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Hillary’s Manners

July 18, 2000

Did Hillary Rodham call Paul Fray a “[bleeping] Jew bastard” in 1974? This year’s New York Senate race may hinge on the answer.

Fray, his wife, and another witness insist Hillary said it. Hillary denies it, and she has another witness to vouch for her. Unfortunately, Hillary’s only witness is the most famous perjurer in the United States.

Bill Clinton does allow that Hillary, then his main squeeze, may have called Fray a “bastard,” but she never ever did or would or could have used an ethnic or racial or religious slur, because that would be totally absolutely 100 per cent contrary to her nature. Besides, the first perjurer added with a straight face, the three witnesses against Hillary are lowlife scum who deal in “character assassination.”

The Clintons don’t know when to cut their losses. Their frantic denials have turned a trivial allegation into a red-hot story, bigger than John Rocker. Hillary could easily have deflected it by saying:

“Look, I can’t remember everything I said a quarter of a century ago. I had a foul mouth and a hot temper, so I can’t absolutely deny this. I hope I didn’t say it, but if I did, I’m sorry. I think my subsequent record speaks for itself, and I’m content to be judged by that.”

If Hillary had said this, she would have had common sense on her side for once. Even the Anti-Defamation League might have acknowledged a statute of limitations on a casual slur spoken 26 years ago. But she insisted on uttering an absolute denial, just as Bill absolutely denied having had sex with that woman, thereby raising the stakes and dramatizing the issue of veracity.

In other words, she could have asked to be judged by her total record; instead, she has virtually demanded that she be judged on the disputed 1974 incident, when she can’t prove that her version is true.

[Breaker quote: A legacy 
of coarseness]The trouble is that the charge is plausible. Hillary is notoriously foul-mouthed and bad-tempered toward her subordinates. Even if she is as prejudice-free as she insists, it’s not hard to imagine an ethnic term slipping into one of her furious imprecations. The fact that Fray is a Baptist, not a Jew (though he has some Jewish ancestry), actually makes his charge more believable: why would a Baptist make up such a story?

The various women who have called Bill Clinton a sexual predator were plausible because they were all describing the same recognizable character. Fray’s story is plausible because his Hillary sounds so much like the coarse and autocratic Hillary so many others have described. Like so many egalitarians from Lenin and Stalin to Mao and Bella Abzug, she is a certified terror to work for.

Notice that the only word in the phrase [bleeping] Jew bastard Hillary and Bill deny is the word Jew. Too many people have heard her use the other two words in anger.

Which raises an interesting point. If someone had accused, say, Mamie Eisenhower of calling a man a “[bleeping] Jew bastard,” the “Jew bastard” part would have been the least of it. The public furor would have been all about [bleeping]. In the old days, first ladies weren’t even supposed to admit they knew such words. But nobody seems to care whether Hillary said “[bleeping]” (though the word remains unprintable in most publications) or to doubt that she said it; nor does she feel bound to deny it or apologize for it.

So one more transgression has been normalized. It’s another little reminder of how much both Clintons have contributed to the coarsening of American life. Harry Truman was thought earthy and, in some quarters, vulgar for saying “hell” and “damn”; liberals who would later defend Bill Clinton accused Richard Nixon of dishonoring the Oval Office with his “expletives deleted.” But the Clintons have inured us to speech and behavior that was once unthinkable.

The much-discussed Clinton “legacy” won’t emerge from the Camp David peace talks, or from some legislative achievement or military triumph. The Clintons’ real legacy lies in an erosion of personal standards of conduct. Their ceaseless scandals are only part of it; perhaps less important, in the long run, than their gross manners.

Joseph Sobran

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