The terrible face of Clinton hatred, September 1998: Last week, we were researching the late Kirk O’Donnell, who died at age 52 in 1998.
Kirk O’Donnell was Lawrence O’Donnell’s cousin. Early in his adult life, he was a widely-respected chief aide to House speaker Tip O’Neill.
We were researching Kirk O’Donnell because we were puzzled by something his cousin had said. Along the way, we came upon the startling face of Clinton-hatred as it existed in September 1998.
We thought that hatred was worth recording. Here’s the way it went down:
Al Hunt wrote a column about Kirk O’Donnell in the Wall Street Journal. His headline announced a tribute.
Rather quickly, Hunt’s column turned into an attack on the vile Bill Clinton. It seems amazing that Hunt would use a tribute column in the way he did.
Headline included, here's the way he started:
HUNT (9/10/98): The Loss of a Talented, Decent and Honorable ManAs you can see, it took Hunt exactly one sentence to turn his tribute to O’Donnell into an attack on Clinton. Eventually, he offered these endless thoughts:
Kirk O'Donnell, one of the ablest and most honorable people in American politics, died suddenly last weekend at the altogether too young age of 52. Even in grieving, it's somehow hard not to think how different the Clinton presidency might have been if Kirk O'Donnell had been a top White House adviser starting in 1993.
He combined the best virtues of the old and the new politics. Raised in the rough-and-tumble environs of Boston tribal warfare, he never saw politics as anything but a contact sport. But he always practiced it with decency and civility.
HUNT: The Clinton administration made job overtures to Kirk O'Donnell several times but they were never commensurate with his talents. He should have been either Chief of Staff or legal counsel from the very start of this administration. He would have brought experience, expertise, maturity, judgment, toughness—intimate knowledge of the way Washington works—that nobody else in that White House possessed.That must be the strangest tribute ever written. It may be the strangest column ever written.
But sadly, that's not what this president sought. For Kirk O'Donnell wouldn't have tolerated dissembling. He never was unfaithful to those he worked for but “spinning”—as in situational truths—was foreign to him. When working for the speaker of Michael Dukakis in 1988, he would dodge, bob, sometimes talk gibberish but never, in hundreds of interviews with me, did he ever dissemble.
The contrast between this and someone like Dick Morris, who Mr. Clinton continuously turned to, is striking. This was brought home anew when Mr. Morris, the former top Clinton aide, wrote a letter seeming to take issue with a column I wrote a few weeks ago.
For starters, he erroneously denied that he suggested Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. More substantively, Mr. Morris says that Mr. Clinton called him when the Lewinsky story broke and had him do a poll to gauge reaction. He did that and told Mr. Clinton the public wouldn't accept the truth. Although Mr. Morris turned over what he says is that poll to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, some of us question whether the survey was genuine.
The infamous political consultant swears he sampled 500 people, asked 25 to 30 questions and did it all out of own pocket for $2,000. If true, it was a slipshod survey upon which the president reportedly decided to stake his word. (Only days later, Mr. Clinton swore at a private White House meeting that he hadn't spoken to Mr. Morris in ages.)
There was no more an astute analyst of polls than Kirk O'Donnell. He would pepper political conversations with survey data. But because he understood history and had such personal honor he always understood a poll was a snapshot, often valuable. But it never could be a substitute for principle or morality or integrity.
There were currencies of his professional and personal life. These no longer are commonplace commodities in politics, which is one of many reasons that the passing of this very good man is such a loss.
Hunt started out discussing O’Donnell’s decency. Before long, he was arguing about who had falsely denied suggesting that Hillary Clinton was a giant lesbo.
Could that possibly be the way to offer a tribute to a good, decent man? This was a very strange column, but also a sign of the time.
The Clinton hate was very strong in the fall of 1998. In November of that year, Sally Quinn recorded these attitudes in “Establishment Washington” in a very instructive, lengthy report for which she is often attacked, we think misguidedly.
In our view, Quinn’s report was a very important piece of journalism. It provides a very strong part of the historical record.
The hatred was strong in the fall of 1998. In December 1998, Clinton was impeached.
In February 1999, impeachment failed. Two weeks later, all the hate got dumped on Candidate Gore.
We’ve just entered our second war in Iraq because people like Hunt behaved in the ways they did. They worked and they worked and they worked some more. Eventually, they got what they wanted:
As punishment to Clinton for those ten jobs, George Bush ended up in the White House.
To this day, everyone has agreed to pretend that none of this ever happened. The press did its usual outstanding job. “W” won in a squeaker.
What’s done in the press corps stays in the press corps. Everyone plays by that rule.