Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Morality versus legality

Leading up to Hillary Clinton's announcement of her second run for the Presidency, I read a number of right leaning pundits all making similar arguments to the effect that this second run would resurrect all the old scandals (Travelgate, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Filegate, the Pardons, Rape and other sexual misconduct allegations against Clinton, Perjury, etc.), reminding people of just what they didn't like about the Clinton's in the first place. Their argument hinged in part on the assertion that Hillary Clinton does not have either the charisma or the retail political chops to carry off these controversies the way Bill Clinton was able to.

All of which I thought at least to be defensible arguments though I didn't see much meat to it. Everybody knows that there is a pretty thick portfolio there. Romney might have binders full of women but nothing to compare to the Clinton's folders full of scandals. Yes, people might have forgotten just how many and what a wide range of scandals and almost certainly might have forgotten many of the details but I just didn't think that the pundit's argument was particularly significant. True but not material.

Until I cam across this, Whitewater’s Predatory Lending by James Taranto. Whitewater again. But not the Whitewater I remember, which was basically a financial scandal. This is a scandal of moral turpitude of which I had never heard. From the article.
When we read this last year, we recalled a similar story, which was told in a 2006 book, “Do as I Say, Not as I Do,” by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Schweizer. It involved an Arkansas land development known as Whitewater that was partly owned by Bill and Hillary Clinton and managed by Mrs. Clinton, then the state’s first lady. Here’s Schweizer’s anecdote:
Clyde Soapes was a grain-elevator operator from Texas who heard about the lots in early 1980 and jumped at the chance to invest. He put $3,000 down and began making payments of $244.69 per month. He made thirty-five payments in all—totaling $11,564.15, just short of the $14,000 price for the lot. Then he suddenly fell ill with diabetes and missed a payment, then two. The Clintons informed him that he had lost the land and all of his money. There was no court proceeding or compensation. Months later they resold his property to a couple from Nevada for $16,500. After they too missed a payment, the Clintons resold it yet again.

Soapes and the couple from Nevada were not alone. More than half of the people who bought lots in Whitewater—teachers, farmers, laborers, and retirees—made payments, missed one or two, and then lost their land without getting a dime of their equity back. According to Whitewater records, at least sixteen different buyers paid more than $50,000 and never received a property deed.
Schweizer notes that although “this sort of contract was illegal in many other states, because it was considered exploitative of the poor and uneducated,” it was perfectly permissible in Arkansas. That’s why you didn’t hear much about it during the Whitewater investigations of the 1990s. The Soapes story was apparently first told in a 1994 Washington Post article—at the bottom of the story, whose lead was simply that Mrs. Clinton “was more involved in the management of the Whitewater land venture in its later years than the White House has acknowledged previously.”
Is this really true? The Clinton's have always been good at sailing very close to the legal wind without jibbing but this in some ways is more serious in that it reveals what they are willing to do as long as it is legal. Most of us don't care about the legality of a thing because our moral boundaries are tighter than those of the law. There are some things you don't do even if they are legal. We care about the morality.

I initially thought the pundits were being silly in pointing out the resurrection of past scandals and misdeeds but I guess I was wrong. If this one proves to have a factual basis, then perhaps some of those past misdeeds will have a second life. Again.

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