Smoke Screen

ANDY GRIFFITH, IN the nightclub act that launched his career many moons ago, used to explain that the reason Southern Baptists never screw standing up is that God might think they were dancing. This old wheeze came to mind with the news that the very first policy initiative of Bill Clinton's second term will be a draconian crusade against the medical use of marijuana. Doctors tempted to take advantage of the California and Arizona medipot initiatives by prescribing the dread plant to relieve their patients' suffering are to be threatened with federal prosecution.

The joke evokes the boundless hypocrisy of this "I didn't inhale" president who conveniently rediscovers his Southern Baptist morality every time he's caught doing something wrong. The crackdown is based on the fiction by which the federal government equates marijuana with heroin as a Schedule One prohibited drug: that pot is addictive and leads inevitably to the use of truly dangerous powders. If this nonsense were true, every self-confessed administration ex-toker from Al Gore to Mike McCurry would be dropping blackened spoons into White House johns.

Having recently lost my beloved to AIDS, I can testify firsthand that only marijuana restored his appetite when it was destroyed by both the disease and the multiple chemicals he was taking to fight it. The cynicism and heartlessness at the core of Clintonism, which has so often sacrificed the powerless and defenseless on the altar of political expediency, will now be visited on tens of thousands of AIDS and cancer patients who, with their doctors frightened out of prescribing the only appetite-booster that works, will be left to waste away and die.

This authoritarian crackdown on the medical use of marijuana is, of course, a headline-grabber designed to distract attention from the mushrooming scandal over access-peddling by the Clinton White House. But no amount of mirrors and smoke (no pun intended) can conceal the greedy amorality of a president who lashed his underlings into a feeding frenzy at the trough of campaign cash. Everything was for sale: private meetings with Clinton, intimate coffee klatsches in the First Family's residence, unlimited WAVE-ins to the White House complex where solicitous staffers waited with open arms, presidential appointments, places on government-sponsored trade junkets. Even the Lincoln Bedroom, that holy of holies, was rented out to fat cats at $750,000 a night. And subpoenaed documents obtained from Lippoman John Huang's files at the Democratic National Committee have now confirmed that all this was part of a master plan inspired from the Oval Office and carried out in close collaboration with the White House staff. (Don't forget that it's still a crime for federal employees to engage in fund-raising activities.)

The latest twists in the seamy Clinton saga seem lifted from an overplotted third-rate fiction. Take the case of Charlie Trie, the Little Rock noodle-peddler who ostentatiously drapes himself in jade and gold and operates from a plush suite in the Watergate--for which he does not pay the rent--where he throws lavish parties for the cream of Clintonland. Trie's achievements include running a company that borrows the name of a famous Japanese conglomerate, but does no business that anyone thus far has been able to pinpoint; giving the Clinton campaign $145,000 and obtaining a seat on the DNC finance board (a post that requires raising a minimum of $350,000 in soft money); introducing into the White House residence for a presidential tête-à-tête a Chinese merchant of death whose arms company--wholly owned by the People's Liberation Army--was caught smuggling over $4 million worth of illegal AK-47s into the U.S.; and snaring himself appointment to a prestigious presidential commission on Asian trade (for which he lacks any qualifications) by collecting over $600,000 for the president's legal defense fund. The latter consisted of illicit money that had to be returned when the press found out the contributors were mostly penurious waiters, cooks, and busboys belonging to a mysterious Taiwan-based cult led by a beautiful guru and high-fashion clothing designer named Ching Hai, whose followers drink her bathwater to cure their ills!

Sadly, these tawdry machinations are fact, not fiction. And a subpoenaed DNC file contained a memo showing that it was Bill Clinton himself who--after a White House meeting with John Huang and his former employer, Lippo Group family scion James Riady--ordered his deputy chief of staff and political hit man, Harold Ickes, to see to the transfer of Huang from his top Commerce Department job to the specially created post of DNC finance vice-chairman. From that act flowed the $7 million master plan for fund-raising from Asians that complacently enrolled Charlie Trie, Ching Hai, and their associates in its wake.

Let's say it one more time: Character does count.

 
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