Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Clinton gifts: Yes, appearances matter

So what are we to make of the $190,027 worth of personal gifts that walked out of the White House with Bill and Hillary Clinton?

This stack of loot represented both ceremonial gifts received over time as well as specific gifts from well-heeled friends who appear eager to help the Clintons’ transition to private life. After all, they have been living in government housing for most of the past two decades.

The flap is certainly overblown, in the sense that it is legal for the Clintons to take the gifts and the amount is not out of proportion to what other presidents have hauled away when they left office.

For instance, President Bush the senior took away some $144,000 of gifts from his four years in office. And the list of what the Clintons took did not represent a last-minute surge of generosity, but a selection from items offered to the first couple over several years.

So, no big deal from that perspective. But the take-away haul does make you wince when seen in the context of two other events that happened during those final days. The first was the long list of pardons issued by Clinton, including some to friends and family on the gift-giving list.

The other was Mrs. Clinton’s shift to another arena of public life, the U.S. Senate. To be on the receiving end of this amount of largess (along with an $8 million book contract) is not the wisest move for a freshman senator.

In fact, it appears to be almost politically tone deaf. One of the enduring traits of the Clintons during their eight years was an aura of prideful righteousness. We know we are doing good so we don’t need to be concerned about appearances.

Well, yes, they do.

Private citizen Bill Clinton may be able now to ignore that good advice. Public citizen Hillary Rodham Clinton should not.

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