During his closing weeks in office, Bill Clinton refused a plea, signed by many leading lawyers and civil libertarians, that he declare a moratorium on capital punishment. The moratorium enjoys quite extensive support among Republicans and is gaining ground with public opinion; its imposition would undoubtedly have given a vital second chance to defendants and convicts who are in dire need of it. Clinton waved the petition away. So I think we can safely dispense with the argument being put forward by some of his usual apologists–that his sale of indulgences in The Pardoner’s Tale was motivated by his own fellow feeling for those trapped in the criminal justice system. His fellow feeling is for fellow crooks, now as ever.

In those same closing weeks, while he was claiming to be too busy to address the new opening in North Korea (no money in that famine-stricken state), Clinton purported to be working tirelessly and down to the wire on a Middle East settlement. It appeared that he couldn’t see enough of the doomed mediocrity Ehud Barak. But now we know–since there most certainly was no movement on any "settlement"–what they were talking about. Barak and others like him were also facing retirement from politics and wanted to remember those who might make that retirement a little more comfortable. (Perhaps you noticed that the plans for the Clinton library in Arkansas include a 5,000-square-foot penthouse, big enough for one man to have his wife sleep over, if she wasn’t content with the two palaces somehow acquired during an eight-year hitch on a civil-service salary.)

There are two very serious implications arising from this. First, did Clinton franchise his office as President and convert public foreign policy into private donations? Second, does he now intend to imply that if people don’t like his pardon policy, they should blame the Jews and Israelis? The clear suggestion of the vast, mendacious Op-Ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times on February 18 is that it was this latter faction, and not any consideration of personal gain, that tipped the scale for Marc Rich and Pincus Green–labor exploiters, frauds and profiteers from the Ayatollah and apartheid.

My e-mail traffic and my antennae all tell me that the point has not been lost on those who notice scandals that feature Jewish names. Secret deals, underhanded bargains, occult political influence and international finance–I don’t have to draw you a picture. I admit with embarrassment that I was almost relieved to see the terrific article in the Washington Post of February 25, demolishing in detail all the falsifications contained in Clinton’s original piece. Relieved, that is, to see that it was written by Morris Weinberg Jr. of the old firm of Zuckerman, Spaeder, who led the prosecution of Rich in the first place. Has it come to this?

Don’t omit to notice, either, the studied insult offered by Clinton to the black community. Do I look like a crook? Hey, I’m off to Harlem! This is another variation on the old theme that his sexual thuggery, family dysfunction, hysterical lying and chronic self-pity make him an African-American. Who could confect a more gross libel on a whole people? It’s made even worse by Clinton’s breathtaking invention of a boyhood spent walking the Harlem streets; this to follow his earlier falsehoods about having stuck up for Jackie Robinson against the rednecks and about having sat with his friends at the back of Arkansas buses in solidarity with Rosa Parks. (He offered that choice fabrication at the very ceremony where Ms. Parks was at last invested with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.)

I offer this piece of inductive reasoning. Clinton was notoriously legacy-conscious. He also possesses a very strong instinct about what can and what cannot be made to "fly" with the press. He must have known he was running a considerable risk by the promiscuity of his pardon policy. Ergo, it must have been worth the risk. Ergo, it must be something very squalid indeed; probably at least as squalid as it looks. But this is nothing when compared with the degradation that he continues to inflict on the rest of society, loudly insisting as he wallows in the muck that others be dragged down into it with him. It’s absurd to talk about "moving on" while this persists. The only way to move on, or to achieve "closure," is to bring this person and his accomplices to justice at long last and to learn from the ways in which they so long evaded it.


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Talking of another character whose role in The Pardoner’s Tale was so ethically uplifting, I have received a freshet of inquiries about Elie Wiesel [see "Wiesel Words," February 19]. Many readers were astounded to hear that he had been a zealous supporter of Menachem Begin’s Irgun in the 1940s, some doubted it, and others challenged me.

This confusion arises partly, I suspect, from the failure of those who bought his memoirs (glutinously titled All Rivers Run to the Sea) to undertake the daunting task of reading them. But Wiesel there gives an account of his days working on the newspaper Zion in Kamf, an organ of the Irgun based in Paris in the late 1940s. With the easy dishonesty that marks everything he writes, Wiesel spends a paragraph or two affecting not to have known this paper’s real views. But he then seems to forget this excuse (he admits to knowing from the start that its owner was a Jabotinsky militant) and devotes a long passage to hailing the mobilizations of the Irgun and the Lehi/Stern Gang, and to bewailing the Altalena affair. This was the famous ship, carrying weapons for Begin’s private militia, that was fired upon and sunk by Israeli officers, including Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, who feared that the armory would be used against Jews as well as Arabs. The ultraright’s loathing of Ben-Gurion for issuing the order is given the fullest expression by Wiesel, who terms it "murder and treason." Since the forces of Irgun and Lehi had until recently been professing open admiration for Mussolini and Hitler, it’s easy to see that Wiesel’s support for the extremist wing in Israeli politics is not of recent date.