Why is president so angry with press on Whitewater?

March 18, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- I am always suspicious whenever I see politicians display human emotion.

To some extent all politicians are actors. They must have a fine eye for what will play on TV.

So I have been skeptical over the last two weeks as I have watched President Clinton turn into Raging Bill.

He has heatedly defended his wife, heatedly attacked Republicans and heatedly bashed the press.

But is it real? Or has he been playing to the cameras?

We do know that Clinton has a temper.

During the 1992 primary season, when he was erroneously told that Jesse Jackson had endorsed another candidate, Clinton lost all composure. "It's an outrage!" he yelled. "It's a dirty, double-crossing, back-stabbing thing to do!"

And shortly after his inaugural, Clinton was captured on videotape furiously dressing down his staff.

But on Monday, at a Democratic fund-raiser in Boston, Clinton gave an unusually angry address that will probably go down in history as "The Speech of the Nine No's."

"Why then are we confronted in this administration with an opposition party that just stands up and says no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!" Clinton said.

After each "no" he bashed the lectern with his left fist.

"I never did them the way they are doing us in Washington, D.C., today!" Clinton said. "It is wrong! And it is not good for the United States of America!"

Have the Republicans really said nine times no to Bill Clinton, however? They certainly didn't over NAFTA. Without Republican support it would have failed. And without Republican support, Clinton will never get the kind of health care reform he wants.

But Clinton is really not bashing Republicans because they are opposing his legislative agenda. He is furious -- and genuinely so, I now believe -- because he sees them as the driving force behind all the Whitewater stories.

Who is really keeping Whitewater on the front burner, however? Is it the Republicans? Or is it the press?

In Clinton's mind, the two are connected.

"There has been a convergence of the way the press has handled this and the way the Republicans have tried to manipulate it," Clinton said recently.

And on this issue, Clinton appears close to the emotional edge.

Look what happened Saturday in an incident that got little attention:

Two Knight-Ridder newspaper reporters were interviewing Clinton in the Oval Office. These are usually pleasant little affairs, which the president comes out from behind his desk and sits down and chats. And that is how things began.

"Clinton sat calmly and talked quietly for 15 minutes" about a jobs conference, Robert A. Rankin and David Everett wrote.

But when the two starting asking Whitewater questions, Clinton's demeanor changed.

"Shifting to the edge of his seat, visibly agitated and eyes bulging, the president wagged his finger in admonition at two reporters and unleashed a rising torrent of complaint."

He denounced the press "frenzy" and called it "bizarre" and then rose to end the interview.

The reporters asked one more question: Would Clinton make public his 1978 and 1979 tax returns?

Those returns may be important because they are for the years in which the Clintons formed the Whitewater Development Corp. with James McDougal. The Clintons have released tax returns only for 1980 through 1992.

But now when asked about the two missing years, "Clinton's face reddened in anger" and he said he had given all relevant documents to the Whitewater special counsel.

"His jaw clenched, Clinton then abruptly ended the interview, strode past his visitors without shaking hands and stood behind his desk until they were escorted out."

What on earth is the big deal over those tax returns? And why all the anger over Whitewater if Clinton has done nothing wrong and believes he will be completely exonerated? What's with all the bulging eyes and pounding fists?

Is it really because Clinton believes the Republicans and the press have been unfair in poking around his past?

L Perhaps. But I am reminded of what H. L. Mencken once wrote:

"Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice."

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