When the first spouse is an ex-president

Here is a story with three angles. One is Bill Clinton's seemingly incurable tendency to get himself slimy. The second is that it would be odd to have an American president who is married to a fellow able to raise unrestricted amounts of money for his foundation and pursue his own international agenda. The third is that there are problems with installing the same two families over and over again in the White House.

In September 2005, Clinton went to Kazakhstan with a wealthy Canadian businessman, Frank Guistra. The point was to make the profoundly important announcement that Clinton's foundation had found a way to steer low-cost drugs for HIV/AIDS to that country.

While there, Clinton praised the Kazakhstan leader, Nursultan A. Nazarbahev, for "opening up" the country politically. He also endorsed the country's desire to lead the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

These kind words only so happened to be in direct contradiction to the official U.S. government position, even the words of the junior senator from New York. That would be Clinton's wife, Hillary, who now contends seriously to be the next president. Our government and Sen. Clinton were on record opposing the undemocratic practices of this Kazakhstan leader.

A few days after Clinton's visit and agreeable words, this Canadian businessman, Guistra, landed a potentially lucrative contract to mine for uranium ore in Kazakhstan.

Then Guistra anted up $31 million, and later another $100 million, to Clinton's foundation.

Let us not even consider that this might have been some sort of quid pro quo -- Clinton getting money for his foundation from a rich Canadian, then buttering up Kazakhstan's leader for the rich Canadian so that the rich Canadian could land a big Kazakhstan contract to make back his donation and then some.

We have no evidence of that. Guistra had mined in the region before and he says the deal in question was nearly done before the trip. And let's not forget the upshot: cheap medications for needy people.

But what's undeniably relevant, even problematic, is that we might be about to elect a president whose husband would be able to go around the world raising unrestricted sums of money for his ex-presidential foundation, even to take his own unilateral positions on international issues.

Even if Bill Clinton did nothing questionable in getting and disbursing foundation funds, and even if he said nothing on international relations in conflict with his wife's administration, people could pursue influence with the White House by anteing up to the charitable activities of the president's husband.

The Clintons would no doubt assure that all this was separate and that the foundation existed only for good works. Here's what else they'd say: There's no real difference between this and what we've already had, meaning a former president with a foundation whose son is concurrently the president of the United States.

Actually, though, there are differences. A husband and wife are a household, unlike a father and son. And we've heard nothing from or about George H.W. Bush that sounds as irregular as Clinton's activities in Kazakhstan. And on a purely practical basis: The son currently in the White House has seemed most interested in distancing himself from his dad, even to the point of tragically miring our country in a war that his father had entirely too much sense to wage in the early 1990s.

Still, if you accept in general terms the argument that the Clinton situation would be essentially no different from the Bush situation, might that give us reason to consider breaking this two-family cycle?

Is there anyone in the United States not named Clinton or Bush who is capable of being president?

John Brummett (jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com) is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau.