WHEN President Clinton averred that he had never known anyone with as strong a sense of right and wrong as Mrs. Clinton, it provided Sen. Al D'Amato, R-N.Y., the chance to get off the stinging rejoinder: "That's the problem."
Before anything is proved about what happened or did not happen with the Clintons' Whitewater deals, one thing is becoming clear. These people who came to Washington proclaiming the dawn of the new Democrat are not just old Democrats (taxing, spending, endorsing quotas, weak on defense), they are practitioners, par excellence, of old politics (cash for influence, back scratching, sweetheart deals, womanizing).
Upon examination, President Bill Clinton is beginning to resemble not his hero, Thomas Jefferson, whose memory was heavy-handedly invoked during inauguration week, and not George Washington, but George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Hall pol whose autobiography contained the memorable defense of "honest" graft: "I seen my opportunities, and I took 'em."
Read the March 21 edition of National Review. Rick Brookhiser provides a Whitewater primer that sketches the outlines of the Clintons' cozy business/government/friendship ties. To the constant refrain from the White House that there have been no allegations of wrongdoing by the president, there can be only one response: How many allegations do you want?
There is the allegation that then-Governor Clinton asked his friend and business partner James McDougal to help out the family finances by hiring Hillary Rodham Clinton at $2,000 per month. It is not disputed that HRC received a $2,000-a-month retainer to represent Mr. McDougal's savings and loan before the Arkansas Securities Department, the commissioner of which -- one Beverly Bassett -- had been appointed by Bill Clinton. Since Madison was taking on water in 1985, HRC conceived a plan to save it. She petitioned the Securities Department to permit Madison Guaranty to sell preferred stock. In a letter addressed to "Dear Hillary," Ms. Bassett (what do you know!) approved.
Friends, if a Republican had done that, the press would be echoing with words like "sleaze," "conflict of interest," "greed" and "abuse of power." We would be treated to morality lessons, on the order of "This is why the S&L; screw-up is costing taxpayers so many billions of dollars." James Carville, former campaign manager for the Clinton campaign, quoted Ms. Clinton as saying, "We were never about money." So they say. But check the books. Even the evidence available now suggests otherwise. The Clintons spent the 1980s buying and selling and engaging in transactions whose complexity thwarts understanding even today -- not the stuff of financial naifs.
But even if their claim to have lost money on the deal turns out to be true, it is amazing that some in the press are willing to accept this as evidence of moral virtue. When Republicans lose money, they are accused of excessive greed. When Democrats lose money, it's evidence of their moral superiority.
Chew on this. There is an allegation that, as governor, Bill Clinton leaned on David Hale, then running an arm of the Small Business Administration, to "help Jim and me out." The Clintons deny this. But it is a fact that the SBA, tasked with helping minority entrepreneurs, did make a $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, former wife of James and partner in Whitewater Development Corp., and $150,000 of that sum was invested in Whitewater. That makes the Clintons the beneficiaries of a federal program aimed at helping struggling businessmen. Do you smell rotting fish?
Here's another allegation. If it is true that Vince Foster was working on Whitewater matters before his death, then the Clintons and he were in violation of the law that forbids government employees from working on personal matters for their bosses. Remember the indictment of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison?
There is great bitterness among Democrats that the Clintons are being subjected to any scrutiny at all. They lament for the nation. But their cries ring hollow. They created this monster -- the scandal machine -- deploying it first against Richard Nixon, and then against Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Ed Meese, Richard Allen, Carol Ionnone, Ray Donovan, Theodore Olsen, Elliott Abrams, Caspar Weinberger and dozens more. They created this monster -- and now it has turned on its master.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.