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Monday, March 25, 2019

Any way you look at it, Bill and Hillary Clinton are among the incomprehensible wonders of the political world. Reading my friend and former co-author Joe Conason’s new book Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton,  one thought recurred: Is it even possible to grasp the essence of this brilliant, mercurial, many-sided man, and his equally enigmatic and deeply ambitious wife—much less to fully comprehend their passionate alliance?

Maybe not. Indeed, reading a peevish, small-minded Washington Post review of Conason’s book by one Carla Anne Robbins, I wondered if the journalistic phenomenon I call “The Clinton Rules” isn’t mainly a defensive reaction.

See, if the former president of the United States, aged 70, can devote his time between heart surgeries to exhausting tours of remote African villages checking on the Clinton Health Access Initiative’ progress in saving millions of children from the ravages of HIV/AIDS, then what’s your excuse?

Far better to maintain your moral superiority with sniffish references to Monica Lewinsky, Hillary’s accursed e-mails, and as Robbins oddly observes, “Bill Clinton’s chummy relations with billionaire philanthropists who may or may not be special pleaders.”

Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Apparently, writing comprehensible prose isn’t among the requirements for serving as a member of the New York Times editorial board, as Robbins did between 2006 and 2012. Which may explain quite a lot, actually.

Robbins further complains that “at a time when the Clinton Foundation’s many good works are dismissed as merely pay to play, Conason’s hagiography won’t correct the record.”

A hagiography, of course, is a saint’s life. The insinuation is that because Conason clearly admires Bill Clinton’s philanthropy, he worships the man and is incapable of criticism. This allows Robbins to pretend that such balanced criticisms as Conason does offer constitute unalloyed praise.

Concerning Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees, for example, Conason writes that like her husband, “she felt such confidence in her own probity that she was unable to imagine how others might view her acceptance of enormous sums of money from special interests.”

Now a native speaker of English would grasp that the author is describing a failure of imagination. Subsequently, Conason describes Hillary’s “failure to comprehend” how working families might react to such “buck-raking,” and how her seeming smugness has hurt her politically.

Mother Theresa, she’s not.

In keeping with her own muddled theme, however, Robbins depicts this as slavish devotion. Elsewhere, Conason tartly observes that regardless of a failed last minute Bill Clinton/Tony Blair diplomatic effort to prevent the Iraq war, Hillary’s favorable vote left her to bear “a substantial share of blame for its catastrophic consequences.”

To the Post reviewer, this too sounds like praise.

But then the author’s own ambivalence renders her judgement incoherent throughout. Yes, she writes, “it would be tragic if the Clinton Foundation’s programs were ended.”

Indeed, it would be. She adds that for all of the couple’s “more dubious actions…. there is no proof of wrongdoing by either of the Clintons.”

No, there’s not. What’s more, from the New York Times/Washington Post-sponsored Whitewater hoax onward, there never has been. One heavy-breathing, poorly-written “scandal” narrative after another, cobbled together in right-wing opposition research shops and spoon fed to the news media’s deepest thinkers, have basically come to nothing.

And it galls the hell out of them.

Jonathan Allen recently spilled the beans in Vox: “The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire.”

Simply by writing a fascinating narrative implicitly from the Clintons’ perspective, then, Conason must be dismissed as a sycophant, if not a heretic. Mimicking journalistic critics of the Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton described to the author how such criticism invariably works:

“Yeah, it’s a good thing, yeah, it’s gonna help a lot, yeah, it’s gonna do a lot of good for a lot of people, it’s going to save a lot of lives—but he probably still shouldn’t have done it because he just wanted publicity…

“I could get lots of publicity if I just sat right out on the street.”

Indeed, he could. However, Bill Clinton’s compassion and moral imagination are every bit as deep as his fathomless need for attention. Did globe-trotting with Mick Jagger, Bono and Nelson Mandela make Bill Clinton feel like the King of the World? No doubt. But impoverished, HIV-afflicted children all over the world are alive because of that need.

Hillary’s too.

