was especially blessed ($190,027) by Mrs. Clinton's fellow residents of New York and the President's Hollywood admirers.

For example, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen spent some $4,787 for china, presumbly to housewarm the Chappaqua home. Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, provided $4,920 worth of China, which will probably be used in the Clintons' new Washington residence. Members of Bill Clinton's Georgetown Class of 1968 got together to present their fellow alumnus with a Dale Chihuly basket ($38,000), and Chihuly himself donated a $22,000 glass sculpture. Lew Wasserman's wife coughed up $4,967 worth of flatware, Jack Nicholson gave the ex-President a nice driver for his golf game ($350), and Sylvester Stallone donated (what else?) a pair of boxing gloves.

Of Mrs. Clinton's New York benefactors, however, the most poignant is Walter Kaye. The Clintons have received tens of thousands of dollars in furniture, rugs, artwork and bric-a-brac from grateful constituents. But Kaye provided a virtual Christmas potpourri: A china cabinet, chandelier, a copy of Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union speech, and a traveling humidor for Mr. Clinton's cigars. Walter Kaye, of course, is the businessman who recommended Monica Lewinsky for a White House internship. No doubt, his generosity was prompted by guilt. But the humidor suggests he's retained his sense of humor.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


01/22/01: Run, Jesse, run
01/18/01: Clinton knows history's verdict
01/16/01: Take this job and ...
01/09/01: Washed in the blood
01/04/01: Up for the count
12/26/00: Remembering Comet Lindsay
12/20/00: Cooling down
12/18/00: Presidential legacies are not so obvious to contemporaries
12/13/00: Cops and soccer moms
12/11/00: The 'Net horrifies Stephen King
12/04/00: Downey behind bars
11/29/00: By any means necessary
11/16/00: Government sanctioned historical revisionism?
11/10/00: Breaking news: They don't know
11/09/00: Steve Allen: Smart TV
11/07/00: The November surprise
11/01/00: Take the Lieberman test
10/30/00: P.S. Don't tell Congress!
10/25/00: The election is close, but ...
10/23/00: King or jester?
10/19/00: The Million T-Shirt March
10/16/00: I like (fill in the blank)
10/12/00: Now comes the hard part
10/05/00: Good show, bad sports
10/02/00: It's a wonderful life?
09/28/00: Driving on America's Main Street
09/22/00: Preparing for a new administration
09/20/00: They've got a secret
09/18/00: Today, Dr. Laura. Tomorrow ...
09/12/00: What passes for knowledge
09/05/00: The catcher gets caught
08/31/00: A Golden Age that never was
08/28/00: Blame communism, not Russia
08/24/00: Social progress on one front, regression on the other
08/21/00: The beat goes awry
08/17/00: The unwelcome democrat

© 2001, The Providence Journal