If health czar Hillary errs, can Clinton take the heat?


January 31, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Though he has been praised for it lavishly, Bill Clinton' appointment of his wife to chair the President's Task Force on National Health Care Reform is a mistake.

One reason was neatly summed up by a newspaper editorial that, ironically enough, approved the action: "Is Mrs. Clinton a bona fide health reform expert? No, but . . ."

No, but . . .?

Given that a lack of qualifications is no longer a reason to deny someone a job, we are very lucky that Mrs. Clinton has chosen to pilot health care reform in this country and not Air Force One.

But there is another reason the appointment is a mistake:

President Clinton does not tolerate criticism of his wife and that is no way to encourage an open exchange of ideas on health care reform or any other issue.

Consider what happened in March 1992 in the final candidate debate before the Illinois primary.

"I think he [Clinton] has a big electability problem," Jerry Brown said near the end of the debate. "He is funneling money to his wife's law firm."

Brown based this accusation on an article in the Washington Post. And though Brown was overstating the case, the article did raise some intriguing questions about Mrs. Clinton's legal practice in Arkansas while her husband was governor.

Clinton, however, did not see it as a legitimate political attack in a hard fought campaign, but a personal attack on his wife.

"Let me tell you something, Jerry," Clinton said, shaking his finger at Brown, "I don't care what you say about me . . . but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife. You're not worth being on the same platform with my wife!"

A number of people in the room thought Clinton was close to hitting Brown, but Clinton restricted himself to verbal blows only.

"Jerry comes here with his family wealth and his $1,500 suit," Clinton sneered, "and makes a lying accusation about my wife."

But Clinton never responded to the issue. According to the Post: "Records indicate that most of her [Mrs. Clinton's] work for Rose [her law firm] involved copyright infringement cases; protecting royalties for songwriters and trademark names for bread companies."

But along came a case involving a savings and loan that needed a break from an Arkansas state commissioner and Mrs. Clinton )) got the case.

Why Mrs. Clinton, considering her expertise involved songwriters and bakeries? Possibly because the commissioner recently had been appointed by her husband.

And, as it turned out, the commissioner approved the deal for Mrs. Clinton's client. (To make it even messier, both Clintons were involved in a private real estate deal with the principal shareholder of the S&L.)

But was it fair to question Mrs. Clinton's activities at all?

Yes. Clinton made it fair when he told voters that if they elected him, they would be getting a "two-for-one" deal that included Mrs. Clinton as virtually a co-president.

So she should have been then -- and should be now -- subjected to the same tough questioning and scrutiny as he is.

But when Jerry Brown tried it, Clinton flew off the handle.

And the next day, Mrs. Clinton unleashed her own sneer: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession."

I realize that writing nice things about Mrs. Clinton is now a sign of political correctness, but I don't think either that response or the response of her husband addressed the issue of why Hillary Clinton was assigned to that S&L case.

He invoked macho behavior -- big hubby defends little woman -- and she invoked feminism.

But what does the behavior of 11 months ago mean for today?

One thing it means is that Bill Clinton is not going to allow criticism of Hillary Clinton or whatever health care reform she comes up with.

And it also means that Hillary Clinton does not much like her actions being questioned.

But as the Zoe Baird fiasco has demonstrated, Bill Clinton's real problem is how insular he is, how out of touch he is with people outside his own sphere.

Clinton said he was appointing his wife to the health care job because "she's better at organizing and leading people . . . than anybody I've ever worked with in my life."

I don't doubt it. But maybe he ought to get out more.

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