When I am on the road speaking to college audiences there is often a hostile question at the end of my talks attempting to hold me accountable for some article that appeared on FrontPage. Many times I have not had a chance to read the article in question. I am not FrontPage’s managing editor and often am distracted by other tasks – orchestrating a national campaign to end political indoctrination in academic classrooms, for example – which prevent me from reading many of the articles that appear in the magazine and sometimes all of them. Last week I was traveling to Appleton Wisconsin for a speaking engagement at Lawrence University and consequently missed the entire Tuesday issue. I wasn’t even aware until my return to California at the end of the week that two friends and stalwart supporters of this magazine – Dick Scaife and Chris Ruddy – had been viciously attacked by yet another friend and political ally John Podhoretz.
When I read the article, it was immediately apparent to me that Podhoretz’s attack was mean-spirited and mis-placed, and that it had grossly distorted the views and contributions of both gentlemen. It also exhibited a typical tendency among some conservatives to take the pretensions of their opponents, in this case The New York Times, seriously, and to wish to appear “reasonable” in their leftwing eyes.
Podhoretz’s attack was based on a Times “news” story alleging that conservatives had changed their assessment of the Clintons and were now regarding Hillary, whom they had once excoriated, as a respectable presidential candidate. In other words, this was a partisan attempt by the Times to remedy Clinton’s greatest deficiency in confronting the Obama challenge – the charge that she carried too much baggage and was too hated to be a viable candidate in 2008.
The Times article therefore featured two of the Clintons’ most demonized critics, Christopher Ruddy, a former New York Post reporter (now editor of NewsMax) who had written a book on the death of the Clinton White House counsel, Vince Foster, and philanthropist Dick Scaife, who had financed a series of articles on various Clinton scandals. Ruddy was quoted as saying “Clinton wasn’t such a bad president; in fact, he was a pretty good president in a lot of ways, and Dick feels that way today.”
Naturally, the Times found this brief extract from its interview with Ruddy useful for the makeover it was determined to give Hillary: a seemingly revisionist appraisal by two men once denounced as key figures in the “vast right-wing conspiracy” to discredit the Clintons. For the Times Ruddy’s comments represented the clearest possible proof that Hillary’s political baggage was gone and her candidacy on track.
But the Times quote was only a fragment of what Ruddy had actually said and was false not only to the interview but to the actual opinions that conservatives had of the Clinton administration at the time. Personally, I can’t remember many conservatives, even during the Clinton impeachment, who thought that Clinton’s domestic agenda – health care and gays in the military excepted – was anything but good (for a liberal Democrat). With the help of a Republican congress Clinton balanced the budget, created an economic surplus, put the Guinier quota crowd in its place, and ended welfare as we know it. Most conservatives recognized that Clinton had followed a fairly centrist path of “triangulation” under the guidance of his Republican adviser Dick Morris. More importantly, if there were conservatives who thought the Clinton domestic policies bad, Dick Scaife and Chris Ruddy were not among them.
Any conservative reading the Times story should have recognized the political agendas behind it and been appropriately suspicious of its account of the interview it had conducted with Ruddy. Instead, Podhoretz wrote as if the Times’ account were gospel. Worse he acted as though the pathological judgments of the left on conservative critics of the Clintons, Scaife and Ruddy in particular, were just: “Scaife was the key funder of, and Ruddy a dominating figure in, the ’90s effort to cast Bill and Hillary Clinton in the worst possible light in every conceivable way. Their efforts went far beyond criticism of Bill’s policies and Hillary’s questionable business practices to irresponsible and frankly disgusting hints that either or both of them committed unspeakable crimes – including murder. Ruddy, for example, promoted the notion that the 1993 death of White House Counsel Vincent Foster was no suicide….Ruddy also helped push the claim that Bill played some unspecified role in the murder of two teens near Arkansas’ Mena airstrip that had been used for drug smuggling.”
