Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Clinton confidential papers released...

By Charles Brooks

“Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library.”
A fourth batch of confidential documents from the Clinton days in the White House was recently released for public view on April 18th.  This release of documents contains over 100 files totaling approximately 7,500 pages - the largest set of documents released thus far. As noted in The Blackboard’s previous posts on the Clinton Papers, these confidential documents contain items such as email correspondence, presidential meeting schedules, handwritten notes, internal memorandums, transcripts, letters, and speech drafts.  This stream of confidential correspondence – hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents provides the public with a peek to the world inside the White House where candid thoughts and hard-line positions are debated and captured on paper. 

These confidential documents delve into a wide range of issues that do well to remind the public of the hot-button policy issues as well as the tabloid scandals and political crises. The public can now view these internal memos that can provide some insight into the administrations’ thinking and approach to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the genocide in Rwanda, the aftermath of the horrific Oklahoma City bombing, and contentious relations with the Republicans.  In reviewing several of the released files, The Blackboard uncovered a few rather revealing items.  For instance, the White House relationship with the press: “We are really caught in a pull and tug with the magazine, I agree with some of LIFE's comments, but strongly disagree on others.  I agree with their reordering of the text, and I think it comes close to my first draft: opening with the personal Boys Nation anecdote, moving to the timeless lessons to be drawn from Kennedy's administration. My argument is not with the story they want, but the way they want the story told. The tone they seek from the President is so self-centered, it's actually solipsistic.”

“Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library.”
Or the January 1999 internal memo by Mr. Al From – written less than a month after Congress began the impeachment process in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal: “I know this is an awful time for you, but I'm confident that, in the end, even this shall pass.” There were the memos revealing the administration’s penchant for politicizing events to highlight policy initiatives – a December 1993 internal document outlining a 20 point anti-violence plan: “Martin Luther King's birthday would be a good time to do something or things to dramatize all of the above (note: a 20 point plan) possibly a speech or lead a march against violence or go to Lincoln Memorial or meet with kids and talk about Dr. King or some combination.”

While Bill Clinton was popular amongst racial minorities, particularly African Americans – his White House staff was equally aware and apparently cynical of race as well. See this excerpt from an October 1994 internal memorandum: “It's rich Irish Americans… Used to be they couldn't give the tickets away, and were desperate to fill a hall. Now? Now it's big money, big events, big name speakers and much more glitz and elbow-rubbing and a lot of networking among all the American CEOs and hitters who discovered they had some Irish in their family ... right about when the Irish economy took off ... when it became a profit center, instead of a charity. Oh my, what a coincidence.”

An internal memo from Shirley J. Wilcher, Deputy Asst, Secy to Thomas S. Williamson, Solicitor of Labor: …While we· all understand the political environment in which we work, it is not clear to me why these proposals need to be addressed at this time and why the President needs to incur the wrath of the civil rights community and its constituents, when there is little perceptible benefit to the angry white male…”

In another internal memo, this one to Alexis Herman about affirmative action  - less than a week before President Clinton’s major speech on affirmative action in July 1995: This(affirmative action) is an issue which presents challenge for the Administration amongst the white ethnic community. This constituency, like the rest of the country, understand that injustices exist and that they need to be corrected, but primarily do not feel a sense of personal responsibility and don't view themselves as any part of the equation… I will focus on touching base and energizing supporters of the President in the white ethnic communities to affirm the President's Affirniative Action message. My focus is on key community leaders and supporters in the following constituencies: Polish, Italian, Irish, Greek, Armenian, Hungarian, Portuguese, and Ukrainian-American groups.

The Clinton administration often highlighted their trade relations with African nations. There were a few confidential documents that outlined plans for expanding African trade through trade agreements. See this excerpt from an email correspondence about the bi-annual African/African-American summit headed by the late Rev. Leon Sullivan:” It is a poorly organized, highly indebted, largely social affair, the primary purpose of which is to give Sullivan a very public platform. While there is a useful opportunity for bilats and for some US business promotion, little of substance ever comes out of these summits. However, they do attract an influential group of African Americans…”

An August 1999 internal memo indicate White House wariness around political prisoner Leonard Peltier - months before President Clinton decided against clemency. See this correspondence between White House aides: You need to be very careful on the Leonard Peltier question. I think you should get guidance from counsel before there are any responses done on those. Unfortunately, the President told the Peltier supporters that he would look into it". This is very dicey.”

Now consider for this for a moment - A month before President Clinton’s major speech on affirmative action, this excerpt from an internal memo sent by speechwriter, Michael Waldman: …Above all, this is a GOP attempt to use the politics of race to trump the politics of class. The original approach of the Clinton campaign and administration was universalist -- if we create a growing  economy, provide health care for working families, family leave, rising incomes, etc., then the hot-button racial issues will recede in importance (even if they don't fully disappear) ..It is the failure of health care that has opened us up on this, more than anything else, in my judgement…”

In the same memo, Mr. Waldman went on to write: “All great speeches have an enemy -- otherwise it's lofty platitudes. The enemy must be sharply etched. I would imagine it's "those who would use race to divide us." An appeal to healing, reconciliation, etc., will sound like so much blah-blah unless it pushes off against something…”

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