Hillary’s Dogpatch Defense

Where are the Watergate “Plumbers” when we really need them? Chatterbox is so drenched by this week’s torrent of Flytrap leaks, he longs for a trained professional like G. Gordon Liddy to turn off the spigots. That’s why Chatterbox was stunned to learn that one “source close to the president” is actually talking on-the-record. In a Monday telephone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Hillary Clinton raised the dread specter of a vast anti-Arkansas conspiracy as the hidden factor behind her husband’s legal plight. “I think a lot of this is prejudice against our state,” the first lady declared. “They wouldn’t do this if we were from some other state.”

Chatterbox, curious about the context for these odd remarks, phoned Marsha Berry, the first lady’s press secretary. As Berry explained, Mrs. Clinton had been talking to the Democrat-Gazette about a completely different topic when the reporter snuck in a few extra questions. The issue of anti-Arkansas bias, Berry insisted, initially had been raised by the reporter rather than the first lady.

Was Hillary merely being obliging, or is the situation in the White House bunker so dire that the first lady feels compelled to rouse the emotions of the president’s original political base? Mrs. Clinton has on occasion been surprisingly candid during prior interviews with reporters she trusts. The Dogpatch defense seems bizarre enough to pass the sincerity test. Maybe the first lady really believes that Kenneth Starr wouldn’t have tried any of his pesky tricks if the Clintons hailed from a sophisticated state like Alabama.

This is not the first time that Mrs. Clinton has portrayed Arkansas as an unfairly maligned state. During her famous 1994 “pink press conference,” the first lady responded to a question about damage to the state’s image by declaring, “I feel very bad about it, because I think Arkansas is a wonderful place and filled with some of the best people I’ve ever been privileged to know or work with.” Jim and Susan McDougal? Webb Hubbell? Mrs. Clinton then went on to say, “I do think that many of the charges have been very unfair and have really lacked any historic or realistic context.”

Now for Chatterbox’s own theory. He believes that in times of distress Hillary falls back on public explanations that have worked in the past. And if as Newsweek claims, Starr is about to jettison the Whitewater phase of his investigation, there is a germ of truth to the first lady’s lament. If Whitewater is a dry hole, then exactly what was Starr doing all those years before Linda Tripp conveniently landed on his doorstep?

Walter Shapiro