“The Hillary-in-2016 buzz has hit overdrive,” the New York Times reported last week, and the awed Times reporter wondered what candidate, Republican or Democrat, “would dare to come up against a world heroine like Hillary.”
“World heroine”? Please. Those of us who have followed Ms. Clinton know that she is no more a heroine of the real Clinton story than Lady Macbeth was the heroine of “Macbeth.”
Like Lady Macbeth too, Hillary has her own ghosts, none more potentially troublesome than former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
On April 3, 2016, as Hillary moves inexorably toward the Democratic nomination, she may pause to shed a fake tear on the 20th anniversary of Brown’s death on a barren Croatian hillside.
For the two most desperate years of the Clinton presidency, 1994-1996, Brown found himself at the nexus of White House machinations, the central exchange, the point where presidential power alchemized into hard cash more crudely and less discreetly than at any time in a century.
Here, Brown was both exploiter and exploited, victimizer and ultimately victim, the classic “man who knew too much.”
“Why Ron Brown Won’t Go Down.” So declared the grimly ironic title of a just-released article (April ’96) in the American Spectator.
But the article’s author miscalculated the physics of Washington power. Ron Brown did go down. Just before 3 p.m. Croatia time, the Air Force CT-43A that bore him drifted “inexplicably” off-course, sideswiped a hill nearly two miles from the Dubrovnik airport where it was headed, and skidded to a wrenching stop.
Hours before the first American arrived at the crash site to confirm Brown’s death, while at least one American passenger still lived, President Bill Clinton and his faithful bride Hillary descended on the Commerce Department and, in the artless words of CNN, “eulogized his friend nonetheless.”
The reason Clinton cited for his unseemly haste was an odd, almost unbelievable one: “I wanted to come here today, as it is almost Passover for American Jews, and I know a lot of you will want to be leaving soon.”
No, the president was not worried about the scheduling issues of the few Jews in the Commerce Department. He was worried about reaching his base in black America and doing so in time for the evening news.
To be sure, eulogies almost invariably aggrandize the virtues of the deceased, but Clinton was not so much eulogizing Brown as he was constructing his own defense.
Clinton told those gathered that Brown had been “so excited” about his trip to the Balkans because he hoped to “help people in that troubled place have the kind of decent, honorable and wonderfully ordinary lives that we Americans too often take for granted.”
In truth, Brown was not excited at all. When he met with Clinton earlier in the week, Brown begged not to go. At this, the most anxious moment of his life, he dreaded the prospect of the trip.
There was nothing decent or honorable about it. He was sick of being, in his words, “a mother-f–-ing tour guide for Hillary Clinton.”
What troubled Brown more, however, was this trip had no point, not even the dark one of Hoovering up campaign cash. Worse, the trip was all too spontaneous and improvised. It bordered on chaotic.
For the first time on any of his trade missions, Brown had to twist arms to fill the plane and even then not successfully. Nor did he attract the caliber of business executives his pride demanded.
Still, Hillary insisted. And as much as Brown loathed the extortionate nature of the trips, he sensed that if he ceased to oblige the Clintons, “to carry the bag,” they would cut him loose.
And this leads to the essential deceit of Clinton’s hasty eulogy. Bill and Hillary did not love Brown as Clinton avowed. Nor did they enjoy much, if any, of “his friendship and his warmth.”
No, the relationship, always cool, had turned cold. Brown feared the Clintons, feared to even call them, and they deeply distrusted him.
This, the opinion-shapers in the major media chose not to know. They had already chosen their story line. Rather than recount Brown’s fate as a cautionary tale on the perils of power, they routinely meshed the death of “this great American hero” on April 3 with Martin Luther King’s death on April 4, 28 years earlier.
President Clinton, in fact, unblushingly claimed Brown, like King, died “answering a very important challenge of his time.”
Given that this was an election year, no one in the media questioned whether Clinton might have profaned King’s work by comparing it to Brown’s brokering of a sweetheart deal between the fascist government of Croatia and the Enron Corporation.
In fact, Enron execs were frequent flyers on Brown trade missions. On the last one, with impressive clairvoyance, they chose to take their own plane.
And so the story would have ended: Ron Brown buried at Arlington National Cemetery with more pomp than any government official since RFK, a nation in mourning for its fallen hero and a president bereft.
But Ron Brown’s body had one more story to tell. At the U.S. Army base at Dover, Del., three days after his death, U.S. Navy CPO Kathleen Janoski, the forensic photographer, noted a nearly perfectly circular hole in the top of Brown’s head. It would measure just about .45 of an inch in diameter.
“Wow. That looks like a bullet hole,” said Janoski.
The pathologists who heard her cry and heeded it would soon enough wish they hadn’t. Like many others who questioned the official story line during the Clintons’ most desperate years, they have suffered for it.
“We do not know for sure what happened there,” said Clinton of the crash in Croatia. This much was likely true, at least not “for sure.” It is also true he did not want to know.
Neither did the media. Although the New York Times had a reporter on the plane, its editors did not even bother to request the Air Force’s official 22-volume report on the crash. I did. It is damning.
Irrepressible even in death, Ron Brown “dost glare” from his grave as unredeemed as Banquo’s Ghost. Until his story is told in full by someone with clout enough to get the media’s attention, Brown will have no justice or redemption, and we may have another Clinton in the White House.
See Jack Cashill’s previous coverage of Ron Brown’s death: