August is the month liberals and Democrats love to celebrate because it reminds them of Richard Nixon's resignation from the presidency 21 years ago. They hated Nixon then and still do. They love to remind us that he resigned ''in disgrace.''
Nixon and his defenders often referred to the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel as a ''third-rate burglary.'' And, as most recall, it wasn't the break-in that led to Nixon's resignation. It was the cover-up.
In the matters collectively known as Whitewater, defenders of the current president assure the public that it is a minor affair. Small amounts of money were involved, we're told. The Clintons were ''passive investors,'' and no laws were broken. Third rate.
But as the House Banking Committee opened hearings on Whitewater, the fear among Democrats that something first rate might be discovered was evident in the rising intensity of their protesting voices and their attempts to ridicule Republicans and witnesses rather than get at the truth.
Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) investigator Jean Lewis testified about a ''concerted effort'' by the RTC, the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock to ''obstruct, hamper and manipulate'' the inquiry into the bankrupt Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. Madison was owned by James McDougal, a partner with Bill and Hillary Clinton in Whitewater, the real estate misadventure on the White River in the Arkansas Ozarks.
Ms. Lewis also testified that she found funds from the S & L to have been illegally diverted both to Mr. Clinton's campaign for governor and the Whitewater project in the mid-1980s.
That someone considered Ms. Lewis and her potential testimony to be dangerous was evident from the three unauthorized searches of her offices and the suspension without explanation from her job by her superiors, one of whom, she said, asked if one of her conclusions -- embarrassing to the Clintons -- could be changed. In addition to Ms. Lewis, two other RTC officials, Richard Iorio and Lee Ausen, who apparently found some questionable details in the Madison affair, were placed on administrative leave while the RTC investigated allegations they had misused travel vouchers and time sheets. They were reinstated without any punishment.
A friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Susan Thomases, testified before the Senate Whitewater hearings that she played no role in instructing presidential aides how to handle Vincent Foster's documents after his death in July 1993. Former presidential lawyer Bernard Nussbaum has testified that Ms. Thomases may have relayed concerns from Mrs. Clinton about letting police have complete access to Foster's papers. We are supposed to believe that Ms. Thomases' numerous telephone calls to the office of Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff, Margaret Williams, were about subjects unrelated to the potential political problems and questions that would arise from Foster's death. Given the political and legal background of Mrs. Clinton, who served on the Senate Watergate Committee, and Ms. Thomases, a New York lawyer, this stretches credulity to the snapping point.
Democrats and many in the media have taken the line that the Whitewater hearings are boring. Not now, they aren't. While Whitewater is difficult for many to understand because of mathematical and legal jargon (and because there is no Woodward and Bernstein team to ram the points home), character, honesty and integrity are things most people do understand. When the public reached the judgment that Nixon had lost his, his presidency was effectively over.
Democrats are as desperate to keep the lid on Whitewater as Republicans were to keep the lid on Watergate. They are trying to prevent the voters from rendering the same judgment about the current president and his wife as they did about Nixon 21 years ago.
5) Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.