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White House reeks of yahoos

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If I drove by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and saw a yard sale in progress, complete with hand-painted signs, it wouldn't faze me. When it comes to raising money, the current occupants of the White House are topped in strategy only by white trash. There is probably a Kelvinator plopped on the south portico near the hot tub, a discarded easy chair with exposed spring, and corn cob cigars. When Ma and Pa Clinton depart from their government housing, the GSA should take inventory, beginning with the china room and finishing up with the typical hoists of crackers, the washer and dryer.

The five-year yahoo ambience has been entertaining. But it's not just that the White House has the feel of Pee Wee's Playhouse, it's the impact the Clintons have on their associates and underlings. The folksiness of the Clintons ropes in suckers, dupes them into believing, and then leaves them picked cleaner than ribs at a free barbecue.President Clinton is like National Lampoon's Vacation's cousin Eddie. Goofy grin, friendly, always moving from job-to-job, and no permanent home.

The trail of Eddie Clinton victims is long but distinguished. As the Clintons moved up, so did the quality of moochees. Web Hubbell and the McDougals were the Arkansas helpmates. They turned into inmates. In Washington, even the vice president and attorney general find themselves struggling to stay above water as they deal with Eddie's unique fund-raising techniques. Mike Espy, as secretary of agriculture, got tied in with Eddie's buddies from Tyson foods, was forced to leave his Cabinet position and now is under indictment. Hazel O'Leary, the former energy secretary, has a special prosecutor hounding her over influence peddling. To list staff victims would require another 800 words.

The latest victim of friendly Eddie is his interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt. He stands accused of shaking down Indian tribes for contributions in exchange for casinos. Babbitt is not a scandal man. That was before Eddie hooked him.

Babbitt's downfall stuns me as much as Eddie and his pals trouble me. How do people ordained as the brightest of the bright fail to see a pattern? Before they take a job near Eddie, do they purchase bizarre occurrence insurance against acts of Eddie? At what point do Ivy League graduates decline to participate in the tornado with the funnel cloud of indictments?

They can't resist the proximity to power and the suction force of Eddie's grin. And there's a certain comfort in Eddie's slipperiness. Fred Thompson and any special prosecutors assigned to White House fund-raising activities are helpless as turtles on their backs when they try to nail Eddie. Eddie's friends drop like flies, but Eddie moves on with his sugar tongue intact.

At my White House lawn sale, someone will pay $50,000 for a used Nordic Track and another will fork over $10,000 for Eddie's hardly used bowling ball. And the proud owners of Eddie's sloppy seconds will end up before a congressional committee sweating bullets even as their calls are not returned by Eddie.

Eddie has made the White House the stomping grounds for everyone from Tom Hanks to Buddhist nuns to Teamsters. Eddie has pushed the decorum envelope. When the flimflam man is gone, will his flimflam disappear or remain at a perpetual White House lawn sale as a snake in the grass?

Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Her e-mail address is marianne.jennings@asu.edu.