Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Trickle Down Vice

The perceptive Matt Miller notes disturbing signs that a culture of corruption may be permeating the society from above.

His observations are interesting, although the general deterioration in at least certain types of personal ethics has been going on for some time. For example, it has been quite some time since comic books ceased to offer readers the chance to sell flower seeds door-to-door. At a fairly identifiable point in time the kids just stopped returning the money or the seeds.

And I have one quibble with his take: The examples he uses (recent tales of CEO payoffs, possibly felonious bishops, corrupt auditors, self-dealing stock analysts and a deranged Harvard policy of admitting students who have agreed to go elsewhere) are too new to be the likely basis of any mass learning.

However, eight years of the Clinton Administration's freewheeling manipulations of the truth may well have taken the toll Mr. Miller now detects. For example, Hillary Clinton is not questioned continually by the media about her $100,000 (in 1970's dollars - today worth much more than the $200,000 Martha Stewart's critics are talking about in connection with the ImClone collapse) overnight commodities market profits. Until she provides a satisfactory answer, why should the media not remind people that they are entitled to regard this United States Senator as likely having taken a bribe on behalf of her then-Governor husband? The passage of even more time did not dampen the media's recent enthusiasm for Watergate 30th-anniversary stories. That the media are not tireless with Ms. Clinton has allowed her to get away with offering no real explanation (her initial statements that she based her trades on Wall Street Journal information were promptly exposed as obvious lies). Again, the likely mass destruction and/or concealment of White House documents that probably occurred under the direction of White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum following the death of Vince Foster was also a likely prolegomenon to the Andersen/Enron shredding effort. Then, of course, there was actual Presidential perjury on Bill Clinton's part - which has probably inspired millions of two-bit liars and executive crooks to persevere bravely.

But all of this really pales as a political matter in comparision with the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, during which we now know the Clintons harbored a secret plan to remake the nation's healthcare system (over 15% of the economy), a plan which they denied having and refused to share with the voters even though that plan included what were arguably the most important facts in that campaign. Then, following the campaign, the Clintons' formulated their phony "medical care advisory committee" run by Hillary - knowing all the while that the committee's report would be ignored, since the real plan had already been chosen. When the terms of that plan were revealed, the Clinton Administration suffered a body blow - and it is reasonable to believe that if the Clintons had not lied to the voters by withholding that plan during the election, Bill Clinton would probably never have been elected. So the Clinton Administration from its inception was based on a breach of trust with the electorate.

The examples are more than examples. They prick out the destructive principles of the Clinton-Gore era. Indeed, some of the examples Mr. Miller cites may even have been informed and influenced by the eight-year spectacle of the Clinton's "getting away with it." For example, is it too much to wonder if the now-indicted former Tyco chief - and perhaps a whole generation of a certain stripe of corporate sophisticates - went to school on the Clintons' spectacularly successful shenanigans? And, of course, the current Harvard President behind the degraded admissions policy Mr. Miller condemns is Larry Summers - Mr. Clinton's very own Treasury Secretary, among other things in that Administration.

In short, I largely agree with Mr. Miller and the old Greek adage: "A fish rots from the head."

But the fish head here is likely and largely the well-coifed Presidential noggin of Bill Clinton: His particular, characteristic, enduring legacy.

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