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Jewish World Review / Dec. 17, 1998 /28 Kislev, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Another moment of truth approaches

AT THE END, the question will come down to this for our House of Representatives, the people's house: Perjury.

In its wake other crimes are alleged, like obstruction of justice, but the moment of truth in what has become a whole succession of them will hinge on how seriously congressmen take sworn oaths, including their own to uphold the Constitution.

Behind all the bickering and jousting, beyond all the brittle sound and fury, looming above the clash of arguments made at a decibel level in inverse ratio to their reason ... there is yet something surprising, something we had almost forgotten, something magnificent. Brush aside all the fustian and calculation, the rage and polls, and if you listen closely, you can hear the old checks and balances moving like the planets. Pay heed, and you can detect the strains of a constitutional music.

Yes, the music is still there, from the sweeping Preamble ("We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice ...'') to the language that makes even its chief officer accountable to law for "high Crimes and Misdemeanors.'' Even now, at a time when some would reduce the simplest words of the English tongue to absurdities, the language of 1787 yet endures, and guides.

Two centuries after the Constitution was first framed, whatever the outcome of this transient episode in our history, here the law still rules. The Constitution yet lives. Despite all of today's political static, a new generation of representative leaders may still be moved and restrained and elevated by the old music. Its phrases and cadences still resonate in our leaders and, we can hope, in ourselves.

Think of the wide variety of types just on this one committee of the House. Consider the fascinating cultural, geographic and moral clash in the presentations of just the majority and minority counsels before this committee, both representative Americans, and able and admirable ones. Then multiply those differences across a continent with all its cultural divides, and yet the fabric of the law still holds, and holds us together.

Differ though we may, we all cite the same Constitution. They say sophisticated people in other countries cannot understand why Americans take their laws and Constitution so seriously, which may explain why their own seem to change with such frequency and violence.

Here the law still rules because we revere it, because we take its antique phrases seriously. And because no one is above it -- or supposed to be above it. We shall see, and we shall learn.

Whatever the people's house decides next week, already some members of its Judiciary Committee have engraved their places in history and in our memories. The ravers and ranters on both sides will fade away soon enough, but let the voices of reason, for and against impeachment, remain ... and remind us of what a decent constitutional order is.

Many expected Henry Hyde to preside over this clash of egos and partisan instincts with remarkable fairness, even charity, but to actually watch him do it, day after day, raucous moment after raucous moment, has been a refreshment and elevation. Every time his nerves fray, the chairman is rescued by his own sense of proportion, and humor.

The congressman from Bill Clinton's old congressional district in Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, has been a source of light throughout these proceedings ---- and a credit to the real spirit of that honest, gritty, fair-minded state.

California's Howard Berman has opposed impeachment in the most thoughtful way, struggling to find some way to reconcile this president's behavior with the oaths Bill Clinton took and the laws he swore to faithfully execute. It is not the congressman's fault that his task has been so formidable.

In their own different ways and accents and manner, Lindsey Graham and Mary Bono have brought an honest, simple sincerity to this discussion that outshone all the legalistic maneuvers.

Again and again, congressmen one had scarcely noticed before have risen to the occasion as others have fallen to it. The joyous and still comforting presence of Barbara Jordan, whose faith in the Constitution was whole and complete, could still be felt when flashes of revealing light ran through these, despite it all, elevating proceedings.

When the adoption of this old and ever young Constitution hung in the balance, the first president of these still united states urged his countrymen to raise a standard to which the wise and honest could repair. Each vote, each moment of truth in this national test, will reveal whether that banner yet waves.


12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
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
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