By coincidence I have recently been reading two books simultaneously. I picked up Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the local used book sale (a fundraiser for local seniors). I figure if Hillary is going to be President, which is likely, then I should know more about her. She’s an okay writer, and presents herself well, but the book began to wear on me as I read past page 300.
So I started re-reading The Money and the Power, the Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, by Sally Denton and Roger Morris. I had already read it once, and I had forgotten that the Clintons play a small role in it. Basically, the book is about how the vast sums of money made by organized crime, especially from bootlegged alcohol during Prohibition, was eventually cycled into the Las Vegas we know today. It is a colorful story, filled with the names of famous gangsters like Benjamin Segal and Meyer Lansky, but also meticulous in connecting organized crime to politics, including most of the post-Prohibition Presidents of the United States. (It was published in 2001, so Barack Obama makes no appearance in it.)
Now Hillary (admittedly, by her own representation) was a good girl. Her father owned a small business, and she grew up church-going, Republican, and upper-middle class. She went to a swanky girls-school private college, Wellesley, then on to Yale Law School. I spotted no obvious discrepancies in her story. She was influenced by the turmoil of the 60s, in particular the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. By 1972 she had changed over to the Democratic Party.
The anomalies I spotted were in her descriptions of her eventual husband, Bill Clinton. Now I had thought Bill Clinton was supposed to be from a poor family. He was supposed to be a bright kid who won scholarships, including a Rhodes scholarship to study in England. Well, I would tend to admire that, since I was a bright scholarship kid. But I also know that scholarship kids typically are penniless until they get their first real job after they graduate from academia. Unlike the kinds of students who typically attend places like Wellesley and Yale, they don’t own cars and they work paid, usually menial jobs each summer as well as during the school year. They can’t accept glamorous unpaid internships that give the upper class kids inside tracks to the most desirable jobs.
What struck me first was the car. They have just started dating in the spring of 1971, at Yale Law School. “We spent long hours driving around in his 1970 burnt-orange Open station wagon.” What was an unpaid law student doing with a new station wagon? And where did the money come from that summer, when he and Hillary lived in Berkeley, California, and it is clear he did not have a job? There was more, but that was enough to remind me that Hot Springs, Arkansas was a notorious center of organized crime activity. I knew Bill was from Hope, which is not far from Hot Springs; I wondered if his easy money meant he had already been bought.
Of course it is not really a secret that William Jefferson Blythe III, aka Bill Clinton actually spent most of his childhood in Hot Springs, and graduated from Hot Springs High School. Although his step father, Roger Clinton had owned the Hope Buick Dealership, he was an alcoholic and gambler, and had sold his share of the dealership in 1955. His worked as a parts manager for his broth Raymond after that. He died in 1967, before Hillary even met Bill. Uncle Raymond Clinton owned the Hot Springs Buick dealership with his partner Earl T. Ricks, who eventually also became Brigadier General of the Arkansas National Guard. Ricks died in 1953.
So the Opal likely was a gift from a generous uncle who owned a car dealership. Nothing wrong with that. But according to Denton & Morris, Raymond Clinton had other sources of income besides the dealership. He “ran slot machines in the town for the Marcello family.” [D&M page 376]
When Bill Clinton showed up in Arkansas in 1974 to take an appointment as a law professor and run for Congress, Bill raised more money in the Democratic Party primary than his far-better-established opponents. It was Raymond who helped him raise the money, and if it is true that he was mob-connected, then the money was largely mob money from drugs, prostitution, and gambling. Clinton lost to the Republican. In 1976 Bill ran for state Attorney General and won. He did not become known for prosecuting or even noticing the organized crime still rampant in Hot Springs.
Later, as President of the United States, Clinton would quietly kill a proposal for a 4% federal gambling tax.
That helped President Clinton raise large sums of money in Las Vegas for his 1996 re-election campaign. Gambling interests, led by Brian Greenspun and Steve Wynn poured money into the Clinton campaign and the general Democratic Party war chest. One $25,000 per attendee party sponsored by Wynn raised $650,000 for the Democrats [D&M page 371]. Just in case, Wynn and friends also gave very large sums of money to Republican Party nominee Bob Dole.
Bill Clinton and then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich could sometimes put aside partisan discord to accomplish something together. Due to the movement to legalize gambling outside Nevada, by 1996 a backlash was growing. Pushed by non-profit groups, Congress decided to create a Gambling Impact Study Commission. Critics pointed out that gambling “took billions, addicted thousand at great physical and human cost, and siphoned spending from local businesses to the point of ruin, all while giving back nothing of social or economic value.” [D&M page 373].
Such committees in Congress always have the power to subpoena witnesses. But gangsters and casino corporate executives (if there is any difference) alike remembered the Kefauver hearings and Robert Kennedy hearings with great distaste. Clinton, Gingrich and politicians whose campaigns had been slushed up with gambling profits made sure the committee did not have the usual powers. In the end the Gambling committee accomplished nothing.
When did Hillary become aware of her husband’s organized crime connections? My best bet would be never. After all, Uncle Raymond ran a legitimate business, an automobile dealership. Hillary had her own law practice to worry about. Most people can look the other way when it is convenient to them, and Hillary seems to not be an exception.
Hillary and Bill are independently wealthy now, but not so wealthy that they can finance another Presidential campaign without a lot of donated money. Hopefully the women who love Hillary and the Democratic Party can make enough donations to her campaign that she will not be beholden to any particular person, or private interest group, when she is making decisions that affect us all.
I expect Bill Clinton to hang around the White House, and he does have some talents. But I expect Hillary to make her own decisions. As the first female President, I hope she turns out to be one of the rare peace Presidents. I hope the feminist core of her following holds her to that standard.
The next Stop after Hope (Progressive Review)
Frontline Interview with Roger Morris about Partners in Power, The Clintons and Their America.