It is no small thing to nullify a Presidential election and cancel the manifest will of the people. Yet the House of Representatives must now contemplate this drastic action, thanks to a reckless and mendacious Bill Clinton. Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr has opened a legitimate debate on whether the President should continue in office. And for good reason. It is now clear that Bill Clinton almost certainly perjured himself in front of a federal grand jury about a sordid sexual affair that took place inside the White House. He then lied about it to his Cabinet, to Congress, and to the American people for seven long months. It is now the Constitutional duty of the House to proceed with the impeachment process, to examine all the information available and to decide whether or not President Clinton's crime rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
The House should proceed with all due speed in making its decision. The global economy is in crisis, old antagonists are taking power in Russia, and the Middle East is quickly becoming a tinderbox once again. American leadership is critical in the world today. The temptation to prolong the impeachment process simply for partisan political gain must be restrained for the sake of the country.
The American people deserve better from their President. Faux contrition about egregious errors of judgment is not sufficient. Hairsplitting displays of linguistic acrobatics about the definition of sexual relations and semantic sophistry about when a lie is not perjury insult the basic intelligence of the nation. However the impeachment process concludes, the President owes the public true honesty about his shameful behavior, an expression of genuine remorse, and a request for forgiveness.
REVAMPING THE LAW
While the sins of President Clinton's personal behavior betray the moral code of most Americans, the transgressions of Starr's public investigation raise many troubling questions, too. In its pornographic detail, sanctimonious zealotry, and legal sophistry, the Starr Report betrays its partisan political nature. The process by which the President's sex life has been thrown into the public arena calls into question the entire mission of the independent counsel and the statute that supports it. What began as an investigation into a land deal in Arkansas, years before Clinton even became President, wound its way by way of a dismissed civil suit into a perjury charge over sex. When the independent-counsel statute comes up for renewal in 1999, it must be revamped. As it stands, the law gives special prosecutors a license to look into any private or public behavior of a government official over any period of time with unlimited funding. This is anathema to a democratic way of life.
Starr promises to deliver more information on Whitewater, Filegate, and Travelgate sometime in the future. But if this current report represents his best effort at presenting impeachable evidence to the House, as most of Washington believes it to be, then, after spending $40 million, Starr apparently found nothing impeachable in his core investigations. Unless he intends to file further charges soon, elementary fairness, it seems, should require him to state this fact. Starr's labeling of Clinton's legitimate legal defense as an "abuse of power"--an impeachable offense--also mocks the idea of fairness.
What should happen now? There are many serious arguments to be made for resignation. A President needs moral authority to lead and Clinton's standing in Congress is at an all-time low. Clinton's personal problems are diverting attention from important legislation--and from the growing international economic crisis.
But resignation would set a terrible precedent. Driving an unpopular President from elected office by means of a politically-tinged investigation would undermine the democratic process. It is a feature of a parliamentary system that should not be imported into the U.S. The only choice is to proceed with the impeachment process.
As the House proceeds, it may conclude that censure is the most viable option. It may reason that despite the disgraceful personal behavior and perjury about it, the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors" against the state hasn't been reached. Certainly the public is opposed to the impeachment of Clinton. Polls consistently show that by a wide majority people are disgusted by his philandering and lying but support the job he is doing as President. Even after reading the prurient details in the Starr Report, most people prefer censure to impeachment. Politicians who ignore this strongly felt view and try to use the impeachment process for their own gain may do so at the peril of their own political lives.
Considering the politically supercharged atmosphere in Washington, BUSINESS WEEK favors some strong punishment short of impeachment. To begin to get there, President Clinton must end the semantics. His lawyers do him great harm in both the House and in the larger public arena by insisting he didn't lie. Unfortunately, Starr has made a veiled threat of indictment even after the President's term ends, thus managing to turn Clinton's habit of prevarication into a legal necessity. If the House eventually concludes that censure is the solution, it must put an end to this threat. Clinton would then have to receive de facto immunity from both Congress and the special prosecutor to escape legal jeopardy. Therein lies the deal for censure.
It is President Clinton's long history of philandering and lying that has finally overpowered his strong abilities in formulating policies for a globalized world and prevented him from reaching that place in history he so desperately desires. Now, the House must decide his fate. It should do so with dispatch, heeding the wishes of the American people along the way.