Clinton Comes to Harlem

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Bill Clinton now proposes to establish an office in Harlem, on 125th street, scarce more than a few stone throws away from where Gore delivers homilies to journalism students in Columbia University. Each has found his appropriate setting: the defeated veep pouring earnest banalities about journalism and politics into the eager ears of ambitious high fliers already sending their resumes and worthy clips to the New York Times; Clinton the moral reprobate fleeing a blizzard of criticism for auctioning a pardon to a billionaire crook by setting up shop among the poorer folk.

Sneering at Bill, the press corps has nothing much to be proud of. How come not a single one of those high-flying, White House-connected newshounds managed to get hold of the sensational fact, finally disclosed a couple of weeks ago, that Bill Clinton and Al Gore hadn’t had a significant conversational encounter in a full year? They finally had a melt-down gripe session not long before the recent election. As always, it turns out we know nothing about what really goes on in the White House. George W. could be tossing back dry martinis, partying till dawn and four years down the road we’ll still be reading up him and Laura saying their prayers and tucked up by 10:30 PM.

We can look forward to months, if not years of civil war between the Clinton and Gore factions. Late last week a very senior pollster in Clinton’s inner circle spotted a journalistic acquaintance in a Georgetown supermarket and pinned him against his shopping cart with a vibrant diatribe against Gore.

How, the pollster hissed, can we explain that Gore was unable to run on the Clinton economy, unable to mention millions of jobs created through the Clinton 90s? She answered her own question. Because to do so would have meant mentioning Clinton’s name and Gore couldn’t bring himself to do that.

Why not? The answer, the pollster said, went far back before the Lewinsky affair that so troubled Al and Tipper. It seems that Al has always felt that it was he who actually won the 1992 election, bailing Bill out of all his problems over draft dodging and Gennifer Flowers. Through Clinton’s two terms Al’s conviction that he rather than Bill should by rights by sitting in the Oval Office throbbed painfully in his psyche. Result: he never spoke to the boss and couldn’t bear to ask him to help in those last desperate campaign days.

Even as Bill and Al joust across the great moral divide we find the Democrats rediscovering a social conscience. As the prospect of a Bush tax cut looks more and more as though it will come to pass, the air is filled with righteous passion about how the Republicans are about to steal dollars from the little people. Democratic pundit Mark Shields howls that under Bush the super rich are stealing from the rich, and the class war is over; the super rich won.

It’s true. The rich are winning. But don’t forget. They won all through Clintontime too. Last spring Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, published an “Anatomy of Clintonomics”, concluding his survey thus: “The core of Clinton’s economic program has been global economic integration, with minimum interventions to promote equity in labor markets or stability in financial markets. Gestures to the least well-off have been slight and back-handed, while wages for the majority have either stagnated or declined. Wealth at the top, meanwhile, has exploded.”

Clinton did very little to advance the interests of working people or organized labor. Take the two-step rise in the minimum wage. The overall rise from $4.25 to the current $5.15, set in September 1997, hardly offset the plunge in the real value of the minimum wage. That $5.15 is 30 percent below its real value in 1968, even though the economy has become 50 percent more productive across that thirty years.

The combination of a low minimum wage and a widening of the earned income tax credit, Pollin went on, “have allowed business to offer rock-bottom wages, while shifting onto tax payers the cost of alleviating the poverty of even those holding full-time jobs.”

And now the economy is contracting rapidly, and soon we’ll be finding out what the rending of the social safety nets in Clinton time will mean in harder times ahead. Now that he proposes to work north of Central Park Bill Clinton won’t have to stroll very far to find out.

Impeach Bill Again?

Can these guys ever let go? Now Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is broaching about the possibility of retroactive impeachment for Bill Clinton, on account of the pardons. Is the idea to offer distractions while “president” GWB gives away the store? Actually we’re beginning to swing round in favor of Marc Rich, mostly on account of his Ex, Denise described as a socialite and song writer.
Her website (www.richsong.com) discloses some success in the latter capacity. A disco song performed by Sister Sledge called Frankie seems to represent the summit of her choric art. At one White House party, according to a committee witness, she apparently managed to prise Bill away from Barbra Streisand, a feat for which Bill should have given her the Medal of Honor he had reserved for Teddy Roosevelt.

The investigation into the Rich pardon conducted by Rep Dan Burton’s subcommittee has elicited many delightful details, including the frantic hunt for a rabbi to lobby for the fugitive commodities trader. According to Alison Leigh Cowan’s very amusing story in the New York Times for February 10, “In another flurry, Robert Fink, Mr. Rich’s longtime lawyer in New York, reported on Jan. 2 that he heard that the pardon request was being taken seriously inside the White House but lacked someone inside eager to push it. “We need a rabbi among the people in the counsel’s office,” the e-mail message reads.

Rich’s man in Israel, Avner Azulay, having spent the previous six weeks compiling a book of letters from Israeli and American Jewish leaders, took the request literally and responded: “I don’t understand the comment about the rabbi. Our book is full of rabbis. Could you get more specific?”

Quinn and his merry troupe, so the Times February 10 story asserted, needed a person of high moral caliber and so they whistled up Elie Wiesel who allegedly put in a word for Rich. As we read this, we thought that Wiesel had doubtless reiterated the endorsements of Shebtai Shavit, a former Mossad chief who, according to Niles Lathem’s story in the New York Post for February 5, had told the White House Marc had spied for Israel and so was an all-around good guy. We thought that maybe that’s why Jonathan Pollard didn’t get his pardon. Bill reckoned one spy for Israel was enough.

We also reflected on the fact that normally Wiesel charges $25,000 for a gig to discuss moral darkness, but since in this case he was talking about moral excellence (Rich’s) he presumably didn’t invoice for this particular chore.

The February 10 Times story was specific in its citation of Wiesel’s role: “On Dec. 25, between notations that Mr. Wiesel and Shimon Peres had both weighed in with the White House in mid-December, Mr. Quinn [Rich’s lead lawyer] told his co-counsels that ‘the greatest danger lies with the lawyers. I have worked them hard and I am hopeful that E. Holder will be helpful to us,” a reference to Eric H. Holder Jr., the deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.

But then on Monday Alison Leigh Cowan had an update in the New York Times: “contrary to the documents’ assertions that he had weighed in with the White House, Mr. Wiesel said, “I didn’t do anything.” Wiesel told Cowan he thought a pardon for Rich was a long shot, and thus presumably a bad investment of his moral credentials. “Besides, Mr. Wiesel said, he was concerned about diverting attention from the person he really wanted pardoned, Jonathan J.Pollard.” So our instincts were right. But why did Quinn make that notation about Wiesel have delivered for his guy. Our guess is Wiesel might have given Quinn or one of Quinn’s people that impression, while doing nothing. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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