Friday, May 9, 2008

THE CLINTON DIVORCE

WALL STREET JOURNAL No, we don't mean Bill and Hillary. We mean the separation now under way between the Clintons and the Democratic Party. Like all divorces after lengthy unions, this one is painful and has had its moments of reconciliation, but after Tuesday a split looks inevitable. The long co-dependency is over.

Truth be told, this was always a marriage more of convenience than love. The party's progressives never did like Bill Clinton's New Democrat ways, but after Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis they needed his epic political gifts to win back the White House. They hated him for their loss of Congress in 1994, but they tolerated Dick Morris and welfare reform to keep the presidency in 1996.

The price was that they had to put their ethics in a blind Clinton trust. Whitewater and the missing billing records, Webb Hubbell, cattle futures and "Red" Bone, the Lincoln Bedroom, Johnny Chung and the overseas fund-raising scandals, Paula Jones and lying under oath, Monica and the meaning of "is." Democrats, or all of them this side of Joe Lieberman and Pat Moynihan, defended the Clintons through it all. Everything was dismissed as a product of the "Republican attack machine," an invention of the "Clinton haters," or "just about sex.". . .

Then something astonishing happened. A new star emerged in Barack Obama. . . Democrats supporting Mr. Obama had a revelation about Clintonian mores. David Geffen, channeling William Safire, declared that "everybody in politics lies," but the Clintons "do it with such ease, it's troubling." Ted Kennedy was shocked to see the Clintons play the race card in South Carolina. The media discovered their secrecy over tax records and Clinton Foundation donors. . .

By the time Mrs. Clinton made her famous claim about dodging Bosnian sniper fire, Democrats and their media friends no longer called it a mere gaffe, as they once might have. This time the remark was said to be emblematic of her entire political career. The same folks who had believed her about Whitewater and the rest now claimed she never tells the truth about anything.

As the scales suddenly fell from liberal eyes, the most striking statistic was the one in this week's North Carolina exit poll. Asked if they considered Mrs. Clinton "honest and trustworthy," no fewer than 50% of Democratic primary voters said she was not. In Indiana, the figure was merely 45%.

Slowly but surely, these Prisoners of Bill and Hill are now walking away, urging Mrs. Clinton to leave the race. Chuck Schumer damns her with faint support by saying any decision is up to her. Columnists from the New York Times, which endorsed her when she looked inevitable, now demand that she exit so as not to help John McCain. With Mr. Obama to ride, they no longer need the Arkansas interlopers.

If the Clintons play to their historic form, they will ignore all this for as long as they can. . . The difference between now and the 1990s, however, is that this time the Clinton foes aren't the "vast right-wing conspiracy." This time the conspirators are fellow Democrats. It took 10 years, but you might say Democrats have finally voted to impeach. \

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