Curdling the Cream in the Clinton Coffee

Article excerpt

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

The front page of this newspaper on the morning after New Hampshire was a caution correctly read in the White House, where, despite the hired bravado of the president's regiments of lawyers, the fog shrouding Bill Clinton's view of November grows thicker, the knot of fear in Miss Hillary's tummy expands to the size of an artichoke-y.

Buchanan wins New Hampshire vote/Stuns Dole;/Alexander a strong third. This was the stuff of good cheer all around: dissension in the enemy's camp, a cracking coalition, rage in the ranks, mutiny at the officers' club. You couldn't blame the president and Miss Hillary for the smiles that sweetened their morning coffee.

But here's the smaller headline that curdled the cream in that coffee: Arkansas bankers indicted for loans/Fraud suspected in Clinton races. The front page of The Washington Post, for once, offered scant solace: Arkansas bankers indicted in scheme/to help fund 1990 Clinton campaign.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

The amnesia epidemic that has swept through the White House - there's been nothing like it since the AIDS epidemic swept through San Francisco like Epsom salts - continued yesterday as Harold Ickes, with the rattled mien of a flustered Ichaabod Crane, couldn't remember much about anything, beginning with why the White House only this week found another hundred pages of Whitewater documents it had said were lost. "Inadvertent," Mr. Ickes described it.

One of the panelists noticed the notation, "DK Draft," and asked whether this meant that Donald Kendall, the president's lawyer for bank-robbery affairs, had written it. Mr. Ickes, in the White House refrain now so familiar to all, replied that he didn't remember. Of course.

Mr. Ickes demonstrated the testiness and combativeness that White House aides cower before, particularly when he employs testiness and combativeness to protect Miss Hillary. Once he dropped his mask of toughness. Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina recalled that his father was known in FDR's cabinet as "Honest Harold," and asked him, in the down-home vernacular: "If God had granted him to be in this room, would he say, `Boy, you're doing a good job,' or, `Son, you're with the wrong crowd, get out,'?"

With an ever so slight crack in his voice, the son replied: "I think he would have approved of what I was doing, because we've done nothing wrong. …