Clinton's trip to Moscow: a Republican fantasy without facts

Published Oct. 9, 1992|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

There's only one important thing to know about the allegations that Bill Clinton met with the KGB in Moscow in 1970: The Republicans made it up.

That's right. Made it up.

There is not a shred of evidence to support the story, and the Republicans happily admit it.

Robert Dornan, a right-wing Republican congressman from California, invented the story in one of his frequent attacks on Clinton from the well of the House. He said that when Clinton visited Moscow while studying at Oxford, he was a guest of the KGB. Was squired around Moscow in limousines. Was brainwashed into leading anti-Vietnam demonstrations against the United States.

The story was woven from whole cloth, but Dornan says, "I have a right to speculate until he sets the record straight."

Clinton just laughed when he first heard Dornan's story.

"I paid for my own trip," he said on Larry King Live on Monday night. "I was just a student. As far as I know, I didn't meet with the KGB."

The visit to Moscow was part of a 40-day tour through Scandinavia, Moscow and Prague, Clinton said. Several of his fellow students from Oxford took similar trips.

Who is Robert Dornan? He's a former actor who became an anti-abortion, family values kind of congressman. While running against a woman this year, he remarked, "Every lesbian spear-chucker in this country is hoping I get defeated."

He's a hawk who bragged about being a fighter pilot during the Korean War. It turned out he never saw combat.

He been quoted calling Clinton as "a goddamned, womanizing, draft-dodging son of a bitch."

Dornan, incidentally, made a trip to Moscow the same month as Clinton, January 1970, with the wives of four pilots who were missing in action in Vietnam.

It was no surprise when radio talk show hosts whipped up their listeners about Clinton's trip to Moscow. People started calling the St. Petersburg Times demanding to know more about Clinton's commie ties.

It stopped being funny Wednesday night when the president of the United States went on national television to question Clinton's patriotism because he once set foot in Moscow.

Larry King, the host of this year's presidential campaign, asked President Bush about it during a live show.

"Larry," the president said, turning serious, "I don't want to tell you what I really think, because I don't have the facts. But to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, not remember who you saw, I really think the answer is (for Clinton to) level with the American people."

In promoting Dornan's fantasy without facts, Bush has found one more way to remind voters of Clinton's credibility problem (a problem the president shares). Clinton has danced around his draft record and gets shifty-eyed when he's asked whether he took the lead in demonstrations. But he has always made it clear that he actively opposed the Vietnam war.

Bush makes a distinction between demonstrating against the war in front of the White House or demonstrating in London, as Clinton did.

"Maybe I'm old-fashioned, Larry, but to go to a foreign country and demonstrate against your own country when your sons and daughters are dying halfway around the world, I just don't like it. I think it is wrong, I think it is wrong to do that," Bush said.

While Clinton demonstrated, Bush was a member of Congress, sending sons and daughters to die.

Those were the days when many Americans could see no difference between being a critic of America's foreign policy and being a traitor. "America: Love It or Leave It," the bumper stickers read.

Families were torn apart over the war. Authorities felt threatened, and dissent was dangerous. Protesters were shot at Kent State a few months after Clinton's trip to Moscow. Long hair was a political statement that could provoke violent response on the street. They were painful, insane years for America.

Bush knows that. He's the one who talked about putting the divisions of Vietnam behind us with the successful war in the Persian Gulf. Even on Larry King, Bush said he didn't want to repeat the policy mistakes of Vietnam, didn't want to get bogged down with some unfocused military mission in Yugoslavia.

But Bush is notorious for saying whatever he thinks might help him win. He does not see a connection between campaigns and governing, does not see campaign tactics as a reflection of character.

You almost have to admire his chutzpah. At the same time Bush is taking credit for the death of communism around the world, he is painting Clinton as a red menace.

Well, the Republicans have tried everything else. They played the race card with Willie Horton four years ago. Bashing feminists and gays backfired this summer. Maybe they can go one more round with communism as a bogyman before people start to laugh in their faces.

Clinton has his own flaws. He is slick. He does pander. If he is elected president, the people and the press are going to have to watch him like a hawk.

But no candidate should have to defend himself against fairy tales.

Sooner or later, the good people of the Republican Party will realize that conservatives who rant and foam at the mouth like Dornan are exactly the reason their big tent is suddenly so empty. But it may be too late for Bush.