Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Politics of Presidential Scandal

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Politics of Presidential Scandal

Article excerpt

Make no mistake: Whitewater is about a lot more than possible small-time financial chicanery and a minor-league cover-up. We are talking about control of the presidency in 1996 or earlier - and the only thing that matches conservative and Republican opportunism is liberal and Democratic hypocrisy.

GOP stalwarts, uninterested in getting to the bottom of Watergate or Iran-Contra, are now suffused with patriotism in pursuing Whitewater and other allegations about Bill Clinton. Conversely, there are many congressional Democrats, once outraged over the immorality of GOP regimes, whose past insistence on the public's right to know has become acquiescent in this administration's desire to have the public not know.

No one should be surprised. This is human nature. It is also political history. So it may be useful to examine Whitewater in the perspective of past political scandals.

To begin with, Whitewater - the land deal, with its related savings-and-loan chicanery - is not enough to bring down Clinton or any other president. Even Watergate was less a single event than a catchall. When Richard M. Nixon was forced out of office in 1974, the anti-Nixon furor fed on a wide range of issues beyond the break-in: the Nixon administration's larger involvement in political espionage, the Daniel Ellsberg break-in, the ITT scandal and others. The furor of 1973-74 was also a showdown over which party would pay for the failure in Vietnam.

However, if Clinton won't be brought down by any single episode, it is possible to see the outline of a larger GOP indictment - a contention that Whitewater is but one facet of a flawed Clinton morality that began with draft-evasion 25 years ago, then broadened with shady financial deals in 1970s and 1980s Arkansas, took further shape with Gennifer Flowers and may now involve a Washington abuse of power and cover-up.

For the president is America's chief of state as well as the leader of a political party, and he is at risk if he can't measure up to a moral-leadership role. Nixon couldn't and was forced to resign; Lyndon B. Johnson, a financial and political finagler, might well have been investigated and ejected in the post-Watergate climate; Clinton may be vulnerable today.

Other modern presidents have been touched by scandal. The point is that, one way or another, most of them - Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Truman, Johnson, Nixon and George Bush - were made to leave.

Polls show that from the first, many Americans did not trust Clinton because of his draft-board maneuvers, the charges made by Flowers and his Arkansas wheeler-dealer roots. This poses the question: Isn't Clinton's behavior typical of small-state governors who get to the White House? No - because past governors of the smallest states haven't gotten there. …

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