For the record, Chris Ruddy has never claimed the two teens who were killed near the Mena airstrip were murdered. Podhoretz does concede that Ruddy never accused Bill or Hillary Clinton of murdering Vince Foster, but then says that he hinted as much and “considered [Clinton] a murderous rapist” to boot. (Perhaps Podhoretz had in mind Christopher Hitchens – no conservative – who did regard Clinton’s cynical execution of the retarded Ricky Ray Rector tantamount to murder and has supplied his own witness to a Clinton rape in an article concluding that Juanita Brodderick’s charge that she had been raped was probably true.)
According to Podhoretz, Scaife and Ruddy are guilty of lending credibility to Hillary’s claim that Clinton was the victim of a vast right wing conspiracy. Of course, the term “vast right wing conspiracy” was invented by Hillary not to characterize the investigations of the Foster matter but to explain why her husband was being “falsely” accused of having had sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky. This double lie – since Hillary knew perfectly well that Clinton was having sex with Monica -- is probably all one really needs to say on the subject of whether the left needs a credible excuse to slander their opponents.
Why is John Podhoretz then lending credibility to this most cynical Clinton canard? Was there no legitimate cause to consider investigations of the Clinton White House a civic responsibility? If Podhoretz wants an example of something disgusting it is the support he lends in this article to the verbal assassins of the left in their ongoing, unrelenting campaign to demonize and destroy conservatives like Chris Ruddy and Dick Scaife.
Scaife figures in all leftist demonologies as the Great Satan of the vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary invented. Dick Scaife is a decent and honorable citizen who has done prodigious service to his country and to the conservative cause that seeks to defend it. In a political universe where money available for leftwing causes is easily ten to twenty times greater than money available to the right Dick Scaife has been a generous philanthropist of conservative efforts, which included at one point subsidizing platforms available to John Podhoretz.
Scaife’s great crime in the eyes of the left was to fund a series of investigative articles into the Clintons’ Whitewater dealings and the Clintonian sexcapades whose pathologies eventually led to his impeachment. How is Scaife’s benefaction of this public service different from Ben Bradlee’s sponsorship of a series of articles in the Washington Post that inflated a ham-fisted burglary into an impeachable offense? The result of this investigative effort was to enable a concerted campaign by the anti-Vietnam left to reverse the election of 1972, unseat a sitting president, and lose a war. The direct consequence of the Watergate scandal was the slaughter of two-and-a-half million Cambodians and Vietnamese at the hands of the political allies of the American left, and a paralysis of American military power which haunts us to this day. Unlike the Washington Post’s crusade, the real-world consequence of Dick Scaife’s civic-minded effort to keep a presidency honest, was only – and unfortunately only -- a slap on the wrist to a perpetrator-in-chief.
Now consider the consequences of Bill Clinton’s unchecked sexual machinations. Because he was able to conduct a clandestine affair with an intern and because he chose to lie about it to his cabinet, his country and the world when the affair was revealed, he effectively paralyzed his own government in the face of al-Qaeda’s late-90s military offensive. Because of the surfacing of his paramour in January 1998, Clinton’s response to the blowing up of two U.S. embassies in June – an act of war -- was to lob a missile at an aspirin factory in the Sudan and some camel tents in Afghanistan. His response to Saddam’s ejection of the UN weapons inspectors and breaking of the 1991 truce in that same year was a toothless call for “regime change” and a futile salvo of 450 missiles but no ground force into Iraq. If the Washington Post had been as vigilant in guarding the national interest during the Clinton years as Dick Scaife and Chris Ruddy, perhaps Clinton would have been removed, creating at least the opportunity for a more forceful American response to the terrorist and Saddamite threats. Perhaps this might have forestalled the catastrophic events that ensued. In any case, keeping an eye on the Clintons was a praiseworthy enterprise.
John Podhoretz is probably not going to apologize to Dick Scaife and Chris Ruddy for his ungracious trashing of former friends and allies who attempted to rein in a reckless President. This apology from FrontPage, which should never have published his article in the first place, must suffice.