Published in the New York Post on April 16, 2008.
People have always accused Bill Clinton of wanting to be all things to all people. Now he and Hillary have found a way to do it in her campaign.
The former first couple has a carefully choreographed pas-de-deux in which they take opposite sides of an issue, depending on Hillary’s political needs of the moment.
The free-trade deal with Colombia? She’s the good cop, opposing the deal to preserve the rights of unions here and abroad. But he’s the bad cop, taking $800,000 in speaking fees from groups supporting the legislation and huddling with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to advise him on his choice of lobbyists.
And where did that $800,000 go? Into their joint bank accounts. So Hillary made money with one hand while distancing herself from the agreement with the other.
NAFTA? Even though she supported it at the time, she now has rewritten history to assign to herself the leading role of opponent while bad-cop Bill pushed it through.
China? Good-cop Hillary calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony to protest the crackdown in Tibet. But bad-cop Bill got an undisclosed contribution to his foundation, whose money he controls, from Ali Baba, the Chinese-government-dominated Web site that asked people to turn in Tibetan monks who were demonstrating for freedom.
Bad-cop Bill pardoned the FALN terrorists who bombed Fraunces Tavern. But Hillary not only didn’t know about the pardon, she claims, but would’ve opposed it. Her political gains among Puerto Ricans as she first ran for the Senate as a result of the pardons? Pure coincidence.
Then, Bill went and collaborated with Hillary’s brothers to pardon a drug kingpin, a con artist who peddled cures for baldness and a carnival owner convicted of fraud. It turns out that Hillary’s brothers took huge fees to arrange the pardons. But good-cop Hillary didn’t know of the pardons or her brothers’ involvement or that her brothers had gotten paid for arranging them. She just plain didn’t know!
Will people fall for this elaborate deception? Can the Clintons hard-wire into their brains the idea that Hillary secretly opposed NAFTA all along? The Clintons have a boundless confidence in their ability to fool people; their latest two-step is quite an example.
All this maneuvering wouldn’t be so bad, except that Hillary is predicating her candidacy on her shared experience with Bill. It was, she now insists, a co-presidency.
The economy? They worked hand in hand to turn it around. Bosnia? She braved sniper fire to bring peace to that troubled land. Northern Ireland? The first couple took turns pushing for peace, negotiating and catalyzing the process. Welfare reform? They both backed it (even though she didn’t). Balancing the budget? Their joint achievement.
When Hillary wants to wrap herself in Bill’s record, she does so without blushing. But when she needs to rewrite her role, she figures she’ll get away with it.
Hillary’s attempts to create a legacy of opposing free trade repudiate the core of the Clinton administration’s economic and foreign policy. President Clinton took office at a time of rising global protectionism, spurred then as now by a recession. Instead of kowtowing to that protectionism in order to win votes, he defied it and initiated a triple play that left free trade enshrined as the world’s policy.
First, he passed NAFTA, which the first President Bush had been unable to do. Then, armed with the threat of a source of low-cost goods from Mexico, he forced the Pacific Rim countries to cut their trade barriers. Finally, having made his deal in the East, he forced Western Europe to give way in the GATT negotiations and create the global World Trade Organization system.
Bill Clinton was the father of global free trade, even if good-cop Hillary chooses, after a decade and a half of silence, to repudiate that legacy.