Selected Skirmishes: Hill & Billy

The Clinton administration's school for scandal


In 1992, the Clintonistas made the case that 12 years of Reagan-Bush had led to a marked decline in the fine public morality that had distinguished the Jimmy Carter years. True, the Republican presidents hadn't been guilty of any crimes, but they had surrounded themselves with the most unsavory opportunists: the "sleaze factor," as it was dubbed by the Democrats.

The litmus test on what these exemplars of honest government consider Conduct Unbecoming arrived with Pulitzer prize winner James Stewart's Blood Sport. A chorus of Hill & Billy wannabes (including virtually every op-ed regular at The New York Times and Washington Post) instantly proclaimed the Clintons out of the woods on Whitewater: As despicable as their behavior may have been, no crimes were committed. See, their apologists boasted, they're only sleazy!

The double standard is rich. Criminal near-misses in the investigations of Republicans like Ed Meese and Neil Bush were considered bulls-eyes, and we were treated to Democratic bellowing on the dangers of the mere appearance of impropriety. When was the last time you heard the administration use that cliche? Or say a peep about the "public's right to know"–that one sacred protective coating of democracy that so recently stood between America and totalitarianism?

Indeed, now we're hearing loads about a new freedom: The public's right not to be subject to the embarrassing television footage of their president testifying in court to try to get his criminal buddies off the hook. In response to requests from news organizations to gain control of Citizen Clinton's video testimony on behalf of the McDougals and Jim Guy Tucker, the White House crafted that ingenious legal pretext for keeping the tape on strictly a need-to-know basis.

Otherwise, it would be used by his partisan political opponents to humiliate him in the fall campaign. Of course, that's exactly what the opposition party is supposed to do: Inform the voters as to what the (other) miscreants in high public office have been doing with their tax dollars. And if you don't want the American people to know that you've been testifying in lots of criminal cases lately, maybe you ought not go into business with people who smell like Jim McDougal.

There is no shame to Hill & Billy. They are both imbued with one extra gene, medical diagnostics will surely attest, that empowers them to reflexively a) ruthlessly demonize their opponents and b) instantly retreat into the safe harbor of victimhood–all at the instinctual, amoral level. Look at the body count, the number of lives they and their minions have tarred to save themselves from the probe of informed public opinion, without so much as an eyeblink of remorse.

They vilify David Hale, a Clinton judicial appointee (!), as a cynical liar; they attack Ken Starr for an alleged conflict of interest (a Republican prosecuting a Democrat–what conflict?); trash Paula Jones as a slut (gee, that rules Billy Boy out!) as Clinton shoe polisher James Carville muses about what turns up when you "wave $100 bills in a trailer park"; they roust White House travel office manager Billy Dale into federal court, and after an angry jury acquits him in a matter of minutes, Hillary-and-Bill mouthpiece Robert Bennett brands him as an incompetent and slothful target of appropriate disciplinary action. Then a chastened, demure Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton pouts on Larry King Live that the people in Washington are so nasty, that the Clintons were so unprepared for the brutal negativity of the Republican attack dogs who, of course, being slimeballs helping the greedy and undeserving rich, have nothing else to offer.

Will the president get away with his scandalous behavior and moralistic joy-riding? Aha! You've missed the disappearing pea! He has already pocketed $100,000 in a transfer from the Tyson Food Co., laundered through Hillary's cattle futures trading account. Anyone with the least knowledge of financial markets must know that Ms. Rodham's 10,000 percent return on a $1,000 cattle contract "investment" was substantially higher than the concurrent return available on the S&P 500, even allowing for the fact that she let her risk capital ride a full 14 months.

Equally obvious is the fact that the deal was dirty; the only plausible explanation is that opposing positions were taken by the commodities broker Rodham Clinton shared with the lobbyist for Tyson, the gains and losses distributed in a politically correct fashion. Heads Hillary wins, tails Tyson loses.

Recall that Vice President Agnew was tossed from public life for bribes an order of magnitude smaller than $100,000, and that these payments were likewise tendered prior to his White House service. The hapless Spiro, no doubt, should have retained the Rose law firm for its financial expertise with untraceable transfers. Because the Clintons, still and all, are banished not; the smoking gun is on display, but the Prez (and press) simply refuses to inhale.

Contributing Editor Thomas W. Hazlett (hazlett@primal.ucdavis.edu) is an economist at the University of California at Davis and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.