Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

August 1, 1997

MAJOR FIGURES within the ranks of Republicans are fixated on getting even for the historical fact that one of their presidents, Richard Nixon, was a crook.

They blame the Democrats for his 1974 impeachment. After all, it was the Democrats who situated their party's national headquarters in the Watergate complex of apartments, offices, and retail shops in Washington, D. C. That's the easy-to-break-into office the Nixon White House targeted for a "third-rate burglary," to use a Nixonian phrase. That 1972 break-in, followed by a White House cover-up, eventually led to Nixon's impeachment by a Democratic-majority Congress.

Some Republicans also will never get over the fact that Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected president of the U.S. and gets to live in the White House. By 1992, when Clinton was elected, the Republicans thought they owned the presidential residence on Pennsylvania Ave.

TO GET EVEN for Nixon's disgrace and Clinton's election, Republicans seized upon a failed 1978 Arkansas real estate development in which Bill and Hilary Clinton were involved. Its name Whitewater seemed to Republicans like a mantra because of its similarity to Watergate.

Irrelevant to the media and revenge-hungry Republicans was the fact that Whitewater had no relevancy to the Clinton presidency -- it happened 15 years before the Clintons moved into the White House.

The Whitewater investigation began in Clinton's first term under Republican special counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr. But right-wing Republicans decided he didn't display enough rabid partisanship, so a cabal of anti-Clinton judicial and senatorial zealots dumped him in favor of a former Reagan-appointed federal judge, Kenneth Starr. But after three years of mucking around in Arkansas, Starr announced he was moving to Malibu to become law school dean at Pepperdine University, a church-connected institution in sunny California. Immediately, the revenge-minded Republicans and their media cohorts prevailed on Starr to change his mind because his departure would indicate Whitewater was up that proverbial creek. Now, months after he stayed on, even Starr, a cigarette company attorney in his spare time, has concluded, like Fiske before him and like several police investigations, that White House aide Vincent Foster did indeed commit suicide in 1993 and was not murdered to keep him from divulging awful Whitewater secrets, as rabid Republicans would have us believe.

THUS FAR, the Republican-instigated Whitewater investigative excesses have cost taxpayers more than $30 million. And that doesn't include what New York State's oddball Senator Alphonse D'Amato spent in his senatorial hearings last year before he realized he was riding a dead horse that was alienating voters back home.

With Whitewater fading as a way to extract revenge, Senate Republicans recently launched hearings into 1996 campaign financing as a new way of going after President Clinton. Senator Fred Thompson, a Tennessee lawyer and Hollywood actor, came up with the idea for the hearings and chairs the committee holding them. Thompson, who harbors presidential aspirations, saw first-hand how the Senate Watergate hearings captured the nation's attention more than two decades ago, and figured the campaign finance hearings would hype his presidential stock. As a young Republican lawyer on the Watergate hearings staff, Thompson on several occasions tipped off the Nixon White House about damaging testimony that was due to be aired by the committee, according to recent revelations in the New York Times.

ONE MIGHT QUESTION the propriety of Thompson, as a Senate investigating committee lawyer, tipping off committee targets about upcoming testimony and one could also question the propriety of Thompson chairing the current campaign finance hearings about the influence of foreign contributors when his own 1994 senatorial campaign received foreign money, a fact that recently was made public by Democratic senators.

Originally, Republican Thompson wanted to focus his hearings just on the foreign money contributed to President Clinton's 1996 re-election. But at the insistence of minority Democrats he grudgingly agreed to widen the hearings to include foreign contributions to Republicans. Thompson's party raised some $200 million more in 1996 presidential campaign contributions than did the Democrats, and former Republican national chairman Haley Barbour of Mississippi was particularly effective in tapping foreign money.

Although the committee won't look further back than 1996, Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush also accepted foreign money in their campaigns, and both have taken foreign money since leaving office.

WHEN THOMPSON'S FOLLIES began playing on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders gathered on the shores of Lake Erie to mull over the weighty issues of the day. One of their conclusions was that there's nothing wrong with the rules governing presidential campaign financing. His fellow Republicans thus added to the irrelevancy of Thompson's hearings.

The only television network airing the Thompson extravaganza is Fox, which is owned by right-wing media empire baron Rupert Murdoch, who made his fortune on foreign shores and now seeks to influence American politics and public policy.

POLITICIANS IN BOTH political parties have been pushing so-called "welfare reform" under which recipients are sent into the workplace without the protection of the minimal laws covering non-union workers. In some states, Oregon included, taxpayers subsidize the employers of "workfare" job-holders. The following are excerpts of commentary on "welfare reform" which appeared in the AFL-CIO's "Americans @ Work" magazine:

"The drive to revamp welfare was fueled, in part, by misconceptions and ugly stereotypes about welfare recipients. Remember Ronald Reagan's imaginary 'welfare queen'? Take a look at who really was receiving welfare help under the dismantled Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

"The average AFDC recipient was a 7-year-old child. Of the 13.8 million recipients, 9.5 million were children, according to 1995 federal data, the latest available. An average family on welfare consisted of a single mother and two children, who received $4,532 a year from AFDC and about $2,500 in food stamps. That left them more than $4,000 short of the poverty line.

"Forget the myth that single mothers had more children just to get larger welfare payments. AFDC provided a family with three children just $2.78 a day more than a family with two children.

"Of the 4.3 million adults who received benefits in 1995, 3.8 million (88 percent) were women. About 9 percent of them had jobs and 70 percent had recent work experience. Low wages (40 percent of single mothers working full time earn wages below poverty), divorce and the need to escape domestic violence were among the factors that pushed these women onto welfare rolls.

"Forty-two percent of families on welfare received benefits for less than two years, but a significant proportion of families needed help for five years or more. Families tend to go on and off welfare and move in and out of the labor force as they struggle to overcome barriers to work." The AFL-CIO listed those barriers as transportation problems, child care costs, lack of education and lack of phones.

Also, just last week in New York City, a group of religious leaders told the mayor his workfare program was similar to slavery and drove down wages for other workers. And in various cities, AFL-CIO unions are trying to organize workfare recipients to improve their economic lot and turn workfare into workfair.


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