January 26, 2008


JONATHAN CHAIT noted in the LA Times, "Something strange happened the other day. All these different people -- friends, co-workers, relatives, people on a liberal e-mail list I read -- kept saying the same thing: They've suddenly developed a disdain for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons."

I've noticed the same thing, with one twist. Even before the Clintons started playing the race game, I hadn't run into a single person who was enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton the way others were about Obama, Edwards or Kucinich.

But certainly the past couple of weeks have been unusual. As one of the first journalists outside of Arkansas to take on the Clinton myth – including listing in the spring of 1992 two dozen individuals and institutions almost all later part of the Whitewater scandal – I have been just this side of stunned by the current implosion of the Clinton campaign.

From the start, the story the media created about the Clintons was a badly misleading myth. By the time of the 1992 New Hampshire primary the press would be overwhelmingly in the Clinton camp. Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Republic reported he had surveyed several dozen journalists and found that all of them, had they been a New Hampshire voter, would have chosen Clinton. Hertzberg noted that this was a change from previous elections when the press had tended to split their primary choices, sometimes sharply.

The effusiveness was one of the great media disservices of modern time. This was a time when Dan Rather, talking with the Clintons via satellite at a CBS affiliates meeting, said, "If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners."

And Martha Sherrill in the Washington Post: "The new First Lady has already begun working on her next project, far more metaphysical and uplifting.... She is both impersonal and poignant -- with much more depth, intellect and spirituality than we are used to in a politician . . . She has goals, but they appear to be so huge and far off -- grand and noble things twinkling in the distance -- that it's hard to see what she sees."

White liberals bought into this nonsense and so did blacks. A reporter about to interview Clinton asked me if I had any questions. I replied, "Yes, ask him why he likes blacks so much more in church then when they are some place else." It was true. Black imprisonment soared under Clinton and the social welfare system started to be dismantled. Liberals kept applauding as Clinton undid the work of Democratic administrations from Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson and sent jobs abroad.

And the Democratic Party paid for it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Democrats held a 1,542 seat lead in the state bodies in 1990. As of 1998 that lead had shrunk to 288. That's a loss of over 1,200 state legislative seats, nearly all of them under Clinton. Across the US, the Democrats controlled only 65 more state senate seats than the Republicans.

Further, in 1992, the Democrats controlled 17 more state legislatures than the Republicans. After 1998, the Republicans controlled one more than the Democrats. Not only was this a loss of 9 legislatures under Clinton, but it was the first time since 1954 that the GOP had controlled more state legislatures than the Democrats (they tied in 1968).

In addition, according our count near the end of the Clinton administration:

- GOP seats gained in House after Clinton became president: 48
- GOP seats gained in Senate after Clinton became president: 8
- GOP governorships gained after Clinton became president: 11
- Democrat officeholders who have become Republicans after Clinton became
president: 439 as of 1998
- Republican officeholders who have become Democrats after Clinton became president: 3

This journal was one of the few places to tell its readers such facts.

Clinton, the allegedly wondrous politician, was actually only good at holding his own office, not at helping others win theirs.

For sixteen years, I have taken a lot of guff for trying to report on the Clintons just as I try to report any story. I found myself up against, to borrow a term from Bill Clinton, a fairy tale - in which the facts just didn't matter.

Once I was scolded by two friends for what I had written about the Clintons. I asked them, "But what if it's true?" The reply: "You shouldn't be writing it."
And they were serious.

And now, from the exit polls in South Carolina, I learn that "74% of African-American voters think that Clinton unfairly attacked Obama. But when we look at the same question among white voters, a comparable number thought Clinton unfairly attacked Obama - 68%. Also worth mentioning, a majority of the voters -- 56% -- said that Bill Clinton's campaigning was important to their vote."

Thank you, South Carolina, and to the newly disillusioned all I can say is: welcome aboard.