Dick Morris: The Nixon in Hillary

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To turn Henry Kissinger’s famous quote around, even those with enemies can be paranoid. So it is with Hillary Clinton.

Few were surprised by recent revelations that her staff labored for weeks after her 2008 campaign to amass an “enemies list” of those who received Clintonian largesse and failed to reciprocate. Like former President Nixon, she wanted to institutionalize revenge and, like Santa, wanted to keep tabs on who was naughty or nice. 

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So much of the Nixon playbook finds its echo in Clinton. His wiretaps are akin to those she and President Obama kept on foreign leaders, recording their conversations for later use. So far, the former secretary of State has largely escaped blame in the scandal and the president has taken the heat. But, obviously, she received information from the taps. Any claim to a lack of knowledge is as disingenuous as the president’s.

As secretary of State, Clinton instructed diplomats to spy on Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, and other top U.N. officials. The diplomats were ordered to gather biometric information (including DNA, fingerprints and iris scans), passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications. They were to gather Internet and intranet usernames, email addresses, website URLs useful for identification, credit card numbers, frequent flyer account numbers and work schedules.

In particular, she directed her Argentine embassy officials to gather information on President Cristina Fernández, including how she handles stress and whether she was taking any medication to help her “calm down.” She asked her diplomats to spy on the Argentine president and find out how “stress affects her behavior toward advisors and/or her decision-making.”

Back in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary got the campaign to hire detectives to investigate women linked to her husband to amass dirt in order to cow them into silence. Reportedly called the “bimbo patrol,” these operatives, her own private secret police, dug up evidence of past abortions, divorces, affairs and the like to threaten women with exposure if they ratted out her husband.

In 1996, Clinton asked me about the 50th birthday party her husband had just celebrated at the Radio City Music Hall. His speech, to $1,000 donors, was interrupted by catcalls from gay activists.

“Do you think they paid for their own ticket? They couldn’t afford to sit in those seats,” she asked. “I’ll tell you who paid for them. The Republicans did.” 

Growing more animated, she said “they will do the same thing at our convention,” which was to start two weeks hence. “Bill and I will get up there to speak,” she continued, “and they’ll jump up and yell at us just like they did at Bill’s party and that’s all the media will cover.”

To forestall these imminent protests, she demanded “I want tickets to all spectators in the convention galleries. I want Social Security numbers. I want background checks. I want to know who is in every seat.”

The next day, I asked the president about the first lady’s proposal, pointing out its obvious public relations ramifications. With a wave of his hand, he said dismissively, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to do that.”

I remember feeling a wave of relief at the president’s more balanced consideration of the issue and reflected how nice it was to have him — not her — in charge.

But as Hillary Clinton moves closer to the presidency, my relief is turning to anxiety. We are already being ripped apart as a country by revelations of the National Security Agency spying on Americans, the seizure of AP phone records by the Justice Department, the use of the Internal Revenue Service to harass political opponents, and the vilification of the president’s political adversaries. A leading possible successor is embroiled in a scandal about his possible use of official power to punish those who failed to endorse him. What we don’t need in this divided country is another Nixonian president, determined to ferret out enemies, punish them and keep track.

Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.