Wednesday, April 19, 2000
Playing the ethnic card in New York
Christopher Hitchens
National Post

In Edwin O' Connor's classic The Last Hurrah, which is the best pastiche of the
Tammany style that we have, the real-life figure of Mayor James Curley of
Boston is represented by one Frank Skeffington. Here he is, as he explains the
foreign-policy dimension of local elections: "When you come right down to it,
there are only two points that really count ..." Skeffington held up two
fingers. "One," he said, ticking the first. "All Ireland must be free. Two," he
said, ticking the second, "Trieste belongs to Italy. They count. At the moment,
the first counts more than the second, but that's only because the Italians
were a little slow in getting to the boats."

The playing of the ethnic card in New York City politics is often lazily
assumed to follow the stupid adage of that other great Bostonian Democrat,
Tip'O Neill, who remarked contentedly that "all politics is local." In fact, in
the Five Boroughs, much politics is global. Ward-heeler talk about "the three
Eyes" -- Ireland, Italy and Israel -- understates the way in which New York is
international. It also, in its traditionalism, overlooks the way in which Asian
and Middle Eastern influences have rewritten the score of West Side Story. It
has been alternately amusing and sickening to see Mrs. Clinton trying to
navigate these waters, sometimes in her simpering role as a newly-minted
upstate suburban housewife and sometimes in her more "strong woman" role as
First Lady and chief confidante.

Everyone remembers the same dual personality; the woman who claims that "Bill
and I talk all the time" (a shudder-making thought in itself) claims not to
have talked with him about the amnesty for Puerto Rican bombers. In rather the
same way, when her trip to Israel and occupied Palestinian territories turned
farcical, she was somehow deemed to be there as a private citizen rather than a
First Lady. This is a White House long used to replacing accountability with
deniability -- micro-management of everything from health care to welfare, but
total amnesia and inattention when things turn nasty -- so the quick-change
habit has become ingrained by now. My favourite example -- apart from the
fouled up why-was-I-not-told decision to attend the wrong St. Patrick's Day
parade -- was Mrs. Clinton's confusion between different cover-stories over her
famous cattle futures trade. She was pregnant with Chelsea at the time, she
fluttered, and too hormonal to think straight. Strong, independent woman or
self-pitying sob-sister?

Maybe both. The apparent surrender to global influence-peddling in the matter
of Pakistan has been allowed to die a media death. Remember when every liberal
knew how to sneer at George W. Bush, not only for forgetting the name of
Pakistan's new dictator but for saying that he seemed like a good guy? Well,
the General Musharraf regime has now hired, at a retainer of $22,500 (US) a
month, the DC law firm of Patton Boggs, for which Lanny Davis, one of the First
Family's chief apologists, toils. Perhaps for reasons having to do with the
separation of powers, Patton Boggs also collects $10,000 (US) monthly from Pak-
Pac, the Pakistani lobby in America, for Lanny Davis' services in its behalf.
Suddenly, no more Dem jokes about ignorance of Pakistan.

Last December, after Clinton announced that Pakistan would not be on his
itinerary when he visited the subcontinent, his former White House "special
counsel" arranged a fundraiser in Washington at which 37 lawyers from Patton
and Boggs contributed $24,000 (US) to the First Lady's Senate campaign. So, not
very indirectly, Pakistani military money was washed into her coffers from the
very start. Then in February, another Pak-Pac event in New York was brought
forward so as to occur before the arrangements for the president's passage to
India had been finalized. Having been told that the First Lady did not grace
any event for less than $50,000 (US) up front, the Pakistanis came up with the
dough and were handsomely rewarded for their trouble by the presence of Lanny
Davis and by a statement from Mrs. Clinton that she hoped her spouse would stop
off in Pakistan after all. And a few days later, he announced that, after much
cogitation, he would favour General Musharraf with a drop-by.

How does this look to you? One way of deciding it is to try the cover-stories
for size. "I wish I could say I had the influence and had applied the right
pressure for the president to visit Pakistan, but I didn't, so I can't" That's
Lanny Davis. Is this what he tells the Pakistanis in return for his large
stipend? "If anybody thinks they can influence the president by making a
contribution to me, they are dead wrong." That's Hillary Clinton. Is that what
she said at the Pak-Pac fundraiser?

One thing that strikes the eye is how cheap this is. And inexpensive, too. The
Pakistani nuclear junta must be rubbing its eyes; for such a relatively small
outlay it can get the First Family to perform public political somersaults.

The problem with Pakistan is that it is a banana republic with nuclear weapons,
run by ambitious and greedy politicians who are scared of their own military-
industrial complex. Aren't you glad you don't live there? Meanwhile, don't
forget that the main task is to put the country behind us and move this forward
-- (I think I've got that right).

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and The Nation.

Copyright © Southam Inc. All rights reserved.


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