The Breakfast Table

Bill and Hillary’s Championship Wrestling

The spat between Bill and Hillary Clinton over Bill’s offer to pardon 16 members of the FALN is staged—no more plausible than one of those all-star wrestling matches with fake blood and fake grimaces. Ms. Clinton will be happy to use the power of the executive branch to help her bid for the Senate in New York at every opportunity. But as this episode shows, the New York road show will have at least three elements. First, she will recommend from time to time that the Federales reopen investigations, or look into this or that problem—just to remind voters that she draws legitimacy from the White House. (She did this recently in the case of the young Yeshiva student who was shot to death on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994.) Second, she will disagree with the administration now and then to show that she is independent of Bill and nobody’s person but her own. Third, the candidate will tack left, then right in an attempt to gather votes from both downstate liberals and upstate conservatives—and will have it both ways, pandering to minorities one day and distancing herself the next. This is vintage “New Democrat” stuff, pioneered by Bill himself. The message to Latino voters and politicians, by the way, is: “Take it or leave it. Its the New Democrats or the Republicans; take your choice.”

The FALN stories are not well reported and have not yet given us the nitty gritty. To make a judgment about whether the 16 deserve to be pardoned—or just locked up forever—we need to know who did what to whom and whether the sentences were fair or ridiculously heavy. (Juan Gonzalez in this morning’s New York Daily News suggests that those being considered in the clemency bonanza were convicted not of bombings but of “lesser offenses.”) In the absence of the nitty gritty, however, I will take a flier and say that the administration did this for political gain—i.e., to help Ms. Clinton in New York, home of a great many Latino voters. If this had been a serious, closely reasoned plan, the White House would have some point person out there, making the case to the public. The off-handed nature of the thing suggests that what you suspect is true, Ms. Jacoby.

This opens onto a broader political question of how the two parties can appeal to minority voters without constantly insulting their intellects. My own hunch is that both middle-class blacks and middle-class Latinos are pure Republican timber, waiting to be claimed, if only the GOP can get into gear and mount a campaign less insulting that what the Democrats dish up. A penny for your thoughts here.