January 14, 2008  ·  Lessig

Senator Clinton was given a great opportunity Sunday to explain what she means by “change.” In an exchange on Meet the Press, she was asked about President Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. Remember, Rich was the very rich man charged with tax evasion. Rather than fight the charge in court, he fled the jurisdiction. Not all his money fled, however, or at least lots came back — in contributions to the Democratic Party, for example. Hours before leaving office, President Bill Clinton pardoned him.

Here was the exchange:

MR. RUSSERT: You say you’ve been deeply involved in the eight years of the Clinton administration. One of the powers given to a president is the power of pardon. At the end of the president’s second term, he granted 140 pardons, including one to Marc Rich, someone who had been convicted of tax evasion, fraud and making illegal oil deals with Iran. Were you involved in that pardon?

SEN. CLINTON: No. I didn’t know anything about that.

MR. RUSSERT: No one talked to you whatsoever?

SEN. CLINTON: No. No. Unh-unh.

MR. RUSSERT: His ex-wife gave $109,000 to your campaign.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, no one talked to me about it, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Nobody?


Later, Senator Clinton committed to following Justice Department “guidelines on pardons.”

So this is a fantastic area to focus on in defining how Washington would “change” under the new Clinton rather than the old. Indeed, as her husband’s administration was charged with essentially selling nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, and with this, selling pardons, it would have been a perfect opportunity for her to make clear just how different things would be.

In this question, she could have done that quite directly.

First, she could have taken the tough, though possibly right, path of speaking the truth despite how it is perceived. Certainly President Clinton thought there nothing wrong with the pardon. And indeed, when the Prime Minister of a major ally asks the President to pardon someone, especially one who has given so much money to one’s political allies, one could well argue that it takes real courage to actually grant the pardon, given the totally predictable charge that the pardon was bought.

Second, she could have taken the responsive, change signaling path of acknowledging a mistake and indicating how she would do it differently. Giving large donors special access and privilege in an administration is exactly the kind of behavior many say should change. Senator Clinton could easily have marked this as one of the things that would change.

She did neither. Instead, she deflected responsibility, pointed to the Internet, and promised to follow “guidelines.”

Not surprising. But not signaling, imho, “change.”

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    FYI … and this will be the meaning of “change” with Barack Obama:

    Obama fairy tale has Chicago-size hole

    “Obama endorsed the mayor for re-election, and other machine hacks, including Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, a Daley puppet and political disaster. This upset some local reformers. His supporters say he had to play ball with the Daley machine to survive. And he’s promised Tribune readers that he’d keep U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago fighting political corruption. This threatens Daley and the state’s Republican combine masters, but Obama may indeed do most for change by maintaining the status quo. “

    I smell Barack Obama baloney

    “The Democratic candidate of “change,” for example, has raised nearly $100 million in campaign contributions, nearly as much as the Hillary Clinton money machine. Three of his four largest group of bankrollers are executives of Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and JPMorgan Chase.”

    [Links from John Bracken]

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    By the way, both paths you outline above are political traps.

    ” speaking the truth despite how it is perceived. …”

    Right-wing ranter: “Down with Hillary Clinton! She defends Bill Clinton’s CORRUPT PARDON!!”

    “acknowledging a mistake and indicating …”

    Even worse!

    What she said is the correct answer, in terms of giving the people who hate her as little to work with as possible. Obviously, she’ll get attacked for that too, but it seems the lesser of all evils.

    Note Obama has given plenty of mushy, evasive, answers That’s politics.

  • http://johnsmentaldetritus.blogspot.com John J.

    Personally, I don’t think she was required to make a judgment about whether the pardon was appropriate or not, especially if she wasn’t involved, which I don’t expect she was.

    Her response to the donation was very underwhelming, and taken with her other responses to the lobbying issue, show a lack of understanding of this issue. The least she needs to do is acknowledge the issue, rather than just pointing the finger and hiding from her own problems.

  • http://basiscraft.com Thomas Lord

    I like Meet the Press quite a bit but it occurs to me that the format of the show really doesn’t admit articulation of the position you wished she took. I more or less understand your meaning from the small number of words that you carefully typed in here. So can some others. But the audience who can get that off the bat without saying it 10 different ways from tuesday and carefully elaborating — that audience is very, very tiny.

    Don’t just pin the problem on the pols. The structure of public discourse figures in here, too.


  • giafly

    Why assume “change” is automatically good? Every terrorist wants “change”.

  • mike charlton

    It’s very difficult, however, to expect change from a candidate, like Senator Clinton, whose campaign money comes from the sectors most likely to oppose meaningful “change” legislation. Can you expect meaningful tax code changes, i.e. a shift of tax burdens to higher earning entities, if those entities and the people who own them are contributing to your campaign? Politics is a rough business demanding a great deal of money to succeed and no matter who gets elected, no “sea change” will occur when he or she takes the oath of office. If a candidate, like Obama, however, gets elected, and whose campaign cash comes from sources other than those whose businesses would be regulated for the most part, he is in a far different position during political negotiations than someone, like Clinton, who has secured a great deal of cash from the wealthy and from PACS.

    In the current Nevada primary campaign, Obama is gets support from the culinary union. Clinton immediately enlists the aid of the casino owners who have contributed heavily to her campaign. Who do you think will likely get each candidate’s ear should either succeed? For vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board, or for legislation affecting the ability of workers to organize, I would suspect Clinton to be receptive to entreaties from Steve Wynn and his colleagues while Obama more supportive of the unions. Which is more likely to support change? in this scenario, probably Obama.

    No matter your political agenda, it has little chance of success unless you deliver either votes or money. I prefer the former; it gives “change” a more fertile soil.

  • Matthew

    Change seams to be the buzzword of the day. All the candidates are saying that they will bring forth change. (Personally I don’t think Clinton would be a change at all… I mean think about it.. Bush Clinton Clinton Bush Bush Clinton…. 24 years and two families!?!? Isn’t this the USA!?!?) Anyways my main point is that the front-runners on both sides really don’t seem that different to me. I mean yeah they differ on a lot of important things but when you get down to it they all want big government with big spending! The only real difference is what they are going to be spending my money on! You have the Republicans who will spend tons more money on Iraq, and tons on ‘Homeland Security’, and then you have the Democrats who want to give everyone free health care, more welfare, ‘homeland security’, AND Iraq. I mean we all know that there is only one candidate who has actually said what they want to do about Iraq instead of just saying ‘Oh they need more time, but we don’t know how much more’. (Ron Paul has said he wants to bring all overseas troops home, where they can actually defend us if needed.) I’m sorry if I sound like a nut, but I can’t afford to foot the bill for everyone else’s Socialism. I don’t want any ‘free’ government handouts (Someone else payed for it), I just want my money.

  • peter haley

    The Marc Rich pardon has become even more interesting in light of Bill C’s comment yesterday that he never made an important decision without first discussing it with Hillary. So apparently he did not consider the Rich pardon to be important or he made an exception regarding discussing it first with Hillary. The truth most likely is that they did discuss it ahead of time but that she got out of town the week of the pardons in order to be able later to plead ignorance. Remember, Denise Rich contributed 109,000 dollars to her campaign in 2000.

    Obama’s silence on this issue is strange. Why doesn’t somebody take on Bill C on this? It would take some homework to do so but the record is clear that Clinton made sure the Justice Dept had no prior knowledge of the pardon, except for Eric Holder, who Clinton knew had compromised himself weeks earlier by not circulating the pardon petition sent by Jack Quinn. What a habby piece of work all of that was!!!