The Consortium

The contrast was striking. President Clinton, his wife and daughter stepped onto the same Little Rock podium where they had declared victory in 1992. Then, there had been a wild celebration and blaring rock music. Four years later, despite Clinton's re-election, the scene had a melancholy, fin-de-siecle feel, as if that bridge to the 21st Century had just been bombed out. Behind Clinton's smile was the face of a man staring into a political abyss.

The Republican re-conquest of Congress meant that Clinton's best hope now would be that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott sincerely meant that they would seek "common ground," rather than the President's political scalp. But even if Gingrich and Lott were to display uncharacteristic mercy, their ability to turn off the Right-Wing Machine that has been churning out anti-Clinton attacks for four years is doubtful.

More likely, the Republicans will continue their assault on Clinton and his wife, as a demonstration that no one can cross the well-financed conservative forces of Washington and politically live to talk about it. As described in another story in this issue, conservatives have invested billions of dollars to build that potent political machine. The destruction of Bill and Hillary Clinton will simply be proof that the investment was worth it.

Clinton also has few weapons to use in his defense. After winning in 1992, he and other centrist Democrats chose to appease the Republicans, rather than pursue the truth about Republican scandals from Iraqgate to Iran-contra, from October Surprise to contra cocaine trafficking. The Democrats shielded the Reagan-Bush administrations from criticism. The Democrats apparently wanted to look to the future and avoid partisan battles about the past. But the Republicans then returned the favor by bashing Clinton with overblown mini-scandals: Travelgate, Whitewater, Paula Jones, Filegate and now Lippo-gate.

Clinton's failure to pursue serious GOP crimes from the 1980s also created a scandal vacuum that the well-funded right-wing media eagerly filled -- and the mainstream media readily fell for. The latest spasm came during the election campaign, over contributions from Indonesians connected to the Lippo Bank. A two-week-long media frenzy over this issue knocked down Clinton's poll numbers and killed Democratic chances for retaking Congress.

The Republicans were aided, too, by the Washington media's failure to give any serious attention to similar -- and possibly worse -- GOP offenses. Not only had the media refused to follow up stories about Bob Dole's long history of trading influence for campaign money [See the Koch Oil story in The Nation, Aug. 26]. The mainstream media also turned a blind eye toward past secret cash payments that Republicans have received from foreign dictators.

As Jack Anderson noted in a Nov. 7 column -- two days after the election -- "Clinton isn't the first presidential candidate whose party accepted campaign donations from questionable foreign donors." Anderson cited secret money from the Greek military junta to Richard Nixon in 1968.

The media blinders were even more firmly in place last summer when Ronald Reagan's former campaign manager Ed Rollins wrote that Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos sent $10 million in cash to Reagan in 1984. Documents, recovered from Marcos's offices after his ouster in 1986, bolstered the account in Rollins's book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms. [See The Consortium, Sept. 2]

But the media barely mentioned Rollins's remarkable disclosure. Most major papers ignored it altogether and The Washington Post mentioned it deep in an article about other Rollins disclosures. Inside the government, the lack of interest was the same. Not surprisingly, the GOP-run Congress ordered no public hearings, and the Clinton administration, still pursuing its pathetic strategy of see-no-evil bipartisanship, ducked responsibility as well.

Now, Clinton faces a dangerous end game. Not only has he lost any chance to fulfill his promised improvement in the welfare law, or any significant reform of health care, or a better-financed system for educating the U.S. population, but his very political survival is at stake. His fate rests on the tender mercies of Gingrich and Lott -- and the Right-Wing Machine.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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