Are the Clintons better off than they were eight years ago? The evidence appears to point to a resounding yes. So why do they seem to resent the question? Probably because only a full-dress Congressional investigation could establish quite how this came to be and exactly how much better off they are. And are we all better off as well? It depends, as Bill Cosby’s grandmother famously said while solving the half-full, half-empty distinction, on whether you’re pouring or drinking.

In Korea this past fall, after the visit of Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang, expectation was high that a presidential visit would follow and that perhaps the long and lethal confrontation on the peninsula would begin to dissipate somewhat. This would have had an importance well beyond the local: North Korea is the central exhibit in the Rumsfeldian worldview and the main pretext for the "Star Wars" fantasy incubated by Reagan, preserved by Clinton and Gore, and now approaching consummation with Bush. To defuse this and, incidentally, to begin the emancipation of the North Koreans from their petrified party-state, would have been a "legacy" action worthy of the name. But Clinton, with several weeks still to go, announced that he just could not find the time.

Now we know what was keeping him so busy in his closing months. He was working like a beaver on arranging his own immunity, on trading pardons for kickbacks and on asset-stripping the White House. He was also working on the lying cover stories that would justify these things. Only in the latter respect has his usual luck failed him, and I suppose that this is because he no longer has the bodyguard of hacks and spinners who were retained at public expense to defend him on previous occasions. Sidney Blumenthal–whose own defenders once accused me of denouncing him in order to sell a small book I hadn’t even written–is too busy justifying his own $650,000 advance to spare much time to put a nice gloss on the embarrassment of the Riches. And so Clinton was reduced to red-faced and pathetic spluttering before an audience of bond traders in Boca Raton, unable to face the simplest questions and unable any longer to hide behind ludicrous claims, such as that he was our first black President, still less the friend of those who "work hard and play by the rules." He sucks up to the fat cats; they wrinkle their noses and hand him the check using a pair of tongs. Perfect.

To anyone with eyes to see, the Clinton presidency always had the look and feel of a shakedown enterprise–the transfer of the Arkansas racketeering style to the more lush and lucrative terrain of Washington, DC. "Nice to see you," the eventually discovered video has him saying to Roger Tamraz, a man who raises eyebrows in the Beirut "business community," when this choice person appears at a White House coffee morning. We don’t know what he said to James Riady, front man for Suharto, when Riady gave him a very thick and sleek envelope in the back of a limousine, because although he admits to the meeting and to the money, the master of the briefing book and the king of detail has no real-time recall of the actual conversation. Other influence-peddlers for the Chinese had virtual passes to the Executive Mansion; Dick Morris was employed there under a code name while helping to concert a fantastic circumvention of all known laws on campaign finance.

The "privacy" defense was a very ingenious way of fending off inquiries into this, and it worked, too, when Clinton was accused of using campaign-finance cupcakes as personal comfort women. How nice it was to see that Walter Kaye, the New York moneyman who bought Miss Lewinsky her internship, also contributed some furniture and even paid for Mrs. Clinton’s victory ball at the Mayflower in January. (No hard feelings, eh Walter?)

The First Lady has taken to the privacy tactic like a duck to water, first saying that what happened in the publicly owned Oval Office and Lincoln Bedroom was confidential, and nobody’s business, and then agreeing to write about it herself at the rate of $1 million per year of occupancy. Obviously, it became tiring to the Clintons to raise money from sleazebags only for their own re-election. The time comes, as come it has, when you weary of public-spirited effort and want a little pot of dough for your own pretty needs.

In much the same way, Jesse Jackson feels entitled to use the pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow to succor the unintended and inconvenient results of his own safe-sex "ministry"; hell, a preacher can’t be expected to live for others all the damn time. (What I like about the Reverend is his lack of hypocrisy; he told Clinton to keep lying, to make a pious and prayerful face, and to pay off the inconvenient chick with other people’s money. At last–a Christian who really practices what he preaches!)

A proper investigation of the Lewinsky matter, and of the Revlon money that was used to try and help condition the testimony of Lewinsky and of Webster Hubbell, would have exposed the nature of this lawless and corrupt White House several years before it exposed itself, and in time to do something about it. But a majority of the American left decided that it really did not want to know, and that the "privacy" defense was a valid one. Some things, indeed, were so "private" that they justified the invocation of "executive privilege." Not even that flagrant contradiction was enough to unsettle the loyalists. By the time Al Gore had his tear-stained confrontation with Clinton last November, it was all too late. And he, like everyone else, was calmly told that if he didn’t like it, it was just too bad. Clinton already had, as LBJ used to relish saying, the man’s pecker in his pocket. For good measure, the Democratic National Committee is turned over to Terry McAuliffe, the President’s ex-mansion hunter, who brings the fresh, breezy atmosphere of Teamsters Union ethics to this already rather raddled outfit. So it seems that the Clinton legacy is secure, and that most liberals can safely claim to have been a part of it.