Clintons’ Inferno

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Today’s New York Times runs an entertaining article on the Clintons’ formulation of the degrees of disloyalty among former Clinton administration officials, attorneys, and supporters. The article by Mark Leibovich is innocuously headed “Clintons sort friends: Past and present.”

Dante’s Inferno provides a deep meditation on human evil through its construction of the nine circles of hell. Dante’s Inferno contrasts markedly with the Clintons’ Inferno. Like the Clintons, Dante deemed treachery a profound evil, placing its practitioners in the ninth circle of hell. Whereas the Clintons’ Inferno dwells exclusively on a variety of personal treachery (which may involve loyalty to principles higher than the Clintons and so not be evil at all), it begins and ends with an assessment of the varieties and levels of disloyalty.

In the outer circle of the Clintons’ Inferno are those who have simply withheld their support for Senator Clinton. Such was the case until recently of former Clinton administration officials Bill Richardson and Robert Reich. Referring to the Clintons, Leibovich explains:

In their eyes, the least offensive (if somewhat annoying) group are “likely” Hillary Clinton supporters who have not defected, in part out of recognition of past ties, but have not made public commitments to her, either.

Both Reich and Richards maintained a discreet silence for some time. Reich first moved a circle closer to the heart of the Clintons’ Inferno by speaking approvingly of Senator Obama and critically of Senator Clinton’s campaign. The public expression of critical thoughts is of course a circle closer to the heart of the Clintons’ hell. Also in the second circle are those whom the Clintons have assiduously courted to no avail:

Then there are those whom Mrs. Clinton worked hard to win over but who have actually taken the step of endorsing Mr. Obama. These would include newer senators like Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, or older colleagues, like Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.

Moving closer to the heart of the Clintons’ Inferno — perhaps the third circle — we find another set of politicians whom the Clintons helped win office:

There is also a large class of Obama supporters in the Senate for whom the Clintons raised considerable amounts of money. This includes Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who upset Mrs. Clinton in a 2006 appearance on “Meet the Press” when she told Tim Russert that while Mr. Clinton was a great leader, “I don’t want my daughter near him.”

This past Friday, Reich endorsed Senator Obama as against Senator Clinton. Here we reach the fourth and fifth rings of the Clintons’ Inferno, where Reich and Richardson join the likes of Anthony Lake. On our tour of the Clintons’ Inferno, Leon Panetta plays the role of Virgil, guiding us along the way:

These are people that the Clintons gave an opportunity to serve,” said Mr. Panetta, speaking generally. “They helped give them the titles they now have, and made them a lot of money. I think the Clintons probably feel they are owed something.”

The fifth ring of the Clintons’ Inferno takes us into the heart of darkness:

[T]he worst offenders, associates say, are former Clintonites who not only endorse Obama, but who also publicly criticize Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as they do so. Mr. [Greg] Craig, a former law school classmate of Mrs. Clinton’s, became a charter member of this club when he wondered aloud (to Jonathan Alter of Newsweek) “if Hillary’s campaign can’t control Bill, whether Hillary’s White House could.”

Craig and Richardson join John Kerry in the fifth ring of the Clintons’ Inferno:

Mr. Kerry, his top aides and family members have received varying degrees of tongue-lashing from Clinton surrogates, chiefly two top fund-raisers — John Coale and Peter Maroney — with previous close ties to Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, had been cool to Mrs. Clinton after he believed she had “piled on” in criticizing him after his “botched joke” before the 2006 midterm elections in which he seemed to demean American soldiers in Iraq. But Mrs. Clinton visited Mr. Kerry at his home in Nantucket last September, checked in regularly and, for a time, seemed close to winning him over.

Mr. Kerry, however, endorsed Mr. Obama shortly after the New Hampshire primary. To this day, the Clinton and Kerry camps disagree over whether Mr. Kerry had made promises to intermediaries not to take sides.

He then publicly criticized Mr. Clinton’s conduct before the South Carolina primary. “And he was dead to us,” said one prominent Clinton supporter who is, in his words, “not authorized to trash Kerry on the record.”

Dante’s Inferno depicts nine circles of hell that recognize assorted evils in addition to treachery. The evils missing from the Clintons’ Inferno nevertheless go a long way to explain the “disloyalty” condemned by the Clintons. Among the missing evils are lust (circle 2, see Claire McCaskill above), wrath and sullenness (circle 5), and fraudulence, political corruption, fraudulent rhetoric, divisiveness and falsification (circle 8). In other words, Dante’s Inferno goes a long way to explaining the Clintons’ Inferno.

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