Having lived in Philadelphia, St., Louis and Cambridge Massachusetts, I thought I understood political corruption. Then I began looking into Bill Clinton’s Arkansas and found not only a deep corruption but a stunning indifference to it by the media and Clinton’s new liberal fans.
I got myself in a lot of trouble, including being blocked by higher ups from two scheduled CSPAN appearances, and being banned from Washington’s public radio station for a number of years.
In fact, the Arkansas story was true. Arkansas was, for example, a major drop off for imported illegal drugs, its governor had a number of less than admirable sexual activities including what we would now call abuse, and the Clintons ripped off buyers at their Whitewater site.
But neither most of the national media nor Clinton’s supporters wanted to hear a word of this and those few of us in the press who tried to tell them turned out to be considered the real bad guys.
In the end, the facts fell on our side. Bill Clinton’s presidential record included:
– The only president ever impeached on grounds of personal malfeasance
– Most number of convictions and guilty pleas by friends and associates
– Most number of cabinet officials to come under criminal investigation
– Most number of witnesses to flee country or refuse to testify
– Most number of witnesses to die suddenly
– First president sued for sexual harassment.
– Second president accused of rape
– First first lady to come under criminal investigation
– Largest criminal plea agreement in an illegal campaign contribution case
– First president to establish a legal defense fund.
– First president to be held in contempt of court
– Greatest amount of illegal campaign contributions
– Greatest amount of illegal campaign contributions from abroad
– First president disbarred from the US Supreme Court and a state court
When the Donald Trump story began to unfold, I had this eerie feeling of déjà vu. Once again the facts were being pushed aside by a cleverly designed fiction.
One of these fictions had been that Clinton grew up in a town named Hope, which became his great purpose in life. In fact, when Bill Clinton was 7, his family moved from Hope to the long-time mob resort of Hot Springs. Here Al Capone is said to have had permanent rights to suite 443 of the Arlington Hotel. Clinton’s stepfather was a gun-brandishing alcoholic who lost his Buick franchise through mismanagement and his own pilfering. He physically abused his family, including the young Bill. His mother was a heavy gambler with mob ties. And according to FBI and local police officials, his Uncle Raymond — to whom young Bill turned for wisdom and support — was a colorful car dealer, slot machine owner and gambling operator, who thrived (except when his house was firebombed) on the fault line of criminality. As Hot Spring prosecutor Paul Bosson put it, “In Hot Springs, growing up here, you were living a lie.”
When Clinton came along, I had already covered Washington during seven presidencies but had never seen anything like this. It was as if there were two presidents: the real one and a fictional version that largely satisfied the media and the public.
Now the fiction has returned. This time the public is less fooled and the media, after largely ignoring the dark side of Trump during this campaign, is becoming more actively engaged. But we still have painful evidence that both liberals and conservatives can become victims of fictional politics.
My theory is that television has a lot to do with this. Before television it would have been much harder to be a fake politician because too much of your story depended on the experiences of real people. Once politics just became another television show, facts and history no longer mattered.
Which is how we find ourselves with our second fictional president.