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Jewish World Review/ Dec. 15, 1998/ 26 Kislev, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Whose reality?

THERE IS NO DEBATING some issues: abortion, the death penalty, the Vietnam War. No amount of argument or evidence will persuade those who hold one view to change their minds to the opposite position.

Opponents simply start from different premises, and it is impossible to reconcile the differences. A fetus is either a separate, unique human being deserving of the same protection the Constitution affords every other person, or it is a dependent mass of cells within a woman's body over which she has total control -- and so on. The debaters simply talk past each other, with no hope of moving their opponents.

The impeachment of President Clinton is that kind of issue. Few minds will change as members of the House of Representatives debate articles of impeachment this week, because the two sides aren't talking about the same set of facts.

One side believes that the president of the United States committed perjury and obstructed justice in order to cover up evidence that he solicited sexual favors from subordinates in the workplace. The other side believes that the president simply tried to conceal information about a private, consensual relationship that, no matter how tawdry, ought to be no one's business but his own. It is as if the two sides are describing entirely different circumstances.

How can perceptions of the same events be so different, indeed almost diametrically opposed? It is because these perceptions reflect two nearly opposite sets of moral presumptions. Those who favor impeachment believe that the president broke the law, period. The law itself, they believe, is unambiguous.

The oath administered before a defendant testifies in a civil or criminal proceeding commits the defendant to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," as clear and complete a directive as imaginable. If a defendant explicitly lies or says he doesn't remember something when he does, he has violated the oath. If he encourages others to lie as well, he has compounded his crime.

But those who oppose impeachment adopt a far more malleable view of the law ---- civil, criminal and moral. The law itself is not fixed but relative.

Whether someone has truly broken the law depends not solely on what the law says but, more importantly, what the accused's motives were and what other circumstances might have mitigated the actions of the accused. In this view, Bill Clinton lied under oath, but his lie was justified because it was about sex.

To paraphrase historian Arthur Schlesinger, who testified on behalf of the president: Everyone lies about sex. The moral relativists have gone beyond the admonition "He who is without sin cast the first stone" to insist that since we are all sinners, sin itself no longer exists.

Although there may be some ambivalence about these matters among some people, which is why Democrats have embraced censure as an alternative "punishment" of the president, in fact, a chasm exists between the two sides. Censure, after all, carries no penalty -- a non-punishment for a non-crime.

The polls suggest that most Americans take the moral relativists' view, which should hardly be surprising given the state of American culture today. It is no accident that the United States suffers one of the highest divorce rates, out-of-wedlock birth rates and violent-crime rates in the world. We have long ago given up on moral absolutes.

The vote to impeach President Clinton on Thursday will not change any minds. What it will do is put the authority of one democratic institution on the side of one or the other in the great cultural divide that already exists among the people. More important than what this vote will decide about the fate of Bill Clinton is what influence it will have on the fate of the American people.


12/08/98: Why the House must make sure Bubba gets his due punishment
12/02/98: Remember when libraries were for expanding the mind!?
11/26/98: When Thanksgiving means more than commercialism
11/17/98: To Ken S. --- if you'll only listen
11/10/98: What did you expect?
11/04/98: Shame on those who don't vote!
10/27/98: It's spreading!
10/20/98: It ain't over yet
10/15/98: Mourning motherhood
9/23/98: Sosa and the race card
9/23/98: Believable and truthful are two different things
9/16/98: Time for a new Amendment!
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.