One of the most irritating aspects of the 2016 presidential election — and God knows there are so many to choose from — is this moral superiority Democrats display over the GOP’s unfortunate nomination of Donald Trump. As if choosing one of the most mendacious and corrupt people in American politics makes them exemplars of responsible governance.
Younger voters who weren’t around in the 1990s may not be fully aware of the range and depth of the Clintons’ duplicitous behavior. We’re getting a little taste of it now, but it’s worth remembering that these are people who used the execution of a man with a partial lobotomy to divert attention away from Bill’s lying about an extramarital affair.
In 1992, Gennifer Flowers, a former Arkansas news anchor and actress, claimed she and Clinton had engaged in a 12-year sexual relationship. As usual, Bill was adamant about his innocence. The Clintons appeared on a special post-Super Bowl edition of “60 Minutes,” then the highest-rated show on television, to deny it. Host Steve Kroft offered the Arkansas governor multiple chances to “level with the American people,” and the future president, who never really paid a price for his dalliances, reiterated his lie.
Hillary was there too, of course, abetting her husband as he smeared a woman she almost certainly knew (or, at the very least, suspected) was telling the truth. That’s what Hillary always did. According to Carl Bernstein in his “exhaustive biography,” Hillary was a full political partner — she boasted that voting for Bill meant “buy one, get one free” — who spearheaded an “aggressive” campaign to “discredit” Flowers.
This was nothing new. George Stephanopoulos, a Clinton loyalist, noted in his book that Hillary had said “We have to destroy her story” when Connie Hamzy, another woman who claims to have had an affair with Hillary’s husband, came forward in 1991.
As we would soon learn, the Clintons were exceptionally gifted at defaming and demonizing their accusers (although if that didn’t work they could always pay them off). The problem in this case was that Flowers had made tapes of telephone conversations where Bill Clinton discussed how to cover up the affair. “All you got to do is deny it,” Bill tells her.
Although he would perjure himself when asked about a more infamous affair, Bill knew enough to admit to this one under oath in 1997. In 1992, though, the couple was in trouble. While most Democrats were familiar with his proclivities, straight-out lying to the American public on national television — a habit the couple hasn’t been able to kick since then — was not playing well. Add to the Flowers scandal revelations of Bill’s draft-dodging (still a big political deal back in those days) and the Clintons’ poll numbers took a dramatic hit. Something had to be done.
There’s another aspect to the 1992 presidential campaign worth remembering, as well: Many liberals were (and I guess some still are) under the impression that Michael Dukakis was trounced in his 1988 bid for the White House because of a George H.W. Bush ad depicting rapist Willie Horton in a revolving door of prison furloughs (by the way: much like people conveniently forget Hillary’s supporters first used the “birther” smear on Barack Obama, Al Gore’s campaign first used Willie Horton-style furloughs as an issue against Dukakis in 1988). Democrats were obsessed with not being seen as weak on crime.
Enter Ricky Ray Rector.
In 1981, Rector shot a man for refusing to allow his friend into a nightclub. Later, he shot another friend of his — a police officer — who came to arrest him. Rector then performed a partial lobotomy by shooting himself in the head in a suicide attempt.
Whether you support the death penalty or not, there was a plausible contention that Rector was unable to put forward a proper defense because he couldn’t even comprehend the charges against him. For his last meal, Rector reportedly asked the guard to put aside his pecan pie because he was “saving it for later.”
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that putting mentally retarded people to death was “cruel and unusual.” But in 1993, the Clintons, with wilting poll numbers, saw an opportunity to show Bill was tough on crime and move beyond the Flowers’ fiasco.
In 1979, as governor Clinton commuted the sentence of a mentally ill murderer named James Surridge. He would go on to kill again. Now, during the 1992 primary race, faced with the prospects of losing his shot at the presidency, Clinton refused to even issue an order of executive clemency — not freedom — to stop the execution of another one.
That alone might have been understandable. This time, though, Clinton — I should say the Clintons — made a big show of traveling back to Little Rock in the midst of the campaign for the presidency so Bill could personally preside over the execution. It was covered by every major media outlet in the nation.
Rector was executed by lethal injection, although it took doctors almost an hour to find a proper vein. When a friend told Clinton about the delay, after spending a couple of minutes on the topic he moved on to more pressing matters: his “execution.”
From a 1993 Marshall Frady piece in a The New Yorker (not online; read Christopher Hitchens’ “No One Left To Lie To” for more on the interaction):
Staley [friend of Clinton’s] then told him, ‘Bill, I’m so sorry. We’ve had two executions this week, haven’t we.’ She meant the Flowers allegations. ‘He just groaned,’ she remembers, and they moved on to discussing that topic. Ultimately, she says, the conversation wound up ‘much more about the Jennifer Flowers matter’ than about what was happening to Rector at that moment down at Cummins.
So an American presidential candidate used a tragedy, and one of the dead bodies it would produce, as a political prop. We would later learn there was almost nothing the Clintons wouldn’t do to divert attention from their incessant scandals (in many of which Hillary played an integral part).
Hillary was always recalibraing her position on the death penalty to extract maximum political reward. In 1976, while leading a legal aid group at the University of Arkansas, Hillary claims to have helped save Henry Giles from the electric chair. Hillary stopped taking this position on the death penalty when her husband ran for Arkansas attorney general. In subsequent years, she supported capital punishment, even lobbying Congress to make certain federal crimes eligible for the death penalty in 1994. In 1996, when crime was again at the forefront of a national debate, law-and-order Hillary went out on the road for her husband and warned Americans about “superpredator” kids and so on.
As a carpetbagger Senate candidate in New York, Hillary claimed her position on the death penalty was “unenthusiastic support.” Today she supports the death penalty in limited cases and complains about “mass incarceration” that were prompted by Clinton-era policies.
Since Hillary is now running on a record heavily reliant on her role in her husband’s presidency; and since she supported the execution of Rector – “buy one, get one free” — perhaps someone should ask her to explain the incident. And since we have no compunction delving into the life and times of Donald Trump — nor should we — perhaps someone could set aside a few moments to query Hillary, women’s rights advocate, on what role she played in slandering her husband’s many mistresses?