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Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 1999 /9 Shevat, 5759

Thomas Sowell


(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) IN THE OLD MOVIE "DOG DAY AFTERNOON," a bank was robbed for the purpose of getting money to finance a sex-change operation. But, even in the movies, nobody tried to claim that this was "all about sex." As far as the law was concerned, it was all about bank robbery. If the bank had been robbed to get money to pay off a mortgage or send a child to college, it would have been just as illegal and the personal motivation just as irrelevant.

If you tamper with witnesses for the sake of money, politics, family, religion or for some other reason, those motivations change nothing. Neither does sex.

Some say: "Everybody lies about sex." Everybody urinates every day but, if you do it in a court of law, you will go to jail.

Bill Clinton is not being charged with lying to Hillary or to the media or even to the country. He is being charged with perjury in a court of law.

That is the issue that has to be faced, not evaded with still more political spin.

These constant verbal games are a tell-tale sign that the president and his supporters have no real defense. The best that his supporters can come up with is the claim that his actions "do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses."

After two generations of dumbed-down education, there may be people who buy that because they cannot see beyond what is happening at the moment and cannot follow the dire implications for the future. They may have no conception of how much of what makes this a free country depends on the rule of law -- and how rare and vulnerable the rule of law is today and has been throughout history.

The damage done by Bill Clinton is not measured by what has happened right now, but by what dangers his acts create for the future. If a president -- any president -- can commit perjury and obstruction of justice with impunity, then we have opened the floodgates that the writers of the Constitution tried to seal shut.

Those two crimes permit innumerable other crimes and abuses to be committed and concealed, making a mockery of the Constitution's checks on a president's powers. That is the larger danger to the American fabric of government than any particular act that Clinton has committed. Political spin may try to confine our attention to particular acts, but it cannot confine their ramifications, which will be with us long after Bill Clinton is gone.

If a soldier steps out of a formation and punches his sergeant in the nose, the punishment meted out to him by the military authorities will undoubtedly be far out of proportion to any immediate damage done to the sergeant's nose. So it should be. For the real damage done is to military discipline, a matter of life and death in combat and a matter of life and death for the whole nation, if its armed forces are rendered less effective.

Would we listen seriously to an argument that "everybody" has punched somebody at one time or other? Would we think that the issue is whether the soldier apologizes or admits that he was wrong? Would we talk piously about "forgiveness"?

The real damage that Bill Clinton did was not to Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky. What he damaged was the American judicial process and especially the principle -- on which the whole American form of government depends -- that no one is above the law.

A soldier who punches his sergeant on the parade ground may have no intention of challenging the whole structure of military discipline. He may merely be giving way to his emotions of the moment. But his action constitutes such a challenge, whether he intends it to be or not.

Bill Clinton may not have started out with any intention to challenge the whole principle of American law but, now that his perjury and obstruction of justice are out in the open for everyone to see -- and history to remember -- his continuing to brazen it out is a challenge of the first magnitude.

How that challenge is met -- or evaded -- will have implications for years to come. Censure would impose no real penalty on Bill Clinton, but would compromise the presidency as an on-going institution.

Congress has no authority under the Constitution to punish any president for anything. Its only authority is to remove him from office. If censure is a punishment, then it violates the separation of powers that is crucial to a free society. If it is a meaningless gesture, then it is a dereliction of duty and an insult to our intelligence.

01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.