Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Clintons still don't do Ethics

From Tribune 14 March, 2008

Last week brought out the problems of ethics in politics – and journalism.
The phrase “journalistic ethics” is all too often an oxymoron. Nowhere was that more obvious than with Scotsman journalist Gerri Peev’s publication of comments by Samantha Power on Hillary Clinton. Power had, correctly, blurted out that the New York Senator was a ‘monster”, but asked for it to be put off the record.

Power, who consequently had to resign as foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, had written a deservedly prize-winning book on genocide. The world all too often says ‘never again’ about the subject: it should be said with much, more certainty by whichever political source or interviewee that Peev approaches in future.

Peev claims that since the whole interview was officially on the record, this allowed her to disregard Power’s request. It is a stretch. I see no sign that Peev told Power that she was disregarding that request, which I presume would have led to the immediate end of the interview. Has she ever treated any of Westminster’s many leaks in this way? I rather suspect not. Extending courtesy to interviewees and treating them fairly is a pragmatic principle as well as an ethical one. Who will ever speak freely to Peev again?

Power’s coyness was not dissimulation: the primary is designed to produce a Democratic candidacy to end the Republican hold on the White House after what most people would regard as the two most disastrous presidential terms in US history. In that battle, the candidates are under compunction to be collegial, but there is little doubt that the Clinton campaign is studying the Karl Rove play sheet, using its extensive contacts and influence to get the knife in on Obama, while making sure the fingerprints are not too visible.

Obama’s campaign suffers from ethical and practical scruples in returning the favour. Without the organizational support from the political apparatus that Clinton has, he cannot alienate his vital voter base by seeming to arm McCain in the event of her becoming the Democratic nominee.

Samantha Power’s book the "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." certainly does examine the Clinton family’s much vaunted “experience” and provides strong evidence that “here there be monsters”. Henry Kissinger once dismissively, but accurately said that “Ze problem with Bill Clinton is that he does not have the strength of character to be a war criminal!” But one forms the distinct impression that the softest part of his spouse is her teeth.

Looking at number of corporate donations going to Obama, and his pragmatic burning of sack-fulls of incense on the altar of the Israeli Lobby, it is difficult for me to be as starry-eyed as many of his supporters. However, my fears about him are just that: fears. In contrast, the Clinton campaign’s ruthless drive to power and the record of her and her spouse on every issue from the Middle East, to Iraq, to driving millions of welfare benefits, leaves little or no hope. She would be preferable to McCain, who has basked in the sympathy of previous victimization by the Bush-Rove machine – but is a dangerous conservative in his own right.

Since Ms Clinton has made such play of her “experience,” which after all was mostly being her husband’s spouse, she can hardly complain if we consider her in some measure culpable for his egregious failings. The couple was clearly a joint enterprise in the field of politics.

In Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda as thousands died, the Clinton administration’s sole concern was to avoid the domestic political embarrassment of risking any American casualties, regardless of actual massacres on the ground. It is no defence that he was embarrassed into this position by the Republicans who have since been so shamelessly profligate with GI dead. He shares the shame with them, and only contrasts his invertebracy with their cynicism.

We can presume Ms Clinton’s approval for her husband as governor of Arkansas during the Democratic primaries twelve years ago flying back to supervise the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, whose brain injuries would have disqualified him from trial, let alone execution in any civilized jurisdiction.

On a different note, we can presume her approval of the firing and subsequent social exclusion of old family friend Lani Guinier. Guinier, the first black woman law professor at Harvard was nominated as assistant attorney general for civil rights. Her work on proportional representation came under NeoCon attack, and the Clintons not only dropped her nomination, they cut off all relations with the old friend.

Hillary Clinton happily drew a salary for being on Wal-Mart’s board of directors without raising a peep about its viciously anti-union policies, its minimum wages and its denial of healthcare. Then she was a partner in one of the strongest anti-union law firms in the US, which probably qualified here for the directorship as much as being the President’s spouse.

No one can engage in political activity and come out with a halo. Even so, as Robin Cook said of foreign policy, there should at least be an ethical dimension. In the case of Clinton, and indeed Peev, that ethical dimension is as remotely theoretical as an eleventh dimensional superstring: not visible in our universe.

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