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Jewish World Review / September 18, 1998 / 27 Elul, 5758

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis

SOMEWHERE IN THE WORDFLOOD that has been unleashed on the American people, I keep hearing about the looming constitutional crisis that is upon us.

Allow me to share a secret that you, Gentle and Sensible Reader, already suspect:

There is is no constitutional crisis.

On the contrary, impeachment is a constitutional process. It's right there in the original document, like an emergency exit, and it has been reinforced over the years and centuries with additional precedents and precautions.

Our national demigods who framed that document may have modeled the office of president on an exemplary character like Washington, but they had to know that other and different types might occupy it -- and they made provision. They saw ahead in this as in so many other instances. This republic still lives, this republic still thrives, on their foresight.

No, that's no crisis you hear, but the great wheels and gears of the constitutional machinery slowly, perhaps not always evenly, but sometimes majestically, slipping into place. Just as they were intended to do. And this generation of Americans, like the one that sat in judgment on Andrew Johnson in 1868, and on Richard Nixon in 1974, begins to rise to the occasion.

Did you notice the uniform level of statesmanship displayed by the congressional leaders called on to chart the course of these proceedings? Newt Gingrich, Dick Gephardt, John Conyers, Henry Hyde . . . whatever their party and passions, each sounded like a statesman. (Henry Hyde always did.) The Constitution is again raising all of us to its level.

This may be a crisis for an administration.

It may be a crisis for a president and his crew. It may be a crisis for his defenders and accusers. It may be a crisis for those he has betrayed and for those who think their fortunes still ride with his.

It may be a crisis for those who so want to see a president vindicated and for those who so want to see him punished that they have allowed their passions to blind them.

It may be a hyped-up crisis for talking heads and political hobbyists of all persuasions, but it is (ital) not (unital) a constitutional crisis.

We've been through this before, fellow citizens. And it is the Constitution that has guided us through this before. As it will again.

Not only presidents take an oath to respect the laws. Members of Congress, too, take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And now, once again, they must and they will. I already begin to think of some of those familiar faces not just as partisan mouthpieces spouting their predictable lines but as fellow citizens, neighbors, jurors.

It is just as Mr. Lincoln said in the midst of a real constitutional crisis: If the occasion is piled high with difficulty, we must rise with the occasion. And we will, so help us God.

Earlier in this century, at another time of general foofaraw called the Progressive Era, Finley Peter Dunne's Irish barkeep had to soothe his more agitated patrons by pointing out that all the commotion they were observing was no revolution: It was just the American people beatin' a carpet. And when the dust and noise has settled, the air will be cleaner. It happens now and then in any well ordered household.

What is most missing in all this commotion and tarnation are two essential American qualities: hope and faith. But they will soon emerge out of all the confusion.

Meanwhile, in Russia, where crisis is chronic and real, there emerges a neo-Soviet state in the vacuum left by the failed opportunity to create a new, stable, free Russia. And a new, stable, free world. Now a grizzled veteran of the KGB, an old apparatchik who has worked to undermine justice, freedom and peace around the world-in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in Asia-is to be pronounced premier and take the unsteady helm of the new-old Russia. And it becomes clearer how dangerous a world we have let envelop us.

It also becomes clearer how many precious good years we have squandered marking time during this leaderless decade of drift, aka the Age of Clinton, and what greatness we are forfeiting.


9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
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