Commentary

America’s Victim in Chief

This article appeared in the Washington Times, November 30, 1999.
It might have taken rioting mobs in Greece, but President Bill Clinton may now finally realize that some people, besides right-wing Republicans, don’t like him. Not that he thinks he’s to blame. He apologized for America’s support for the Greek junta more than a quarter-century ago rather than for his misguided policy in the Balkans. He never sees himself as anything but a victim.

He believes his persecutors to be legion. There is the vast right-wing conspiracy cited by Hillary Clinton, of course. Partisan Republicans. Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch. And former Special Prosecutor Ken Starr.

The president has also blamed the National Rifle Association, pharmaceutical makers, the health insurance industry and even free market think tanks for working to defeat his proposals.

Nothing, however, bothers the president so much as his impeachment over such minor charges as perjury and obstruction of justice.

Of this, he has no doubt, he is a victim. In the New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Toobin reports that the president compiled a “Richard Jewell file,” about the Atlanta security guard who was wrongly accused of planting the bomb at the 1996 Olympics.

Explained Toobin, Bill Clinton “identified with Jewell, and kept in the file newspaper articles about what he regarded as unfair attacks on him.”

The president has long been fixated on Jewell. Three years ago, he rejected suggestions that John Huang, the one-time administration aide who raised millions of dollars from foreign businessmen, should answer questions about his questionable activities. Stated Clinton: everyone should remember “what happened to Mr. Jewell in Atlanta.”

Yet, Jewell was completely innocent of any wrongdoing, unlike Huang and the president. Only in Clinton’s mind could the nation’s chief executive, who lied to a grand jury, court and Congress, be compared to someone wrongly pursued based on a FBI profile.

The president’s perception of himself as a victim wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t see himself as a champion of the Constitution. He had the gall to tell ABC’s Carole Simpson: Historians “will say I made a bad personal mistake, I paid a price for it, but that I was right to stand and fight for the country and my Constitution and its principles, and that the American people were very good to stand with me.”

Yes, Clinton certainly did make “a bad personal mistake.” But that’s not why a special prosecutor was appointed. He was selected to look into the Clintons’ sleazy financial dealings and dubious tax filings dating back to Arkansas.

And the administration regularly added new subjects: politicization of the White House Travel Office, interference with the Treasury Department’s review of the failed Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, abuse of FBI files and corrupt fund-raising practices.

Only later arose the more personal allegations: adultery, sexual harassment and even rape. It was his decision to lie under oath that caused his impeachment.

Moreover, how, in the president’s mind, did he “stand and fight for the country and my Constitution”? By committing perjury? By impeding every investigation of his activities? By fostering an atmosphere of lawlessness in his administration?

After all, it is not only Clinton who lied repeatedly. Hillary started doing so early and often, including about her dubious dealings with Madison Guaranty, apparent payoff through the Arkansas cattle trades, likely suppression of subpoenaed evidence, and role in the firing of the White House Travel Office staff.

Hundreds of times, administration officials and Clinton friends couldn’t remember anything when questioned. Some fled the country. Others, including a Cabinet secretary, ended up indicted for their lies. One Treasury aide disavowed his diary entries. You have to go back to Warren Harding’s presidency to find an administration as corrupt as this one.

Nevertheless, the president would have us believe that historians will say they are glad that people stood by him “because it preserved the Constitution.” And how’s that, one wonders?

By enshrining the principle that some people are above the law? That the top executive official in the land need not respect the law, judicial process and congressional oversight? That the president should not be punished for an offense that often results in jail for normal people?

Perhaps, instead, it was by violating the trust reposed in him by voters. Or by bringing shame to his office. Or by creating a situation where the news was no longer fit for family viewing.

Although all of the leading presidental contenders are flawed, the upcoming election nevertheless promises relief from the presidency of Bill Clinton. We have survived him in his role as perjurer in chief. But how much longer can we survive him in his role as victim in chief?

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.