WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE NINTH COMMANDMENT was Bill Weld thinking when he went on a radio program a few days ago to offer himself as a character witness for Hillary Clinton and gush about her "rock-like integrity?"
Her integrity! It's precisely Hillary's lack of integrity that has made her the most distrusted first lady in history:
- She claimed she had "no role" in firing the innocent staff of the White House Travel Office. In fact, she ordered the firings, and fearful White House aides carried out her demands.
- She claimed her legal work for Madison Guaranty -- the corrupt Arkansas S&L that ultimately cost the taxpayers $60 million -- was "minimal"; some other lawyer, she said, "did all the work." In fact, Rose Law Firm records show Hillary taking part in 23 Madison-related conferences and billing the S&L for 60 hours of her time.
- She had claimed that those billing records, under subpoena since 1994, were lost. Then they popped up last month in the Clintons' private apartments -- 48 hours after the statute of limitations ran out on the government's ability to sue lawyers who helped bankrupt S&Ls.
Those who believe the worst about Hillary conclude, with columnist William Safire, that she is a "congenital liar." Even those who have given her the benefit of every doubt, such as The New York Times's editorial writers, condemn "Mrs. Clinton's obfuscations" and ask why "the Clintons and their helpers" go to such "puzzling lengths to hobble legitimate investigations."
But only Bill Weld -- Clinton toadies aside -- lauds Hillary's "rock-like integrity." Only Weld goes on the Don Imus show to insist, "No way can I see her at the center of a web of coverup." Only Weld treats the first lady's evasions as a joke. "I can understand how it happened," the governor smirked about the sudden appearance of the "lost" billing records. Why, he himself once lost a pair of tennis socks, he told Imus, only to find them later -- under his feet! Heh-heh. Good one, Beavis.
Can this be the same Weld whose No. 1 target when he was US attorney was corrupt public officials? Who thought, when he took over the Justice Department's criminal division, that members of Congress should be indicted for accepting honoraria? What gives?
There are a couple of possibilities here. One is that Weld genuinely believes that Hillary is a model of truth and virtue. But at this stage only a twit could believe that, and the governor is no twit.
Possibility 2: Weld calculates that adoring Hillary will benefit him politically, perhaps by scoring points with liberal women voters as he challenges John Kerry for the US Senate. It certainly wouldn't be the first time his ethical standards have shifted with the political winds.
In 1986, when it was to Weld's advantage to take that lofty job in Washington, he hailed Attorney General Ed Meese as "a very intelligent, fair-minded, right-minded person." Two years later, when it was to his advantage to work himself into a public lather over Meese's ethical improprieties, Weld stalked out of the Justice Department in a showy "resignation of conscience."
When Representative Barney Frank interceded with Virginia probation officials on behalf of a male prostitute, Weld called for his resignation. "Barney Frank," he snapped, "makes Ed Meese look like Joan of Arc." But there were no Ed Meese comparisons when Hillary Clinton -- aided by a shady commodities broker and a politically connected lawyer -- racked up a 10,000 percent profit on a suspicious investment in cattle futures.
In 1990, running for governor as an "outsider," Weld blasted Beacon Hill as "rotten to the core" and charged much of the rot to Bill Bulger, the vindictive Senate president. Once he took office, Weld grew more concerned with staying in Bulger's good graces than with condemning his duplicity. By 1994 he was jovially calling himself "Senator Bulger's campaign manager," and urging voters to reelect him.
But there is also a Possibility 3 -- that Weld's robust defense of Hillary Clinton merely reflects how unserious he is about the words that come out of his mouth. Oh, he can be wry and puckish and happily unself-conscious. He can also be exasperatingly frivolous, treating everything as if it's a game -- as if nothing, in the end, really matters very much.
"Intellectually," he says, "I'm a work in progress."
Well, it's good not to be too rigid. No one should close his mind to new facts or fresh insights. But a man of 50 should know what he stands for, especially when it comes to ethics and values and questions of right and wrong. The standards he insists on today ought to bear some resemblance to the standards he insisted on yesterday. But what Weld says on Monday with great conviction he contradicts on Tuesday -- with equal conviction. That isn't hypocrisy. It's intellectual clutter.
The "rock-like integrity" of Hillary Clinton? Hey, Weld didn't really mean it. He doesn't really mean anything.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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