The Clinton era seems long gone now, but when the memories come back, they're not generally pleasant. For conservatives, the bad memories surface when CNN has the gall to bring Clinton on "Larry King Live" on Ronald Reagan's birthday. There he was, to publicize his stage appearance with the Rolling Stones to raise funds to fight that global warming monster. In his typically petty way, this most unpresidential former president slammed George W. Bush for not spending enough on homeland security while giving tax cuts to the rich.
Liberals still regret having to drop all the fairy tales about the admirable Clinton marriage and the president's supposedly reformed sexual behavior. A few weeks ago, ABC's "Good Morning America" revisited the five-year anniversary of the Monica Lewinsky story, and reporter Claire Shipman couldn't help shuddering at the "acid flashbacks" to that awful moment for Democrats when a Clinton scandal moved the Nielsen ratings meters.
But for a few journalists, the memories of the Clinton impeachment are becoming sharper than they used to be. Longtime CBS Capitol Hill correspondent and "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer has a new memoir out called "This Just In: What I Couldn't Tell You on TV." It seems that what he couldn't tell you on TV was what everyone already knew: Clinton was a sleazeball.
Schieffer confesses that early on he had a "prejudice" in favor of Clinton, since he corrected the notion that not all wisdom somehow originates in the northeast United States. He adds "I come from a long line of conservative Texas Democrats, but I claim no political party." He says Clinton established some "remarkable feats," from NAFTA to welfare reform to balancing the budget - feats which seem less remarkable when you acknowledge they were GOP initiatives, not his.
But Schieffer grows agitated remembering September 11, 1998 - the day he spent part of his afternoon reading snippets of the Starr Report in live coverage. He remembers "as the father of two grown daughters, I found the whole thing depressing."
On that day, he had the ability to express that personal feeling, but he never did. Reporters express their personal feelings about everything else, but not this.
Schieffer suggests "Clinton disgraced the highest office in the land, and as the tawdry details of his affairs became a part of the national conversation, he coarsened the culture of the people he had been elected to lead. That was his crime."
Schieffer never talked about a coarsened culture on TV, either. What conservatives had so forcefully maintained, and which Schieffer now concedes was true, was roundly ignored when it was news.
In his book Schieffer also trashes Clinton for making his secretary Betty Currie come in on her days off to clear Monica into the White House, then wait through the sexual escapades before she could go home. He attacks Clinton for sending Madeleine Albright and Donna Shalala out to lie on his behalf. He says Clinton "had shown himself to be a user of women who was not hesitant to take advantage of his friends when found it necessary for business or pleasure. Schieffer actually did say a version of this on television - on his "Face the Nation" commentary two days after reading the Starr Report on the air. But he never chided Currie, Albright, and Shalala - no babes in the woods - for knowing full well they were hiding the truth and lying to the American people.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote in his Clinton chapter comes near the end, where he tells the story of Lanny Breuer. In August 1999, six months after Clinton's acquittal, Schieffer received an engraved card from Covington and Burling announcing that Breuer was returning to his old law firm. But the announcement struck him by boasting that Breuer represented the White House "in presidential impeachment hearings and trial, four independent counsel investigations, a Justice Department task force investigation, and numerous congressional oversight investigations." While Schieffer thought Breuer "was a good lawyer I had dealt with and come to like and respect over that time...that engraved card carried an arresting and somewhat unsettling message: If you need a good criminal lawyer, get someone with White House experience."
Schieffer never said that on TV, either. There's no question but that the pro-Clinton media circled the wagons around this man in 1998. Maybe Schieffer's memoir is far too little, far too late. But it's better than the obedient silence from those who continue to deny the shameful performance from this shameless disgrace of a president.