Bill Clinton: The Unimportance of Being Earnest
In keeping with its absurd mantra of All the News that’s Fit to Print, on March 25th, 2013 the New York Times decided to dedicate a section of its front page to the declaration that former president Bill Clinton now supports the rights of gay people to be married. This of course being the same Bill Clinton who as president signed the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage in federal law as a union between a man and woman only (states where gay marriage would remain illegal would not have to recognize gay marriages that were legally performed in other states). The year was 1996 and Clinton had a keen eye on his reelection, enough that his campaign broadcast ads on Christian radio in 15 states boasting of his signature. Now a few days before the Supreme Court took up the legality of that Act, Clinton’s former junior press aide Chad Griffin, now head of the Human Rights Campaign (a prominent gay rights organization) proclaimed ‘President Clinton has evolved on this issue just like every American has evolved.’
One might find wisdom in such sentiment. Barack Obama gave support to gay marriage only belatedly after Vice President Biden basically forced his hand. Still this type of thing has become old hand for Clinton. Traces of it could be found back in 2002 when he was ironically tagged to lead the U.S. delegation for East Timor’s independence ceremony.
The same Bill Clinton, who armed and trained the brutal Indonesian military over the objections of Congress until the very last moment, continuing a longstanding policy of previous administrations, had this to say when questioned by journalist Allen Naird in East Timor:
I think, first of all, I don’t believe America or any other countries were sufficiently sensitive in the beginning and for a long time, a long time before 1999, going all the way back to the 70s, to the suffering of the people of East Timor…there were times when all kinds of reasons we thought we needed to support countries in holding them together and keeping them going in a certain direction, which made us insufficiently sensitive to what was happening to some minority groups.
It didn’t stop there either. During the Clinton years the CIA worked to undermine Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ultimately resulting in a coup and Aristide’s exile. Aristide was restored only after agreeing to a set of neoliberal reforms that he originally ran against and overwhelming defeated a U.S. backed candidate Marc Bazin in what was considered the honest election since Haiti’s independence (Bazin would be prime minister for the coup government). On one of those reforms, the importing of U.S. subsidized rice, Clinton spoke in front of Congress in 2007: ‘It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a race crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.’
Then a decade after signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which put the finishing touches on the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 that kept commercial and investment banking separate, preventing the emergence of Too Big To Fail behemoths, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that left derivatives unregulated, here was Clinton on ABC News:
Now, on derivatives, yeah I think they [his treasury secretaries Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers] were wrong and I think I was wrong to take their advice because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them…Now I think if I tried to regulate them because the Republicans were the majority in Congress, they would have stopped it. But I should have been caught trying. I mean, that was my mistake.
What’s next on this rethinking tour? Will Clinton say NAFTA was a mistake? That Plan Colombia wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? That the very large number of civilian deaths due to sanctions in Iraq weren’t worth the cost after all? That after taking shady fundraising to new heights maybe campaign finance reform is a good idea?
In an obvious light it’s fair to great such revelations with a dose of skepticism. It was only last June when Clinton was publically defending Mitt Romney’s bust out record at Bain Capital, a defense that came just as the election season was heating up. Even nearer to the present found Clinton in Lagos, Nigeria to help unveil Eko Atlantic City, a planned district to be built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean and envisioned to eventually be an African mini-Dubai. This was the same week the New York Times front page featured a story about the Nigerian government’s slum clearance project which leveled Badia East (also in Lagos) in six hours leaving thousands of people homeless and displaced. None of that was referenced by Clinton during or after his visit.
Obviously there is the matter of his wife’s oft discussed potential presidential campaign in 2016. Hillary Clinton returning to the White House grants Bill Clinton a return too. The cynical beauty of triangulation is that it can move freely in any direction without missing a beat. Wall Street is in the middle of a speculative bubble? It’s time to pump your chest as a New Democrat. The bubble bursts? Bring on the regulators. Homosexuals are an embattled minority? Broadcast your anti-Gay credentials on Christian Radio. Gay marriage has at least some momentum? You support it now.
This type of cunning seems to have no limits for Clinton and the gamesmanship involved journeys neck deep into the filth. Back in 1992 Clinton, in an effort to show his tough on crime credentials (also having a taken to heart the lesson of never being out-niggered) left the campaign trail to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a black man who was mentally retarded at the time of the execution. Some years later as president, Clinton, on the day of Monica Lewinsky’s return to the grand jury and three days after his primetime ‘apology’ about the infamous Oval Office affair, in alleged response to the embassy bombings in Africa a few weeks before, ordered a cruise missile attack on the El Shifa factory in Khartoum that the administration claimed was producing chemical weapons for the bin Laden network. Within days it was easily discovered that the factory had no direct connection to bin Laden and did indeed produce over 60 percent of the human and veterinary medicine for an impoverished country. It was later revealed that the service chiefs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the head of the FBI were kept in the dark about the hastily conceived attack to avoid dealing with their dissent.
In December of 1998, only four months after the attack on El Shifa and just as the impeachment debate was to proceed in the House of Representatives, Clinton launched another cruise missile attack, this time on Iraq. This time it was in defiance of the UN Security council (ironic since the attack was justified for Iraq’s noncompliance with UN resolutions) but, he took care to stress, this time with the support of his whole national security team. Any allegation that all these were connected were easily dismissed by Clinton defenders with the ‘oh come on’ charges of silly vast conspiracy that the Clintons ironically always put forward with great glee to defend themselves.
In other words for Clinton there is no real separation between the personal and political. That’s why his recent reversals should be seen clearly for what they are: further examples of slippery poll watching and cynical ass-covering. And this is the man who comes close to the figure of living legend for American liberals who bask him with the loudest cheers at every Democratic National Convention and seem to long for election of his wife to the presidency. This is a great shame for an electorate which should have long ago seen it as a duty to repudiate this quasi-royal family and retire them into disgrace.
Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City.