How Bill became a liability for Hillary
Clinton’s cronyism has turned him from hero to sleazeball, says Alexander Cockburn
She may just conceivably end up as the Democratic nominee, but the default option isn't so bad for Hillary Clinton, namely an active life in the public eye as the junior senator from New York. But for her husband Bill, the nomination battle has been bad news ever since March.
Clinton left the White House eight years ago with the highest job performance rating - 65 per cent - of any president since World War Two. He was one point ahead of Ronald Reagan. That didn't mean that Americans thought much of his character and morals. Almost four out of five gave him an F on moral and ethical standards.
Two terms of George Bush Jr improved Bill's character rating no end, particularly among liberals and blue-collar workers. They forgot Clinton's endless political liaisons with the Republican right, his onslaughts on welfare, his job-exporting trade deals.
They just remembered that America of the mid to late 90s was more of a fun place than it is now. People were happier and, in a perverse way, the essentially trivial Lewinksy scandal helped Bill in retrospect. If the worst thing about him was a fling with an intern, was that really so bad?
The clamour over the stained dress drowned out whimpers from the prudish that Clinton was as corrupt as any president in US history and had put the White House up for sale. Tycoons ponied up $200,000 for a night in the Lincoln bedroom. Among the last documents he signed as president was a pardon for the fugitive financier Marc Rich.
Rich's former wife Denise, who campaigned ardently for the pardon, threw $450,000 into Clinton's library fund, $70,000 to Hillary's Senate campaign and another half-million to Democratic causes. Dick Morris claimed the zaftig Denise paid one hundred visits to Bill in the White House, the year before the pardon.
Came the Bush years, mostly not fun at all, and Bill flitted around the globe, associating his name with worthy endeavours like the fight against AIDS. As an ex-president he could never aspire to the elevated moral tone copyrighted by Jimmy Carter, but a solid chunk of Americans felt warmly towards him, most conspicuously blacks.
All that changed in the first primaries, most notably in South Carolina where he was widely regarded as having been dismissive of Obama as a black man. Since then his transmutation has taken on a macabre tempo: it's like watching an old movie of Jekyll turning into Hyde.
The bouncy charmer of January is now disclosed as a predatory lobbyist demanding outlandish sums for services rendered to a unalluring collection of patrons. The rewards are large. To take one example, committed to the Clinton Foundation is $131m from Canadian mining czar Frank Giustra.
Clinton flew to Kazakhstan with him to hunker down with Kazakh tyrant Nursultan Nazarbayev, after which Giustra was leased valuable uranium mining rights.
The political inconvenience for his wife of Clinton's lobbying has become a staple of the talk shows. Cokie Roberts of CNN said flatly the other night that every time Hillary seemed to be bouncing back, her husband dragged her down and was this Bill trying to safeguard his legacy as the only person named Clinton ever to occupy the White House.
The recently disclosed $108m in income earned by the couple - mostly Bill - since they quit the White House hasn't particularly helped Hillary tie down the blue-collar vote in Pennsylvania or boost her national ratings. Nor has the $800,000 paid to Bill Clinton by Colombia-based Gold Service International to promote the US-Colombia trade deal that Hillary has been denouncing.
US labour unions bitterly point out that Clinton (along with two of her own top staffers, Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson) has been lobbying for Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, while the latter has consolidated his regime's record as the most dangerous in the world for labour organisers.
In the six years since Uribe took office, more than 400 union activists have been killed. In 2008, almost one unionist a week has been assassinated.
Even as Hillary was calling for President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing because of repression in Tibet, it emerged in the past few days that Bill had roosted in 2005 on the payroll of the Chinese Web firm, Alibaba Inc, which recently carried a government-issued internet "wanted notice" urging the arrest of Tibetan protesters.
Alibaba made a contribution to Clinton's foundation in return for a speech. Clinton claimed the money went to his AIDS-fighting operation. "They help me save lives in China," he declared fervently, but it seems Alibaba's money went into a different account.
One of Bill's assets 20 years ago is that he looked so boyish - so unlike a fleshy southern pol, marinated in dirty money. It's not the way he seems now. He looks like a sleazeball. His low character has caught up with him yet again. ·
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