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Jewish World Review /Dec. 16,1998 /27 Kislev 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Is this impeachment constitutional?

AT GATHERINGS OF CONSERVATIVES in Washington, D.C., there is stunned admiration for Republicans. Conservative activists, journalists and lawyers are so unaccustomed to praising Republicans -- who so often disappoint their supporters -- that it is difficult to say which is paramount, the admiration or the astonishment.

Of course, it could still fizzle. Though Republicans are now on the cusp of standing firm for principle even in the teeth of public sentiment to the contrary, the integrity they are demonstrating may boil off at the first cry of "unfair" from Clinton supporters. It is so easy to imagine the Republicans caving at the last moment and permitting the Democrats a censure vote on the floor after all. (The conventional wisdom is that permitting a censure resolution will doom an impeachment vote.) As one leadership aide described it: "In my heart, I think we can win this thing. But we may not. We are, after all, Republicans."

Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House are just as shocked by Republican fortitude as conservative writers and thinkers. They had assumed, after the election, as had we all, quite frankly, that impeachment was thoroughly dead, utterly impossible. In the wake of the House Judiciary Committee vote in favor of four articles of impeachment, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) became so addled that she warned of an impending "legislative coup."

The president decided to replay his contrition tape, which had topped the charts a few months ago but which disappointed those commentators and fence-sitting politicians who continue to demand that the president admit something. At this late date, it's hard to see what that would accomplish. Either he committed the crimes with which he has been charged, or he didn't. If he is guilty, he deserves to be tried by the Senate and removed from office. If he is innocent, he deserves acquittal. There is no provision for presidential plea bargains in the Constitution.

Perhaps what motivates these calls for confession is not legal reasoning but psychological frustration. Even many of the president's supporters find his implicit stance of "guilty but not punishable" utterly maddening. Rather than the true contrition and self-flagellation that most of us would experience under such circumstances, Bill Clinton takes the opportunity to make the "everybody does it" defense, to slander the prosecutor, to attack his victims and to pout about his own compromised privacy. Has there been a better example of low character in public life? Richard Nixon? Perhaps, but at least Nixon was honorable to his family ...

Are Republicans doing something extra-constitutional by impeaching this popular president? They are not. This is not a direct democracy. We do not even necessarily elect the man who wins the most popular votes in the race for president (the electoral college could yield a winner who lost the popular vote). The Constitution is chock-full of roadblocks in the path of popular passions and clearly envisions that representatives will sometimes vote their consciences instead of their constituents' wishes.

That much having been said, no elected representative can defy his constituents' views with ease or pleasure, particularly not on something as momentous as impeachment. And we have just lived through an era, call it Clintonian, when dull obedience to every whim detected by pollsters has passed for leadership. Clinton himself, in what must be the emblematic moment of this presidency, commissioned a poll in January asking whether he ought to tell the truth about Monica Lewinsky.

Prepare to hear from Democrats in the coming days that failure to follow the opinion polls is a betrayal of democracy. Then recall that Democrats have a fitful adherence to majority rule themselves. On matters ranging from ending Jim Crow to racial preferences to gay marriage, Democrats have made end runs around the will of the majority through the courts. Sometimes, their anti-majoritarianism has been right.

Republicans are putting their careers at risk by taking a principled stand on behalf of minimal decency in public life. If the public truly disapproves -- which is doubtful since voters tend to reward principled leadership -- they will lose their seats. Democrats, who have not risked anything more than a court reversal in their pursuit of political ends, are in no position to cavil.


12/14/98: Republicans find courage
12/09/98: Nappy Hair and other racial slurs
12/07/98: Stranger in a strange land
12/02/98: Dangerous ground
11/30/98: Involuntary fatherhood?
11/24/98: Lies, damned lies, and sex lies
11/18/98: Another victory for cowardice
11/16/98: Separatism plus welfarism equals a dead end
11/10/98: Did conservatism lose campaign '98?
11/06/98: Democrat venality, Republican timidity
11/04/98: Are girls being shortchanged?
11/02/98: Believe the children?
10/28/98: What 'Measure 58' would do
10/26/98: The officers are bailing out
10/20/98: Using Matthew Shepard's murder
10/19/98: The school voucher that saved a family
10/14/98: Are powerful women different?
10/09/98: Can just sex be impeachable?
10/07/98: Repeal Miranda
10/02/98: Understanding the polls
10/01/98: What school texts teach about marriage
9/28/98: Fear of choice
9/23/98: A fork in the road: Bubba's fate and ours
9/18/98: Christianity and the Holocaust
9/16/98: The national dirty joke
9/11/98: Are we in crisis?
9/09/98: Does Burton's sin let Clinton off the hook?
9/07/98: Liar's Poker
9/01/98: One, two, three
8/28/98: Fat and folly
8/25/98: When homework is a dirty word
8/21/98: The unravelling
8/18/98: The wages of dishonesty
8/17/98: Sex, honor and the presidency
8/12/98: Pro-choice extremist
8/10/98: Switch illuminates biology's role
8/05/98: The presumption of innocence and the American way
8/03/98: An American hero
7/29/98: Lock up those who need psychiatric care
7/24/98: Making the military more like us
7/22/98: The 'Net sex hoax... and us
7/20/98: Disappointed by Cosbys
7/15/98: Feelings, not morality, rule
7/10/98: Guns as the solution?
7/8/98: Teacher preacher
7/6/98: The China behind the headlines
7/1/98: What is the First Amendment for?
6/26/98: The Republican city
6/24/98: Poison pen
6/22/98: Clinton: inventing his own reality?
6/16/98: Senator mom?
6/12/98: Wisconsin: a trail blazer?
6/9/98: These girls say no to sex, yes to excellence
6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
6/2/98: English? Si; Republican? No!
5/29/98: The truth about women and work
5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
5/19/98: China's friend in the White House
5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
5/12/98: The war process?
5/8/98: Where's daddy?
5/5/98: The joys of boys
5/1/98: Republicans move on education reform
4/28/98: Reagan was right
4/24/98: The key to Pol Pot
4/21/98: The patriot's channel
4/19/98: Child-care day can't replace mom
4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.