Editor’s note: Jack Cashill’s new book, “Ron Brown’s Body,” from which much of this information comes, is already in its second printing.
Many people have seen this particular, quintessential Clinton moment on the Web:
After an April 1996 memorial service for Ron Brown, President Clinton and the Rev. Tony Campolo are walking along laughing boisterously when Clinton’s eyes suddenly lock onto a TV camera. Reflexively, the president downshifts to a funereal gear, dropping his head in seeming sadness and wiping an imagined tear from his eye. Fairly or unfairly, the media would have hung a transitional moment of this nature around the neck of a less favored president, but not around Bill Clinton’s, at least not in 1996.
Before I could describe this video clip in “Ron Brown’s Body,” I had to assure myself that this clip was genuine and that, in fact, the incident followed a Ron Brown memorial. What troubled me was that the websites that featured the incident tied it to Ron Brown’s funeral on April 10. I knew, however, that the day of the funeral was cold and gloomy and not sunny as it appeared in the video clip.
I called Tony Campolo for confirmation, and he was gracious enough to respond. He told me that the recorded moment followed not Brown’s funeral but a memorial service at St. John’s Chapel near the White House the day before.
As Campolo recalled, he and the president had been recounting stories about the typically joyous black funerals they had attended in the past, and the conversation turned mirthful. This explanation made sense. Campolo, however, attributed the mood switch to a switch in conversation, claiming he confronted the president with the issue of the partial-birth abortion bill Congress had recently passed. This part of the explanation made less sense. The fact is that Campolo, unaware of the camera, kept on talking and laughing.
To be fair to Campolo, I checked to see whether or not the partial-birth abortion bill did await the president, and this was indeed true. As described in “My Life,” the bill added tension to what was already an emotionally draining week.
“I was devastated,” writes Clinton of Brown’s death. “Ron was my friend and my best political adviser in the Cabinet.” In truth, their relationship was strained to the point of rupture, and Clinton, much to Brown’s dismay, had long since cut him out of the advisory loop on political issues.
Clinton was not the only one suffering that week. According to the Starr Report, “Ms. Lewinsky was devastated” as well. On the day after Clinton learned of Brown’s death, April 5, Monica learned that she would have to leave her White House job.
“I was never going to see the president again,” she mourned. “I mean, my relationship with him would be over.”
On April 6, the president and his entourage flew to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to honor Brown and the 32 other Americans killed in the crash. Speaking to the victims’ families that Easter Saturday, Clinton infused the spirit of the season into his biblical reading.
“Though we weep through the night,” said the president, “joy will come in the morning.”
For the president, that joy came profanely in the form of young Monica. Clinton called her at home the next day, Easter Sunday. They commiserated less about Brown’s departure from this world than Monica’s departure from the White House.
According to the Starr Report, the president invited Monica to the Oval Office where she stayed for about half an hour. “Why do they have to take you away from me?” Clinton lamented on seeing her. “I promise you if I win in November I’ll bring you back like that.”
Monica then performed oral sex on the president. In the middle of this encounter, adviser Dick Morris called.
“The president indicated that Ms. Lewinsky should perform oral sex while he talked on the phone,” reads the unintentionally comic report, “and she obliged.”
Meanwhile, back at Dover, military pathologists spent their Easter Sunday examining the bodies of the 33 victims. In the head of just one victim, Ronald Harmon Brown, they found what looked to all observers like a bullet hole. At the apparent order of the White House, they did not do an autopsy.
On April 9, two days later, the president attended the memorial service with Campolo. On April 10, he and his family attended the funeral and accompanied the casket to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.
“I was so exhausted and grief-stricken after the terrible ordeal,” writes Clinton, “that I could hardly stand.” The skeptic could suggest other explanations for his seemingly wobbly legs.
Immediately following the funeral and burial, in an act of breathtaking cynicism, the president returned to the Oval Office and vetoed the ban on partial-birth abortion Congress had passed several weeks earlier. In “My Life,” Clinton inaccurately claims to have vetoed the bill after the “memorial service.” One has to suspect that Clinton timed this veto to lose it in the media coverage of the Brown funeral and then mislabeled the funeral and burial as a “memorial service” lest such a connection be made.
True to form, Clinton could not just leave ill enough alone. In “My Life,” he has felt compelled to justify his veto.
“The question,” writes Mr. Clinton, “was how badly damaged the mothers’ bodies would be if they carried their doomed babies to term, and whether doing so could render them unable to bear other children.”
In 1996, one could possibly forgive Clinton his ignorance. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop was discreet in his protest.
“I believe that Mr. Clinton was misled by his medical advisers on what is fact and what is fiction in reference to late-term abortions,” wrote Koop. He claimed that “in no way” was a partial-birth abortion a “medical necessity for the mother.” He then added the obvious: “It certainly can’t be a necessity for the baby.”
By 2004, Clinton had to have known as much. In my own research into partial-birth abortion in Kansas, where the statistics are rigorously kept, not a single one of the 188 partial-birth abortions performed in that given year was done to save the life or the physical health of the mother. All were done for reasons of “mental health.”
The language of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 could not have been clearer on this point. It describes partial-birth abortion as “a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.”
Clinton, however, precedes his rationalizations for partial-birth abortion with the quibbling caveat, “as far as I could determine,” and concludes it with his typically self-absolving word play.
“In such cases,” writes Clinton, “it was far from clear that banning the operation was ‘pro-life.’”
In the seven years between Clinton’s veto and the passage of the 2003 bill, doctors legally crushed the skulls of some 20,000 babies, most of them fully healthy, as they struggled to be born to their mostly healthy mothers. Unethical? Immoral? Murderous? I guess it all depends on what the meaning of “pro-life” is.