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Jewish World Review / Dec. 10, 1998 /21 Kislev, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus

PLEA BARGAINING NOW HAS REACHED the presidential level in this society. Perhaps it was only a matter of time. In a country that has given the world lite beer, lite food and lite thought, it was only natural that somebody would suggest impeachment without all the heavy lifting -- indictment, trial, verdict ... all that time-consuming stuff.

Instead of following the straight and narrow path laid out in the Constitution, moderates of both parties are now talking up the latest popular little detour: CensurePlus.

This product is said to be a real crowd-pleaser: an easy-to-serve dish that all will find agreeable, economical, time-saving. Just have Congress censure this president for nothing too specific or illegal, and tack on a fine that maybe his defense fund could pay. Hesto presto, impeachment is over, and the country can get back to important issues like school uniforms.

It's a familiar way around the law in American society, at least for the rich and famous: Pay the money and forget it. Of course the idea would appeal to moderates; it's moderate about justice.

Even the White House sounds moderately enthusiastic about this instant cure. And why not? CensurePlus would allow the country to Move On from all these side issues (like the rule of law).

If something like CensurePlus isn't worked out, an unnamed staffer at the White House told the Washington Post, the administration "may be facing four months of trial in the Senate. That's a horrendous thought.''

But some of us don't find the system spelled out in the Constitution at all horrendous. Four months, and it might be concluded ---- as opposed to the seven months the president has wasted by trying to lie his way out of this scandal.

At the end of a trial, the verdict would be clear: guilty or not guilty, rather than some vague, unsatisfying non-verdict like CensurePlus. The packaging is attractive, but inside it's empty. What some of us find horrendous is that, in place of a clearly constitutional resolution, the country would get only plea bargaining raised to the nth degree.

Of course, Congress may pass any resolution it wishes censuring Bill Clinton or anybody else. And a future Congress would have the right to rescind any censure, as it did Andrew Jackson's back in the 1830s. There's nothing unconstitutional about these games.

But when a fine --- a criminal penalty --- is added to a resolution of censure, Congress may have crossed the line from the merely a constitutional to the unconstitutional, certainly in spirit. For doesn't the Constitution prohibit bills of attainder, the old English custom of handing out legislative punishments without benefit of trial? Now there's a horrendous thought. And if Congress can punish a president without a trial, why not other officials? Why not any of us? If that's not unconstitutional, it should be.

If this president believes he is innocent of any crime, as he keeps assuring us, then he ought to fight the charges if it takes all year. And if Congress decides that there is sufficient evidence to impeach and convict him, Congress should do its constitutional duty. It's as simple as that. Some things still are ---- despite all the turgid talk shows that have done more to confuse than clarify these issues for the better part of a year. Justice is worth another four months.

But the White House doesn't seem interested in justice so much as in closure. The administration and its allies in Congress may not realize that a nation cannot have closure without justice. Because some things aren't settled till they're settled right.

Does anyone really think a resolution of censure, even with fine attached, will end the deep unease that this president's sworn words and tricky evasions have left behind? Will some kind of plea bargain clear away the odor, or only add to the nation's sense of justice undone?

But what if the House of Representatives declines to impeach this president? In that case, wouldn't some kind of censure soothe the nation's troubled conscience?

No. Lip service to justice would only add another layer to the rich air of falsity surrounding this president. Without censure or impeachment, at least there would be no pretense that justice had been done. William Jefferson Clinton's moral onus would remain unclouded by weasel words, and History would be left free to render its judgment in due time without novelties like CensurePlus. The constitutional system would be spared a dangerous precedent and intrusion. Better clarity without justice than some vague censure that is neither just nor clear.


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12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
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
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8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
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8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
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7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
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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
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7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
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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