SPidge Tales

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bill Clinton: The Best Republican President

Dostoevsky wrote of the terrible torture of telling a man the date of his own death. Rickey Ray Rector, a retarded man facing the gallows (actually the needle) in 1992, thankfully did not have to suffer this torment, since he was too mentally handicapped to understand his own fate. On the night of his execution, he did not eat his Last Meal dessert, asking the guards to save it for later. That piece of pie was the only thing spared. Rector’s life—and the dignity of a soon to be President—did not survive; for one William Jefferson Clinton made sure to break from the campaign trail to be witness to the execution of a retarded man in Arkansas whose life he could have spared. After all, four years earlier, Michael Dukakis appeared squeamish defending his anti-death penalty stance, and Bill Clinton could not afford to look like another soft-on-crime Democrat.

Rector was no innocent man. He turned the gun on himself after committing murder. But the suicide attempt fell incomplete; he gave himself the equivalent of a lobotomy, leaving himself with the intelligence of a very young child. Yes, capital punishment is a divisive issue, but no one can argue that executing this man was in any way needed to protect society. I just hope that someone got to eat that piece of pie. And I hope this story is an aberration in the life of former President Clinton. But after reading Christopher Hitchens’s “No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton,” I fear this example is sadly axiomatic of the Clinton political machine.

One must always read Christopher Hitchens with a grain of salt (and, presumably a stogie and a glass of scotch). Hitchens makes political enemies easily and often, and avoids the “on the one hand…but on the other hand” triangulations that he paints of this book’s antagonist. Mother Theresa is the “ghoul of Calcutta.” Henry Kissinger is a “war criminal the likes of Pol Pot.” And God…well, to Hitchens, “God is not great,” and his followers are, to put it mildly, even worse. But, Hitchens can’t be painted into easy strokes. He is a fierce secularist and simultaneously a fierce Iraq War hawk. He is a harsh opponent of the Christian Right, but as we see here, just as harsh a rival of President Clinton. And, if Hitchens’s critique of Clinton is correct, Clinton is one of the best Republican presidents we have ever had.

Leftist defenders of Clinton during the Impeachment, Hitchens says, miss the point by saying “it was only a blow job.” Clinton lied under oath. He committed perjury. And, you just cannot separate the personal and the political in Bill Clinton. He is a president who, conveniently, bombed Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq in 1998 during heightened investigations of his personal behavior. Maybe the timing of these bombings were coincidence, maybe they were a case of “Wag the Dog.” This is a man who gave the Republicans a victory they could never have dreamed about with Reagan and Bush I, instituting a welfare reform that eradicated 60 years of New Deal social programs put into place by FDR. It is easy to point out the hypocrisy in Republicans extolling the virtue of stay-at-home middle class moms while screaming for single mother “welfare queens” to put the kids in daycare and go back to work. The hypocrisy is taken to another level when a President who has had more than his share of extramarital dalliances, and more than his share of women broaching accusations of sexual harassment, requires of poor women to name the fathers of their babies to remain on welfare. And Mr. Clinton is appalled when the Independent Counsel asks him to reveal his private illicit sex life?

As a high school student during the height of the Starr Report, all I got out of the case was a constant back and forth of “they are smearing Clinton for his personal life” versus “the President is leader of the free world and should be morally virtuous.” Hitchens's polemic does lead this book reviewer (me :-)) to want to read more about the Clinton presidency from other authors. But it also helps this book reviewer (me :-), again) to appreciate the truth that the personal and the political/professional cannot easily be separated, and do effect one another.


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