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Jewish World Review / Oct. 14, 1998 /24 Tishrei, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg A new voice out of Arkansas

HENRY HYDE, CHAIRMAN AND RINGMASTER of the House Judiciary Committee, made his first mistake when he was caught speculating the other day about whether there were enough votes in the Senate to convict the president even if Congress impeached him.

Chairman Hyde will recover, for he presides over his committee the way graceful old men dance -- they may stumble, but their real grace is in the smooth recovery. But what was Henry Hyde doing counting noses in the Senate? That's not his look-out. He'll have enough to do controlling his own committee in the House.

Besides, Henry Hyde must know that just because the House may vote to impeach Bill Clinton, that doesn't mean its members are convinced that the president should be convicted and removed from office -- only that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial in the Senate.

It was the late Barbara Jordan, congresswoman and sage from Texas, who once reminded her colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee that their function was to decide whether to accuse -- to impeach -- a president, not whether to convict him. Only the Senate can convict.

The giants who composed the Constitution, as the congresswoman pointed out, were sufficiently prudent not to entrust the accusers with the judgment. That wise separation of powers between the two houses needs to be kept in mind when people use the word "impeach'' to mean "convict.'' There's a difference, just as there is between the House and Senate.

I miss Barbara Jordan. Once again. Happily, I'm reminded of her dedication to the Constitution when, now and then, the partisan clouds part in the committee room, and one hears a quiet, deliberate voice reasoning through the process to an undeniable conclusion.

Often enough these harried days the speaker at the time is Arkansas' own Asa Hutchinson. The accent may be different, but the delivery is just as slow, as deliberative, as distinctive, and as carefully enunciated as Barbara Jordan's, especially when he speaks of "the e-vi-dence.'' The gentleman from Arkansas manages to convey the same sense of majesty Barbara Jordan did -- the majesty not of any person but of the law.

Follow his reasoning, step by fair and logical step, and there is no question about whether Congress should follow the dictates of duty in this matter, however unpalatable:

Mr. Chairman, let me begin by reflecting back almost 25 years -- to a time in our history when young lawyers rose to positions of power in our nation's capital; lawyers with talent, intellect and pedigrees from the best schools. Lawyers such as Dean, Magruder, Liddy, Colson -- all of whom wielded enormous power but none that valued or respected the rule of law.

Those lawyers were influenced by a president: Richard M. Nixon. During that time I, like all Americans, judged their actions and found them wanting. I observed the national ordeal from afar. I was studying law at the University of Arkansas. As a student, it was drilled into me that lawyers should have the highest ethical standards, that we are officers of the court, that we have a high responsibility to seek the truth in the courtroom and that we should never allow a fraud to be committed upon the court.

One of the brightest and most respected young law professors at the university at that time was William Jefferson Clinton. The rule of law was the mantra and Watergate was the real-life case study.

Now, I know many are saying, "This is not Watergate.'' I agree. The facts are different, but are not the important questions the same? Is the rule of law less significant today than 25 years ago? Is unchecked perjury -- if proven-less of a threat to our judicial system today than when Watergate was the example?

In my judgment these are not insignificant questions that our committee and the American people must answer. I am always asked what do people in Arkansas say? As Arkansans we would just as soon change the subject, but we are first Americans and we know that as a country, if we ask the right questions and if we follow the Constitution, we will come to the right conclusion.

Asa Hutchinson's conclusion, and that of the full House a few days later, was that this inquiry must go forward in the name of the law.

That was the right decision. And if each and every decision along the path set forth in the Constitution is the right one, then the final result, too, will be right. As it was right in 1974, which is why that impeachment is now cited as a precedent to follow by all sides in this debate.

If this Congress proceeds as deliberately a quarter of a century later, and refuses to be either rushed or detoured, these hearings, too, will one day be cited as an example to emulate, rather than beware.

Much now depends on whether the House is sidetracked by its comics and demagogues, its partisan vituperations and the usual evasions of duty billed as ingenious compromises, or whether it simply, fairly, and unflinchingly weighs the law and the e-vi-dence.

Barbara Jordan's diction was as distinctive in its way as Asa Hutchinson's. And he, too, displays an eloquence not only in speech but of the mind. Who knows, a quarter of a century from now, a youthful voice from the hills of Arkansas will resound as enduring and fundamental, as archival, as Barbara Jordan's trumpet blast of reason on now treasured old recordings.


10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
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