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.