Ah, Richard Nixon. It seems he—and the mystery of his character and crimes—will haunt us forever. This past week, his cold, clammy hand emerged from the grave to reach out and touch another election. This one.
There was a strange column by the Times' Paul Krugman, which strained beyond the bounds of credibility to make the case that Obama's supporters were engaged in Nixonian politics "of slander and scare … the politics of hatred."
And shortly before that, Jerome Zeifman, a longtime Clinton critic who was one of Hillary's bosses on the committee that recommended Nixon's impeachment back in 1974, charged that Hillary was guilty of unethical, Nixonian behavior during her service on the committee.
The charges serve as a reminder that—fairly or unfairly—Hillary Clinton has become the kind of political figure whose conduct and character are at least as enigmatic and divisive—if not as demonstrably illegitimate—as Richard Nixon's.
Zeifman has been harping on Hillary's alleged Impeachment Committee misconduct since the mid-'90s, and when his charges appeared on the right-leaning Web site Accuracy in Media last week, they didn't get much mainstream play.
Nonetheless, they are worth examining for two reasons: First, they remind us that the conflicting picture of Hillary Clinton extends back to her very beginnings in public service. (Indeed, her 1974 service as a junior staff lawyer on the House judiciary committee's Nixon impeachment panel comes at the very beginning of the "35 years of experience" she so often cites.) And secondly, the charges remind us just how unresolved the conflicting images of Richard Nixon remain and how the Impeachment Committee's failure to resolve a key issue—whether Nixon actually ordered, rather than merely helped cover up, the Watergate break-in—has contributed to his unearned rehabilitation in some quarters. Whatever the nature of Hillary's conduct on the Impeachment Committee, the committee itself failed to find out the full truth about Richard Nixon's involvement in Watergate, thus perpetuating what I regard as Nixon's final lie. The one he took to his grave, the one that much of the media—scandalously, without examining it closely—still accepts.
Thus the Zeifman charges, regardless of their weight and motive, open up a can of worms, slippery, squirmy historical issues that even, as we shall see, drag in John F. Kennedy, who has become a kind of patron saint of the Obama campaign.
Before I read the Zeifman charges, I had wondered why, in her recent recitals of her "35 years of experience," Hillary didn't often mention her time on the impeachment panel—although on reflection I realized that perhaps her bitter later experience with her husband's impeachment may have soured her on the process, even on the word impeachment. After all, Nixon, it should be remembered, never was impeached; he resigned before it could happen. But Bill Clinton was both impeached and tried.
Instead, Hillary starts the 35-year clock with her experience at the Yale Child Study Center, the place she revisited—and had her second "tearing up" moment at—shortly before Super Tuesday. This is Hillary I, the idealistic believer in helping and healing children. I've always believed that, no matter what else you think about Hillary, this idealistic part of her is real; it's still there, whatever else the cynicism of politics (and her husband) have robbed from her.
I say this as someone who tutored a developmentally challenged child at that Yale facility myself (as part of a psych course requirement; I'm not claiming I would have done it otherwise) and experienced the aura of idealistic and altruistic purity that pervaded the old wooden walk-up it was housed in at the time. Whatever you think of the first, pre-New Hampshire "tearing up" episode, I think this second tearing up at Yale was sincere. She may have been mourning the loss of the person she was back then.