I mentioned a couple months ago the quiet dread I experienced awaiting the Clinton campaign, the quite possible Clinton restoration and the drama both bring inevitably in their wake. There’s another part of that story we’re now seeing in spades: let’s call it the inevitable Vince Fosterization of really every media scrape, pseudo-scandal and genuine embarrassment the Clintons are ever involved in. (For those of you not familiar with Vince Foster, his tragic suicide or the years-long right-wing clown show it kicked off, it is probably best described as the ’90s version of Benghazi.) As with most things Clinton, there’s enough to get everyone interested and virtually never enough for there to be any real there there. If there were less of the former or more of the latter, the story would have a clearer, more satisfying conclusion. With the Clintons, the inevitable gap between their pursuers’ hopes and the mundane reality, the expectations and inevitable disappointment is the beautiful face that sets sail to a thousand ships of nonsense, wishful thinking and right-wing media rube fleecing.
Part of what is endless and exhausting about the Clintons is that they really do always push it right to the line. We’ve seen it enough times to know they’re generally smart enough and careful enough not to go over it. Indeed, one of the paradoxical benefits of the endless and frenetic investigations of the Clintons in the ’90s is that these probes stand as an unintentional proof that there’s no real goods there to find. One of the countless committee investigations and special counsel inquiries would have found it. But, as I said, they push it right up to the line.
Yet it’s never enough for the Clintons’ perennial critics to be satisfied with potential conflicts of interest or arguably unseemly behavior. It’s got to be more. It always has to be more.There have to be high crimes, dead people, corrupt schemes. And if they don’t materialize, they need to be made up. Both because there is an organized partisan apparatus aimed at perpetuating them and because there is a right-wing audience that requires a constant diet of hyperventilating outrage from which to find nourishment. Why else do we have ‘Benghazi’, the President’s birth certificate, the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltration of the White House and so much more? And if you think that’s bad, you should have seen the ’90s.
Whitewater Prosecutor Ken Starr, January 22nd 1998, speaking for the first time after the revelation of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, pledges to act quickly and denies being motivated by politics.
The big difference between then and now is that President Obama is just too straight-laced and controlled a figure ever to have given these jokers and their resentment-addled minions much to work with. Not that it’s stopped them from concocting all manner of crazy tales. They just don’t get a lot of traction beyond the true believers. The Clintons, on the other hand, give just enough fodder to make it interesting, and more than enough to get a lot of the press in along for the ride.
This weekend I was perusing the right-wing blogs, discussion areas and media generally. You can already see the picture emerging. The Clinton Foundation is actually a fraudulent charity. Or in other versions, the Clintons stole millions of dollars from the Clinton Foundation. At a minimum, Bill Clinton raised most of his money for the foundation by trading on the favors Hillary Clinton could provide as Secretary of State.
Only none of this appears to be true; or at a minimum, the claims remain entirely unproven or even un-evidenced. The Clinton Foundation appears to exist for two main reasons. One is to fund charitable activities around the world either directly or through grants and to be a stage for Bill Clinton to remain a critical high-profile public figure, being both engaged and adored. In other words, in addition to being a charitable foundation, the second goal of the Foundation is to allow Bill Clinton to continue being Bill Clinton.
Former U.S President Bill Clinton speaks during a plenary session at the Clinton Global Initiative Middle East & Africa meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, Wednesday May 6, 2015.
A more cautious couple might have put the Foundation into a hiatus or under arms-length management during Clinton’s time as Secretary of State. Given the range of organizations and international entities who give to the Foundation, it’s virtually impossible that there wouldn’t be various potential conflicts of interest with the power Hillary Clinton wielded in her appointive role. It’s also entirely plausible and in many cases logical to assume that various donors had in mind that they were currying favor that might be reflected in Hillary Clinton’s public acts or even potential presidency.
But as Brian Beutler noted here, all of these claims of pay-for-play deals are merely claims based on circumstantial evidence and are in their nature unfalsifiable. Unless Clinton acted against the interests of every individual, corporation or country that ever gave any money to the Clinton Foundation, then her acts are under a cloud. In none of these cases is there any proof or frankly even any strong suggestion that Clinton took any action whatsoever to further the interests of her husband’s Foundation’s donors.
But of course we’ve already moved on to the stage where the Foundation hasn’t just been compromised by donors desire to give in return for proximity or favors. Indeed, the entire Foundation is a corrupt enterprise. And by this logic, everyone who contributed money to the Foundation was contributing to a corrupt enterprise even if they didn’t have any pecuniary interests that could be served by doing so. Thus, George Stephanopoulos has to apologize for contributing to the Clinton Foundation since … since in doing so he would be compromised and give more favorable coverage to the Clintons?
Here’s my take on the Clintons. They’ve used their fame and power to enrich themselves, which is of course an outrage since it makes them always indistinguishable from the Bush family. (In other words, we need Jeb to bring honor and dignity back to the Oval Office.) On the Foundation, Bill Clinton has dedicated years of his life both to charitable activities and to perpetuating his most presidential of post-presidencies. They play close to the line. And part of the exhaustion of observing them is their refusal to play by rules tighter than those applied to anyone else, fully knowing the scrutiny that will later be applied to them — and all of this entangled with the freak show conspiracy theories that inevitably bubble up around them, a symbiotic embrace of grievance, aggression and derp. It’s painful to admit, but the two sides feed on each other. I start out thinking, I’m happy to let them deal with this on their own. And yet the charges become so overblown and nonsensical, the conventional wisdom in the press marches us so wildly in advance of any actual facts, it just becomes too much for me to take. Seeing them again at the center of these wild and carnivalesque conspiracy theories, grand overstatements and or simply evidence-free accusations puts me in the mind of Michael Corleone’s infamous line: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Alas, this is the business we’ve chosen.