Clinton is no Nixon

Memo to Horowitz: "The most criminal, most corrupt, most cynical administration" isn't the current one, pal.

By Joe Conason
July 6, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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Urging the hyperbolic Salon columnist David Horowitz to calm down and cite facts instead of spewing insults seems as pointless as asking a dog not to defecate on the sidewalk. In either instance, the result is always and predictably the same: Somebody has to clean up a stinking pile. This chore is left to me, since Horowitz blurted my name while unburdening himself.

Shovel in hand, I wonder where to begin. My colleague has blanketed an extensive area with his rhetorical excretions. Consider his opening assertion that the Clinton administration is "the most criminal, most corrupt, most cynical administration in American history."

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How best to respond to this banal, flatulent oratory? "Cynical" refers to a state of mind, after all, and thus cannot be measured in any meaningful way. While Horowitz may genuinely believe Clinton is more cynical than any previous president, he certainly can't prove it. "Corrupt" is almost equally vague, since it can denote moral, ethical or legal decadence.

Ah, but "criminal" is a word possessing a specific meaning in our language and laws. The criminality of any political administration can be determined, at least in some roughly quantifiable sense, by the number of indictments and convictions amassed against its officials.

That's why Ulysses S. Grant still is regarded by serious historians as titleholder of "most criminal administration." The Whiskey Ring scandal alone led to indictments of 238 individuals, nearly half of whom were convicted; a great many of them were federal officials. Grant's eight years in office saw several other major blowups, too, including the Credit Mobilier and Sanborn contracting affairs.

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By any such objective measurement, President Clinton compares favorably not only with Grant but with two more recent presidents brought to power by the Grand Old Party. (In case any readers aren't aware, the GOP also happens to be the party which Horowitz, through his various "nonpartisan" tax-exempt fronts, serves as both a leading pamphleteer and a prodigious fundraiser, who organized $100,000 or more in contributions to George W. Bush.)

Equating the late Richard Nixon with Bill Clinton is an absurdity promoted by Republican partisans since the beginning of the Whitewater pseudo-scandal. Notwithstanding Clinton's own generous eulogy at the time of the former president's death, it is truly audacious of Horowitz to reduce the vast culpability of Nixon and his gang to the erasure of an 18-minute tape that "allegedly" -- a word Horowitz uses sparingly indeed -- proved obstruction of justice.

Actually, there are several audible tapes that amply demonstrate Nixon's gangsterism, in particular the infamous "smoking gun" tape of June 23, 1972. More importantly, the Watergate coverup was merely the most publicized offense of a White House that was the scene of a dozen desperate criminal conspiracies, including multiple burglaries of its "enemies"; bribery of witnesses with suitcases full of cash; blatant extortion of milk producers, ITT, Howard Hughes and other corporate contributors; siphoning of illegal campaign money from the Greek military dictatorship; and gross misuse of the CIA, the FBI and the IRS. And that's just the executive summary of Nixonian felonies.

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The gallery of rogues working for Nixon could have filled several cellblocks, from the vice president, two former attorneys general, the White House chief of staff and various presidential aides, all the way down to the bent bureaucrats and gun-toting thugs who staffed CREEP, the Committee to Reelect the President.

On a somewhat pettier scale, Tricky Dick increased his personal wealth three times over during his first term as president, thanks to sleazy deals with his various pals, and the old reprobate cheated on his federal taxes, too. He was spared a long prison term only for the sake of the nation's future. (In fairness, it should probably be noted that he never fibbed about a sexual liaison.)

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Ronald Reagan was a sunnier personality than Nixon, more inclined to naps than wiretaps. But his two terms were likewise rife with governmental wrongdoing, most notably the gross corruption (in that word's legal sense) of top federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Defense Department, all of which suffered major scandals that ended in criminal prosecutions.

Attorney General Ed Meese resigned in disgrace and narrowly escaped indictment by then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani in the aftermath of the Wedtech influence-peddling scandal, which also led to the conviction (later reversed) of Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger, as well as a couple of Democratic members of Congress.

Toward the end came the Iran-Contra affair: an epoch-making disaster in which repeated and constitutionally significant falsehoods of Reaganite "patriots," uttered under oath, were glossed over and excused by the same people who have lately become so exercised over Clinton's comparatively trivial lies.

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Reagan himself was untruthful when he denied trading arms for hostages with the Iranian regime, a transaction Horowitz would no doubt have denounced as "treasonous" if perpetrated by a Democrat. Several of Reagan's indicted subordinates, including two national security advisors and various CIA officers, avoided prison when their convictions were overturned because of prosecutorial problems that conservatives like Horowitz normally disdain as "legal technicalities."

By contrast, the scandal stories of the Clinton years have largely turned out to be duds, despite several of the most costly, time-consuming investigations in modern history. Yes, Clinton lied about his dalliances with Monica, and his administration has scarcely been sleaze-free. But Travelgate ended the other day without a single indictment, the same conclusion reached in Filegate three months ago.

Whitewater resulted in convictions of the Clintons' former business partners (who had rooked them) and various other people for offenses wholly unrelated to the president and first lady. The only administration official ever indicted in Whitewater was Webster Hubbell, whose swindling of his former clients and law partners (including Hillary Rodham Clinton) predated his appointment to the Justice Department.

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The independent counsel probes of three or four Clinton cabinet secretaries also were fruitless. Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros was at long last convicted of the rather dinky offense of lying about a payment to his one-time mistress -- but again, that was a misdemeanor that had nothing to do with his official conduct.

As for the fundraising investigations, it's true that some of what Clinton and Gore did to fill Democratic coffers in 1996 was distasteful. What several of their thousands of contributors did was illegal. Yet Republican candidates, donors and fundraisers were guilty of the same or worse in that election cycle and those which preceded it.

These days, the vice president is the target of an ongoing campaign of calumnies and distortions, which I plan to examine in a future column. (Meanwhile, see the excellent Daily Howler.) But for now, let it simply be said that Horowitz's evaluation of the allegations against Gore is as feverish, fact-free and fundamentally phony as the rest of his argument.


Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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