Donald Trump has in his characteristically prickly manner made Secretary Hillary Clinton’s spouse a campaign issue in recent days. Is this fair? Typically it would not be, as spouse’s should be out of bounds during campaigns. We’ve seen through the years subtle sexist attacks on candidates wives coming from politicians on both sides of the aisle. But we’ve never been confronted with attacks on a male spouse who is also a former President of the United States.
President Bill Clinton was the only occupant of the Oval Office in the 20th Century to be Impeached. President Clinton’s recklessness in office and his willingness to trade principle for political gain have often been forgotten by those on the left who have rehabilitated his image in the last 15 years, maybe partly due to the good work his wife has done as a US Senator and Secretary of State.
If I were involved in Secretary Clinton’s campaign, I would send President Clinton away for ten months – but since he’s not only visible but becoming a front and center figure it is worth reminding Democrats the types of things that our party and the nation had to endure during the Clinton Presidency and the issues that might well be used by Trump if he were to be the GOP nominee.
The Clinton sex scandals may be one issue and a salacious one at that. But no doubt if Trump were to be nominated he’d have more professional and seasoned GOP operatives advising him and some other issues beyond sex scandals could be played.
Case in point – the Campaign Finance Scandal of 1996 which has been long forgotten except by a few. While the general theme of the scandal provided the plot for several episodes of House of Cards in the Netflix series second season, many watching the program probably thought the idea of foreign nationals and those linked to foreign governments like the People’s Republic of China donating en masse to an American political campaign was a far-fetched – but in 1996 the Clinton/Gore campaign and the DNC violated several laws and norms of campaigning in a wide-reaching scandal.
The scandal allegedly involved the People’s Republic of China infiltrating the DNC and Clinton/Gore Campaign with an eye on influencing American policy in the Far East. Whether an orchestrated effort of the Chinese Government was at play or not, the Clinton team collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions. What was more troubling was the access to the White House given to those in the Asian-American community who had bundled the cash, much of which was allegedly from improper sources.
The GOP’s Congressional investigation of the matter was a joke – a clumsy partisan witch hunt that was determined to take down the President even though several smaller targets in the DNC and Campaign probably could have been exposed with a more disciplined effort.
The GOP had put Senator Fred Thompson (who passed away in 2015) in charge of the committee and as a veteran of the Watergate hearings ( he was the counsel to the Republican Senators) he styled this investigation similarly. The Tennessee Senator, who was one of the few in his party in favor of comprehensive campaign finance reform tried to nail Clinton in a sensational fashion and then planned to look at his own party’s practices in the Congressional Elections of 1996, prompting the GOP to shut him down and moved on to other Clinton scandals. Thompson’s goal was to nail Clinton AND enact comprehensive reform which his Republican colleagues felt would benefit Democrats at the congressional level. This meant at some point he had to go after his own party to prove the need for reform, something the Republican Party was strongly opposed to. With this fear in mind, the investigation was wound down by the GOP’s Congressional leadership.
I have always felt the scandal was a serious one, far more serious than the Lewinsky matter and the “obstruction of justice” that went with it. Those were reckless moves by the President but the finance scandal was something more damaging potentially. Clinton’s desperation in the post 1994 midterm climate led him to make all sorts of compromises with Republicans, bring right-winger Dick Morris into the inner circle and say or do anything for reelection. That has always led me to believe he just might have been willing to alter US policy toward China for political gain and campaign cash.
My hunch is that so much is still unknown about this scandal it could be damaging. I have long been scared it would be opened up again by the GOP, especially with today’s somewhat irrational fear of China being played regularly especially by Trump. Re-litigating decades old political scandals is not something the judiciary does, but with President Clinton as relevant as ever the media might well do so. In this day and age of internet publications with a political bent (not unlike TFS but with greater resources), Bill Clinton’s baggage could again be a noose around Democrats especially his exceptionally qualified spouse. Let us hope that does not happen.