The Clintons and ethics

January 06, 1998

An excerpt from an Orange County (Calif.) Register editorial that was published on Wednesday:

BILL and Hillary Clinton came to Washington with two related messages that would eventually come back to bite them. First, they were ostentatiously disdainful of the era of Ronald Reagan as a decade of indulgence. Second, they boasted that the Clinton era would be one of moral renewal in public life -- implicitly suggesting that the GOP regime they were displacing had been ethically challenged. In contrast, Mr. Clinton vowed, his would be the ''most ethical'' administration in history.

All this hubris set the Clintons up for a fall. Indeed, 1998 could well hold some poetically appropriate retribution for their early moralistic assaults on political and philosophical opponents. The new year could very well bring a number of new congressional and prosecutorial exposes of how far short Clinton practice falls from Clinton preaching.

The hypocrisy in their indictment of the '80s was exposed early on, when it came to light that this first couple had themselves danced on the edges of financial propriety in speculative and questionable land and legal deals in Arkansas. Also, it was revealed that Mrs. Clinton -- someone who publicly denounced the nation's drug manufacturers for greed -- had been the $100,000 beneficiary of an overnight commodities windfall at the dawn of the money-grubbing eighties.

A bumpy ride

Most recently, Mr. Clinton's public responses to revelations about ethical shabbiness in his midst hardly suggest a burning fire for uprightness in high office.

For example, it was recently announced that the Clinton defense fund will close, its efforts hampered by revelations of suspicious contributions, most notably the $640,000 given by former Little Rock restaurateur and longtime Clinton friend Charlie Trie. Rather than answer questions about the origins of that money, Mr. Trie remains in Beijing, beyond the reach of investigators. Has Mr. Clinton publicly asked Mr. Trie to return, or displayed any significant concern about his having fled the country? Not noticeably.

Mr. Clinton was right at the outset of his tenure to suggest that ethics in government are important. Unfortunately, his administration has offered one object lesson after another in the danger of not abiding by those words.

Pub Date: 1/06/98

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