Monday, July 11, 2016

Mo Do Row Your Boat, Ceaselessly into the Past

Tatttoo design by Judith Whitener.
Teaser copy in the contents page for Maureen Dowd's column, "The Clinton Contamination":
They were careless people, Bill and Hillary, they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness. 
Dowd didn't write that, of course, nor did the waggish subeditor who presumably submitted it, substituting "Bill and Hillary" for "Tom and Daisy"—F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the sentence in its original form—but Dowd does compare our Clintons to Fitzgerald's Buchanans today, for what turns out to be the sixth time since 1995: the fact that Hillary Clinton is getting endorsed by Barack Obama for the presidency instead of getting fired from the State Department is
the corkscrew way things go with the Clintons, who are staying true to their reputation as the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of American politics. Their vast carelessness drags down everyone around them, but they persevere, and even thrive. 
She first used the analogy in August 1995, taking it from Newsweek's Joe Klein, who had been outraged to hear that Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Maggie Williams, had incurred $140,000 in legal bills when she testified before Congress in the Whitewater matter. Klein wrote,
They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. The Buchanans, you may recall, were E Scott Fitzgerald's brilliant crystallization of flapper fecklessness in "The Great Gatsby." They were "careless" people. They smashed up lives and didn't notice. After two years, it's become difficult to avoid a distinguishing characteristic of this administration: the body count. Too many lives and reputations have been ruined by carelessness, too many decent people have been forced to walk the plank for trivialities, appearances, changes of mind. Whitewater has been the worst of it. 
Actually, the Buchanans were not a brilliant crystallization of flapper fecklessness, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's first name (Francis) began with an F (that may be an error from my source, I can't get to the original Newsweek version). They were neither flappers nor unfecked. The thing that marked them was their old money, in contradistinction to Jay Gatsby's vulgar new money:
“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of ——” I hesitated.
“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.
That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . . .
If Bill Clinton resembles any character in The Great Gatsby, it's Gatsby himself, the poor boy who comes out of nowhere denying his father's name (he was a Gatz, and presumptively Jewish, while Bill was a Blythe until he adopted his stepfather's name of Clinton) and winds up out of the Great War, thanks to American meritocracy, at Oxford (where Bill Clinton studied when he was avoiding the Worst War), and subsequently rises to heights of power and influence that none of the neighbors can explain or even deal with ("he trashed the place," said David Broder to Sally Quinn). This is obviously true whether you think Clinton is a criminal, like Gatsby (I don't), or not.

As for Maggie Williams, the first African American to rise to the position of First Lady's chief of staff or anything similar at the White House (like Hillary Clinton, she was a veteran of Marian Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund), she seems to have survived this treatment well enough to have been willing to take another job with Hillary in 2008, managing her presidential campaign, so maybe in the long run it wasn't that bad. A lot of her legal bills had nothing to do with Whitewater in any case, but with her bad judgment in improperly taking a $50,000 donation check inside White House precincts from the hustler Johnny Chung, which the White House had in no way solicited.

The following March, after it turned out that the Whitewater "scandal" had no actual content, as Dowd saw from James Stewart's Blood Sport
Whitewater does boil down to one failed land deal, just as the Clintons have always claimed
—she didn't see that as any reason to switch analogies:
"Blood Sport" reaffirms the portrait of the Clintons as Tom and Daisy Buchanan -- careless about using people, reckless about the rules.
When The Times's Jeff Gerth first started looking into the Clintons' finances in '92, Hillary Rodham Clinton did not feel she had done anything wrong -- despite her cavalier behavior toward legal and financial obligations. Instead, she blamed politics or gender prejudice or cynicism or jealousy or just plain journalism.
"She didn't understand how, after all she'd given up for a life of public service, the media could question her ethics," Mr. Stewart writes.
So what if she hadn't done anything wrong? Her behavior was cavalier! And Maggie Williams's legal bills now added up to $250,000!

But by July, after Klein had revealed himself as the author of Primary Colors, she was ready to throw him (deservedly, I think) under the bus for that loose Gatsby talk in which he "had come to see the Clintons as the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of politics, a careless couple who expected others to clean up their messes":
Says George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton aide who is the model for the narrator in "Primary Colors": "[Klein] was projecting his dishonesty onto the Clintons. When he talks about their problems with credibility, trust and veracity, he's accusing them of something he did." (Stephanopoulos revenge for Klein revenge.)
It is true that "Primary Colors" is fiction, but it is mean fiction: For the writing of his novel, Mr. Klein has turned to the Arkansas rumor mill -- not a pretty thing. The fictional Governor thinks he has gotten a black teen-ager pregnant and tries to intimidate her family into exonerating him. The Hillary character has affairs with men and women.
But recognizing the nastiness and falsehood of Klein's book didn't suggest she should let the Clintons off the hook. She seems to be massively pissed off with everyone involved, as if they've all been conspiring to make more money off a book than she's ever done:
Mr. Klein should be happy because he made $6 million and he has a boss who lied for him and he made fools out of his trusting colleagues and he proved himself a true writer. President Clinton should be happy because he has taken so many hits, from Mr. Klein to Gary Aldrich, that he has managed to rope-a-dope his way back into Americans' good graces. 
And then for 12 years radio silence; I mean, not that she's never saying a word about Hillary Clinton, which I don't think is the case (I'm not even trying to check it out), but that she's not deploying her Gatsby imagery. Which Fitzgeraldians might find odd precisely because the most ultra–Tom Buchanan of American presidents, George W. Bush, an old-money child if ever there was one and a person of really extraordinary carelessness visible not only in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars but in the management of everything from taxes to hurricanes to collapses of the entire financial system of the country, had his reign during this period.

