Defending Hugh Rodham
February 22, 2001
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This morning's New York Times is in full moral dudgeon over the news that Hugh Rodham, Hillary Clinton's brother, was paid $400,000 in two pardon cases.
"The payments to Mr. Rodham are the latest in a string of embarrassments for the former president," the lead, front-page news article in the Times opines.
"Another Pardon Disgrace," thunders a Times editorial, calling the fees "certainly unethical."
"What he did was absolutely unethical," chimes in the moral conscience of the Clinton years, Terry McAuliffe, who is quoted in the Times news article.
Well, granted, this story broke late yesterday, but missing from the Times coverage is any shred of context that would explain that, by Washington standards -- and by a reasonable standard -- Hugh Rodham's behavior is not so disgraceful or unethical or unusual at all. Smartertimes.com realizes that this position is going to irk the Clinton-haters on the right and the good-government types on the left, but before rushing to judgment, those who are already astride their high horse about Hugh Rodham might stop to consider: Senator Alfonse D'Amato's brother, Armand, lobbied Congress and lobbied Senator D'Amato. A federal appeals court ruled that Armand had broken no laws by doing so.
And it is not just Italian-American Republicans from Long Island who do this sort of thing. One big lobbying firm in Washington during the Clinton years was known as Podesta.com. The firm's name partner, Anthony Podesta, is the brother of Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta. Another principal at the firm, according to the Associated Press, was Jeff Ricchetti, brother of the deputy White House chief of staff, Steve Ricchetti.
Even friends of Al Gore, that emblem of squeaky-cleanness, get into the act. The Washington Post reported on June 14, 1999, "Washington lobbyist Peter Knight, invariably described as 'like a brother' to Vice President Gore, is leading the Gore campaign's $55 million fund-raising strategy. At the same time, Knight is providing corporate clients like telecom powerhouse Bell Atlantic and defense giant Lockheed Martin with intelligence on inside White House thinking."
The truth is, it is unreasonable to expect the brothers and friends of government officials to accept vows of poverty or to renounce their First Amendment right to petition the government. And it is unreasonable to accept those paying for lobbyists to hire lobbyists who have no personal connections to the targets of the lobbying.
The "everyone does it" excuse does not absolve the Clintons or Mr. Rodham of responsibility for their actions. At the same time, though, the Times, and the American voters, should have realized what they were getting into when they elected the Clintons. Basically, if you wanted the squeaky-clean candidate, you would have gone with Ralph Nader or Paul Tsongas. The Clintons gave their backers certain policy results, even some centrist ones -- welfare reform, military action in Bosnia, Nafta -- in exchange for the backers' looking the other way at their ethical foibles.
The more sensible and consistent way to judge these pardon decisions would be on the merits: Did the criminals deserve the pardons? If the pardons were undeserved, then they were wrong no matter how scrupulous the process. If the pardons were deserved, then they were right no matter how many Clinton relatives were hired and no matter how much money the relatives were paid.
In fact, at least one detail in the Times coverage this morning makes Hugh Rodham sound like an honorable guy: he charged one of the pardon recipients on a "contingency fee" basis. No pardon, no payment owed. If Mr. Rodham were really out to exploit his position, he would have hustled all sorts of pardon applicants for fixed fees, and left them high and dry without having actually gotten them pardons. The Rodham pardon contingency fee, if you look at it this way, has an air of rectitude about it akin to the L.L. Bean guarantee of satisfaction or your money back.
Anyway, the Times doesn't have to agree with the Smartertimes.com view on this; it just would be nice to see some of this background included in the newspaper's coverage.
Most Demanding: An article in the international section of today's New York Times reports, "Cardinal Egan, who spent more than 20 years in Rome, is still feeling his way into the most visible -- and demanding -- Catholic pulpit in the United States." New York might be the most visible and demanding Catholic pulpit in America, but one could also make a good case that Los Angeles is. In any case, this is an opinion worth hedging or attributing rather than simply asserting in a news article.
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