Excelsior!

Hillary's Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

Michael Tomasky
Free Press, 309 pp., $25.00

1.

Hillary Clinton must be throwing a fit. Here she is, a United States senator, rising up at last from the Grand Guignol of her husband’s presidency, eager to be judged on her own merits—and she’s pulled back down into the muck. She is, yet again, not “Hillary,” but one half of “the Clintons,” and the Clintons are getting it right between the eyes. The gradually unfurling narrative of the former president’s pardons of well-connected crooks and swindlers has proved so revolting that even some of the Clintons’ most ardent defenders have finally had it up to their keister. Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, recently described the Clintons as “a terminally unethical and vulgar couple” who might well be “led away in handcuffs someday,” and have in any case forfeited all rights to leadership. This is the kind of language one is accustomed to hearing from the Clinton-haters, like former Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan. Now you hear it from even the stoutest resisters. Clinton-fatigue has suddenly collapsed into Clinton-contempt.

It will, of course, be easier for Mrs. Clinton to pull herself out of the ooze than for Bill, who no longer has the power of the presidency to distract us from his peccadilloes. Mrs. Clinton can use the next six years to erase whatever ill feeling lingers from the previous eight. Look at what a combination of time and unremitting dedication to causes has done for Teddy Kennedy, to whom she is often compared. Mrs. Clinton, whose ability to command attention equals Kennedy’s at the height of his power, and perhaps exceeds it, called a press conference in late February to take on the allegations over the pardons. She was, as she has taught herself to be in such moments, equable, patient, even masterful. But that doesn’t mean she solved the problem. She denied having “any involvement” in the pardons, though both her big brother, Hugh, and her little brother, Tony, had actively canvassed their White House contacts on behalf of friends or clients in need of clemency.

What’s worse, last December she sat in on a meeting which the President held with a Hasidic leader who sought pardons for four members of his community who had been convicted of embezzlement and fraud. This Hasidic community had supported Mrs. Clinton in her Senate campaign by a comically lopsided margin. The four men received their pardon, and federal prosecutors are now examining whether Mrs. Clinton broke the law, presumably by promising lenient treatment in exchange for continued support. The senator is not likely to be led off in handcuffs, not only because it’s hard to imagine her offering any such quid pro quo but also because such transactions are virtually impossible to prove. But people just don’t believe Mrs. Clinton’s sweeping assertion of innocence anymore. This one earned her Slate magazine’s “Whopper of the Week” award.

Mrs. Clinton cannot get in the clear, no matter what she does. She has in many ways patterned herself after her hero, Eleanor…


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