There are a number of trifling reasons one might think Hillary Rodham Clinton a less-than-ideal choice as the new senator from New York: She is the carpetbagger nonpareil; she has never held elected office; she made a ham-fisted mess of her one formal attempt to craft national policy, the 1993 health care reform; she appears to regard power, in her case, as something approaching a divine right; she epitomizes the scorched-earth politics that already have crippled the ability of Congress and the White House to make law.
But these are mere cavils. The important reason why Mrs. Clinton should not be elected to the slightest position of responsibility has to do with her husband. You remember him. He is the fellow who disgraced the White House; violated the law he was sworn to uphold; lied to a federal judge, a grand jury, his Cabinet, the people; and put the nation through its most damaging political ordeal since Watergate.
Yes, but what of all that? Surely, none of this is Mrs. Clinton's fault. Surely, she is as much a victim of her husband's wretchedness as the rest of us -- indeed, the greatest victim. Such is Mrs. Clinton's implicit argument to the voters, and it has a smidgen of validity to it. Mrs. Clinton is to some degree a victim, and she is to be pitied for this.
But is Mrs. Clinton entirely a victim, or is she also, with her husband, a victimizer of the rest of us?
What is now common knowledge about Clinton -- that he is recklessly destructive in the pursuit of his own pleasures and interests, that he is tantrum-throwing immature and that he is a compulsive teller of untruths -- was not widely known when Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992. But was it known to Mrs. Clinton? Mrs. Clinton must have known that the carefully crafted public Clinton was not remotely the real thing. She must have known that her husband of nearly two decades was, by virtue of his ineradicable character, not fit to hold the office -- that, in fact, he was very likely to shame the office.
This, you may say, is unfair. The wife who deludes herself about her husband is a cliche. But Mrs. Clinton was not only a wife. She was a central figure in her husband's campaigns and his gubernatorial administrations. She was in a position to know the truth about her husband, and she did know it; and she joined the likes of George Stephanopoulos, Paul Begala and James Carville in a cynical and immoral effort to hide the truth from the voters and to savage those who told the truth.
In 1992 Clinton was caught lying about his evasion of the Vietnam draft and about his liaison with a former state employee named Gennifer Flowers. With the support of his wife and staff, Clinton chose to continue to lie. And, as Stephanopoulos tells us in his political memoirs, "All Too Human," those high up in the Clinton campaign knew he was lying.
Stephanopoulos recalls his thoughts upon hearing the tapes of Flowers's intimate conversations with Clinton: "He lied." The sure knowledge demoralized Stephanopoulos and his colleagues -- but then "Hillary rallied all of us that night with a conference call." The reinvigorated team went out to accuse Flowers of being the liar in the case and to browbeat a complaisant press into pretending the tapes were forgeries.
Then came the discovery of Clinton's 1969 letter to Col. Eugene Holmes. " `The letter's a fake,' " Stephanopoulos recalls wishfully thinking. But then, in the damage-control huddle, Mrs. Clinton read it: "Hillary spoke first. `Bill, this is you. I can hear you saying this.' " Once again, Mrs. Clinton focused the team to fight on -- to blame others, to lie with abandon (I can still hear Begala heatedly asserting that Clinton must have forgotten that he had received a draft notice in the middle of the Vietnam War.)
A man who could do what Clinton did in 1992 is a man whose solipsism for self-control and whose capacity for lying are so far beyond the norm of behavior as to fairly be called pathological. Hillary Rodham Clinton played the crucial, knowing role in foisting such a man upon the nation. And she did this without the slightest evident concern for what that might mean for the welfare of the nation.
Of course, what might transpire did transpire. And Mrs. Clinton blamed a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for the wreckage she helped make. Now the new candidate Clinton asks for an office of high public trust. But she has shown us what trust she is worthy of.
Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.