One of the best things in Conason’s book is a long, witty description by former President George H.W. Bush of accompanying Bill Clinton across Asia on a fund-raising mission for Tsunami relief.

“You cannot get mad at the guy,” Bush concluded. “I admit to wondering why he can’t stay on time, but when I see him interacting with folks, my wonder turns to understanding.”

Editor’s note: We publish Gene Lyons’ column this week at the risk of appearing self-indulgent (and not without a blush of embarrassment). But were we to withhold Gene’s wisdom his devoted fans surely would protest.  

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8 responses to “Uh Oh! A Clinton Book That Ignores The ‘Clinton Rules’”

  1. dbtheonly says:

    Indulge away.

    I’d be mad at the Washington Post except what they’ve published of David Farenthold.

    So:

    They are right
    And you are right
    And all is right as right can be.

  2. FireBaron says:

    Ah, yes. A former member of the New York chapter of the Anti-Clinton Fan Club (aka the NYT Editorial Board) writing a review for the DC chapter of the Anti-Clinton Fan Club (aka the Washington Post). Had Bill and Hillary given these two august media entities the homage and deference they believed they were owed by any Presidential candidate and family, all would have been well. Instead, Bill and Hillary treated them the same as any other media. HOW DARE THEY! After all, isn’t the NYT referred to as “The Grey Lady”? Wasn’t the Post the ones who documented Watergate? How dare they treat them the same as those non-entities like the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and the Los Angeles Times! How dare they treat them the same as CBS, NBC, ABC or CNN! After all, they are the Times and the Post and deserve to be looked up at from the huddled masses up to their self-established on-high positions! And these peasants, one from Arkansas (is that really a state?) and the other from Illinois (isn’t that were all the gangsters were in the 1950s TV shows?) refused to do so!

  3. planetc says:

    To the editor: Far from being an indulgence, Mr. Lyon’s piece is a public service to all of us who just want to know what’s going on with the media and the Clintons. Who else can we read? The Times?? WSJ?? WaPo?? Surely you jest. Besides that, Mr. Lyons can be relied on to produce comprehensible and often amusing prose, always a relief in these days of inflated, portentous, incomprehensible journalism. Or “journalism.” See examples above. Only Conason and Lyons readers are informed at all on the important subject of “But what, besides the intern, did they do wrong?” I assume that being ambitious for political power is not, in and of itself, wrong, unless you betray the public trust. Assuming further that it was never the public’s business what sins Pres. Clinton was guilty of if they did not betray the public trust, what precisely is the content of the multiple “scandals” they are endlessly tagged with? Please be specific. No, the more Lyons and Conason the better in my humble opinion.

  4. “..a substantial share of blame for its catastrophic consequences.” Which, to the Media Whores, translates as **ALL** the blame.

    Blaming her for Iraq is the right-wing method of avoiding direct criticism of George W. Bush (and excuses themselves). They blame Obama for it and now, they can accuse her of everything because they can never admit that invading Iraq as a catastrophic mistake. Better to blame someone else and let its executor (Bush) off scott free.

    These are the same people who keep insisting they want to “jail her,” but can’t actually explain what for, or for what criminal offense. But Bush/Cheney had them so cowed and fearful, they remain silent on those two men’s culpability for getting thousands of U.S. soldiers killed for nothing.

    • dpaano says:

      Not to mention the many civilian casualties that have occurred since GWB decided to bomb Iraq, which started the entire series of problems in the Middle East, including the formation of the Taliban and ISIS! It all started because GWB and his warlord cronies, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rove, etc. all thought it was a great idea to get back at Saddam for slighting Bush’s father! I don’t agree what has happened is a good pay back for something so slight.

    • idamag says:

      Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld were convicted, in absentia, of war crimes in two civilized countries: Malaysia and Norway. This makes them convicted war criminals who are acceptable to the Republican Party as is trump.

  5. Theodora30 says:

    They are definitely defensive. They are also offended by and jealous of a man they view as a hayseed who dared to rise so far above them.

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