A friend, aware that people recovering from back surgery have to spend a
lot of time on treadmills, gave me the first year of The Sopranos to help pass the time, and of course as I watched it, I thought about the Clintons and the wonderful "family" they assembled. Tony Soprano is a pretty good metaphor for our ex-president: clever, alternately charming and brutal, capable of genuine affection and even love, but equally capable of unrestrained venom. Like Tony, Bill likes to have his way with women, from the most vulgar to the most elegant. And like Tony, it's all about money. The Clinton era will eventually be recognized as a time when the presidency was run like a criminal enterprise, and the national interest was overwhelmed by the family "business."
I quite understand the reluctance of the chatterers to embrace this
thesis, first because it makes them look stupid (what didn't they know,
and why did it take them so long to know they didn't know it?), and also
because it's a terrible bone in our national throat. What's the
difference between us under the Clintons and Panama under Noriega?
Does anyone out there doubt that the entire pardon shindig was anything
other than a new mafia business? Maybe a few souls - like the sainted
Susan McDougal - were pardoned "on the merits" (that is, for favors done
on behalf of the family). The rest were most likely linked, one way or
another, to payoffs. I can just imagine Clinton's delight when he
realized that a pardon was worth at least a night in the Lincoln Bedroom;
maybe even more. The Newsweek account of Clinton's last days in power is
more easily understood, now that we realize that his terrible anxiety
about losing power had a real bottom line.
And I wonder if the pardon racket turned into a bidding war. Did Mike
Milken refuse to be shaken down? Or did his New York City enemies offer
The plaintive cries of the left are the most entertaining part of this
cheap melodrama, for they are the ones who launched the massive
disinformation campaign of "it's all about sex, it's sexual McCarthyism,"
when it clearly wasn't. It's all about corruption. The liberals are like
the Soprano gangsters protesting about anti-Italian bigotry. They're
shilling for Clinton mafiosi whining that Americans think that all
Clintonians are linked to the mafia.
I listened to the editor of Newsweek this morning murmer "I don't think
we know the half of it," a careful understatement. Remember when Chris
Cox asked Charles LaBella how much Congress knew (and this after
considerable investigation) about the campaign-finance shakedowns?
LaBella said, "about ten percent." Cox couldn't believe it, and asked
again, "you mean there is NINETY percent we don't know?" "Right."
There's enough there for dozens of doctoral dissertations on corruption.
And the current unpleasantness is worth a study too: What happens when
the Don is removed from power? I have no doubt that a part of the press,
and most of the Democratic party, was either in enthusiastic cahoots with
the White House mafia or under effective control: blackmailed,
intimidated, corrupted. Once that awful power was taken away, Bill is
just another well-connected guy, and while some of the other families may
owe him favors, their business no longer depends on him. In fact, there
may come a moment when he's decidedly bad for business, and they won't
hesitate to throw him over to the feds.
With Bill's enforced retirement, his consiglieri are scrambling for work.
All of a sudden, Carville's clients are losing elections, and Blumenthal
is begging for money so that he can continue to harass the
phantasmagorical Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.
Just like Marx said: It's tragic the first time around, then it's farce.
And Tony Soprano is much more fun.
A noted political analyst, Mr. Ledeen is the holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute. He lives in Washington D.C.