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Piling on

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Jun 03, 2003

Since body-slams of Sidney Blumenthal's memoirs by Joseph Lelyveld, Michael Isikoff, and Andrew Sullivan have already been posted on this site, it may appear to be morose delectation to mention Christopher Hitchens' review. It is.

I personally became powerfully nauseated by seeing Clinton up close in New Hampshire that year. His big, red-faced frame didn't seem so much "imposing" as simultaneously needy and greedy. He lied aggressively about Gennifer Flowers and, sitting next to his wife, let her do his marital propaganda for him. He fundraised as if there were no guidelines. When the polls seemed to sag, and he sought to burnish his tough-on-crime credentials, he flew back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged black convict named Rickey Ray Rector. This episode isn't mentioned at all in Blumenthal's narrative, but it revolted a few people at the time, as it should have. By this stage Blumenthal was fully on board the candidate's train; and I'll never forget a Georgetown dinner, at which he was probably the most conservative person in attendance, where various liberals wondered aloud what the limits of "lesser evil" politics might be. One misgiving after another was mentioned, until Blumenthal impatiently quelled the bleats. "You don't understand," he said. "It's our turn."

There's no real trick to thinking like an apparatchik. You just keep two sets of ethical books. Thus, or in this case, only bad people get paid for their disclosures. Only Republicans ever use race in politics. And only reactionary thugs ever campaign as law-and-order exploiters of the death penalty. So Gennifer Flowers can be impugned, not for having a story to tell but for having a story to sell. Rickey Ray Rector can be given a lethal injection during a cliff-hanger primary because Clinton needs to show that he can't be "Willie Hortoned," as the saying then went. If Blumenthal can't mention, as he often does, that some of Clinton's critics made money on their efforts, then he can insist that the President was attacked by people who wanted to play the race card. Indeed, he asserts that it was "the racial dynamic" that led to Clinton's eventual acquittal at the impeachment trial.

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