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How bad were they?

By Lawrence Henry
web posted January 7, 2002

One recent morning, as I was driving my son Bud to school, a story came on the radio.

"Sad news from Chappaqua," said the announcer on the New York-based AM news station. "Buddy the First Dog, the chocolate Lab adopted by President and Mrs. Clinton in the White House, was hit by a car and killed this morning…"

"Buddy the First Dog?" Bud laughed, struck by the phrase.

"Let me tell you about Buddy the First Dog," I said to Bud, "because it shows just what bad people Bill and Hillary Clinton are."

And so I told him. I told him how, when the Clinton administration was getting bad press, the Clintons took a poll - I had to explain to Bud what a poll was - to find out what they could do to warm up their public image. The answer came back: Get a dog. And they took other polls, and conducted focus groups, to find out what kind of dog the American public liked best. Labrador, came back the answer. Chocolate Lab.

Buddy on the Clintons (August 1999)
Buddy on the Clintons (August 1999)

So they got a chocolate Lab puppy, and they named him Buddy. And from time to time, Buddy would appear in video clips or photographs with President Clinton, straining against his leash, displaying the unmistakable doggy body language of the neglected pet: "Who is this guy? Lemme go!"

Who knows where Buddy went between photo ops? In anybody else's White House, Buddy would have become the dog-in-secret of an usher or a Secret Service man. In the Clinton White House, that would have required detaching an usher or Secret Service man from servitude to the Clintons themselves. That would have required a minimal acknowledgment that Buddy was a creature of some intrinsic value.

"No, they wouldn't do any of that," I said to Bud. "Buddy was a neglected dog. And when the Clintons left the White House, and when Hillary bought a house in Chappaqua, New York, that's where they dumped the dog.

"Did you notice what else the news report said?" I went on. "Bill and Hillary weren't home when Buddy got run over. They're basically never home. The announcer said they don't even know what happened to Buddy, whether he was being walked or whether he got loose."

"But the announcer said Bill Clinton said he was sorry Buddy got run over," Bud pointed out.

"It was just the kind of thing politicians say in public," I told Bud. "It's a good-sounding lie."

"Boy," said Bud, "I'm sure glad Bill Clinton isn't President any more."

Lately, a spate of stories has appeared, describing how the Clintons are trying to burnish their "legacy" via some renewal of their usual propaganda offensive. They even held a meeting with various of their flacks about how to do it, I understand.

It's too late. Something will always come up to remind us what they were really like: Buddy the First Dog, Elian Gonzalez, the Branch Davidians, an aspirin factory in the Sudan, the sailors on the U.S.S. Cole - all props, all symbols, all exploited for the moment, then cast aside when they were no longer needed.

And not for the first time will we be reminded that someone, somewhere, aptly pointed out how much the Clintons were like Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. They smashed things up. They smashed things up, and they really didn't care.

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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