And it's not as if Dowd was being easy on George W. Bush either, because she wasn't; she was downright harsh on the lad, to the point where a number of people on the left began to think of her as being on the side of the angels (not me; even when I more or less agreed with what she was saying I couldn't get past what a dreadful writer she is). But she never once called him Tom Buchanan. (She has compared Daisy to Paul Tsongas, 1992),  and Jay Gatsby to the friendly George H.W. Bush  in 1989.)

And then the theme comes back as Hillary runs for the presidency in 2008, if in a sort of wistful minor key:
If elected, would the old Hillary pop up, dragging us back to the dysfunctional Clinton kingdom? She is speaking in a soft, measured voice in these final days, so that, as with Daisy Buchanan, you have to lean in to listen. But is she really different than she was in the years when she was so careless about the people around her getting hurt by the Clinton legal whirlwind that she was dubbed the Daisy Buchanan of the boomer set?
Dubbed by whom, Maureen? By you and your former comrade Joe Klein! Nobody else ever said it at all, as far as I can tell.

And then in July 2013, as the clouds began gathering around sextist congressman Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abeidin,
Weiner continues to play the rebel without a pause. He shrugged off reports that the Clintons, who have been christened the careless Daisy and Tom Buchanan of politics, regard him, in the words of F. Scott, as the foul dust floating in the wake of their dreams.
Christened? By you and young Joe? The naming has now become a kind of religious necessity.

Just as she was annoyed by the Clintons' Whitewater exculpation in 2006, now she seems annoyed by the decision of FBI director James Comey that there's nothing with which Hillary can be charged:
If she were still at the State Department, she could be getting fired for being, as the F.B.I. director told Congress, “extremely careless” with top-secret information. Instead, she’s on a glide path to a big promotion.
Or, conversely, she could be not getting fired. Actually the FBI director can't speak for disciplinary procedures at the State Department. What he said was that if Clinton were an FBI employee found misbehaving in a similar way she might face a range of penalties ranging from firing to a reprimand. While the State Department continues to maintain that she didn't in fact mishandle any classified information. There were in fact only two messages marked "classified" in the 30,000 emails, and in both cases the marking was a mistake:
At a regular briefing for reporters Wednesday, [spokesman John] Kirby said State is aware of two instances in the set of roughly 30,000 messages turned over to the agency by Clinton where classification markings appeared in the emails. However, he said those were mistakes where staff failed to remove the notations while preparing background and talking points for Clinton in a planned phone call with a foreign official.
Also, of course, the FBI director failed to note that Clinton had tried to get a more secure email connection (like Obama's Blackberry) as soon as she took office as secretary of state and been turned down by the NSA. That she needed a more secure system than the one provided by the State Department is shown by what happened in early 2010, when Chelsea (then Private Bradley) Manning breached the system State and Defense use as their own internal Internet system, the SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Network) to obtain 251,287 diplomatic cables:

  • messages stolen from SIPRNet during the period of Clinton's secretaryship: 251,287
  • messages stolen from Clinton' private server during the same period: 0

So if the Gatsby analogy is back, triggered by Comey's use of the word "careless", it's more inappropriate than ever.
In a mere 11 days, arrogant, selfish actions by the Clintons contaminated three of the purest brands in Washington — Barack Obama, James Comey and Loretta Lynch — and jeopardized the futures of Hillary’s most loyal aides.
Obama is "contaminated" by his being forced to endorse Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. I'm not sure what happened to Comey, except that he has been revealed as prissy and not always very bright. Attorney General Lynch had a lengthy airport chat with Bill Clinton which some paranoid rightwingers, plus Dowd, thought must be fixing the results of the FBI investigation, because when you're trying to suborn the Justice Department you always try to hold your meeting in the full public eye after the 11-month investigation is basically finished. Dowd betrays her public-relations hack mentality using the word "brand" rather than some decent term like "reputation".

I could go on—
The president and his aides attempted to keep a rein on Clinton’s State Department — refusing to let her bring in her hit man, Sidney Blumenthal. But in the end, Hillary’s goo got on Obama anyhow.
Ew, Maureen! Never mind.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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