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Jewish World Review/ September 16, 1998/ 25 Elul, 5758

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Time for a new Amendment!

IMPEACHMENT? RESIGNATION? CENSURE. Forget about it. What America needs to end our current national nightmare is a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring anyone who has ever attended law school from serving as president.

Yes, I know, such a measure seems a bit unfair. Sure, there are some fine people out there who happen to be lawyers. Some of my best friends are lawyers. But the constitutional requirements for president aren't necessarily based on fairness. There are a lot of fine, talented, upstanding citizens who happen to have been born outside the United States, and they're barred from ever becoming president. So hear me out.

Let's be clear how we got into this mess. The president lied. Again, and again, and again. And he told some of those lies after he'd sworn an oath to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" to a federal grand jury. According to the polls, most American think that if the president lied under oath or if he encouraged others to lie under oath, he should either step down or be impeached.

But the Lawyer in Chief has dispensed a legion of his fellow attorneys to try to persuade the American people that lying under oath isn't perjury, and it seems to be working.

The whole White House defense depends on parsing words so that they no longer have any meaning. The president testified "truthfully" even though he lied. The president didn't have a "sexual relationship" with Monica Lewinsky, even though he had her perform oral sex on him 10 times, including 3 times while he spoke on the telephone to members of Congress. How can this be? Simple. Just read the White House rebuttal to the independent counsel's report.

It is "the president's good faith and reasonable interpretation that oral sex was outside the special definition of sexual relations provided to him," his lawyers say. The president himself was more expansive on this matter when he testified to the grand jury: "If the deponent is the person who has oral sex performed on him, then the contact is with -- not with anything on that list, but with the lips of another person. It seems to be self-evident that that's what it is. ... Let me remind you, sir, I read this carefully." This, apparently, is the way they teach you to talk at Yale Law School.

In order for the president to have committed perjury in the sense of lying under oath, his defense team asserts, he would have had to have given false testimony "knowingly and intentionally." Well, did the president intend to give false testimony when he said he couldn't remember whether he was alone with Monica Lewinsky? It depends on how you define alone, I suppose. Betty Currie was in the next office. Secret Service agents were right outside the door. And then there were those three congressmen on the telephone, after all. (Add to the president's other rather exotic sexual peccadilloes: exhibitionism. )

The president's lawyers have an answer for this, too. It's OK, they tell us, for a witness to provide misleading testimony or to withhold information. Only a lawyer could interpret the words "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" to include omissions and obfuscations.

Bill Clinton's legalisms may save him the disgrace of being removed from office through impeachment, especially if the polls continue to reflect the nation's ambivalence toward Bill Clinton the man and Bill Clinton the president. But is legal hair-splitting what we want in the leader of the country? When a president talks to the American people, when he asks Americans to risk their lives to defend this country, when he asks legislators to pass his policy agenda, when he gives foreign leaders his word, half-truths just won't do.

Which is all the more reason to make sure that no future president can ever fall back on his legal training to allow him to lie with impunity. But with 169 lawyers in the House and 55 in the Senate, I'm not holding my breath that Congress will follow my advice.


9/08/98: When silence is truly golden
8/25/98: Bears and blunders
8/25/98: Only consistency about Prez's anti-terrorism policy: its inconsistency
8/18/98: Is our 'broken-compass' beyond fixing?
8/11/98: Reno's risk
8/04/98: When Truth is of the highest odor
7/28/98: No way to protect ourselvesagainst a nut's wrath
7/22/98: These 'choice' advocates are being demonzied ... by the Left.
7/15/98: Will 'neonaticide' become the new buzzword?
7/07/98: Urge to mega-merge, stopped in time
6/30/98: Why take responsibility if
somebody else will pay?
6/23/98: Blinded by the red, or is it the green?
6/17/98: Flotsam in the wake of romance
6/10/98: We have a ways to go in the bilingual war
6/3/98: Tyson's triumph over tragedy
5/28/98: Why Univision's Perenchio is out to hurt his fellow Hispanics
5/20/98: Sometimes Buba actually tells the truth ... as he sees it
5/12/98: Chill-out on the chihuahua and ... Seinfeld
5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
4/21/98: Legislating equality
4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
2/25/98: 50 States Are Enough!
2/18/98: Casey at the Mat
2/11/98: The legal profession's Final Solution
2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
1/14/98: Clones, Courts, and Contradictions
1/7/98: Child custody or child endangerment?
12/31/97: Jerry Seinfeld, All-American
12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.