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Jewish World Review / September 3, 1998 / 12 Elul, 5758

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg The politics of impeachment

IT'S A GREAT GAME, POLITICS, but some of us are less interested in the convoluted strategies being bruited about among the pundits, pols and political junkies of all persuasions than in a few, more basic things. Like truth and justice. Those guides offer the best way out of this mess -- and the surest way to avoid messes like this one in the future. For what happens now won't effect just now.

As in the cases of Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, this chronic crisis will be cited as an example and guide for the future. Bill Clinton isn't just an embattled president; he's a precedent. We look to Congress to make it a good one -- not a lingering embarrassment in the history books.

Have no doubt, the Clinton Precedent will one day shape our future as it now bedevils our present. Depending on how this little matter is resolved, it will be cited by presidents hoping to escape responsibility, or by others insisting on it in the chief magistrate of the Republic.

A people should be able to go to its political leaders at such a time and find more than a poll-tested reflection of its own still-jelling opinion.

The American people can be remarkably patient with their presidents. To quote a poll from the past: "In response to questions on whether Nixon should resign or should be forced out through impeachment, substantial majorities said throughout 1973 that he should not. Support for Nixon's removal grew as the hearings proceeded in 1974 -- but even then tentatively. In early May 1974, three months before his resignation, 49 percent of respondents told Gallup interviewers that the president's actions were not serious enough 'to warrant his being impeached and removed from the presidency.' '' -- Everett Carl Ladd in the Wall Street Journal last April.

Americans still look to their leaders for, well, leadership. In the meantime, we are not about to be hasty. This president has been elected and re-elected, and the choice the people have twice made should not be overturned lightly.

It was the leader of the minority, the shadow speaker of the House, who spoke with sense and gravity this past week. What's this, statesmanship from Dick Gephardt -- that habitual demagogue?

Yes, strangely enough. The sudden appearance of solemn duty does seem to elevate some men. Among the appropriate things the honorable Mr. Gephardt said about this latest and most blatant and extended Clinton scandal:

"It's important to let the facts come out.''

If more politicians spoke in this serious fashion -- instead of watching the polls and playing games -- we might have a whole Congress of Henry Hydes and Daniel Patrick Moynihans, instead of Barney Franks and Newt Gingriches.

If a Dick Gephardt can speak with relevance and responsibility, why not others? It's always a surprise, isn't it, to realize how simply following principle can solve our problems.

Congress rose to the challenge that Richard Nixon's soiled presidency presented in 1974. Let it do so again in the sordid matter of William Jefferson Clinton. All that's required is to seek the truth -- and justice. Do that and all else, including the politics, will fall into place.


9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate