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Jewish World Review Jan. 4, 1999/15 Teves, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Clinton’s janitorial
crew of two

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) IF ANYBODY CAN GET THE PRESIDENT OFF with mere disgrace, surely it will be those two quite different Democratic pillars of the Senate of the United States, Robert Byrd and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

One could not envision two more different types than (a) the grand old man of the Senate from West Virginia, a veritable well of pomp and circumstance, in the most grandiloquent tradition of 19th-century American oratory and heirlooms, and (b) the incisive senator from New York, who not only thinks for himself but does it very well. If it were not such a devalued word, one might be tempted to describe Pat Moynihan as the Senate's only intellectual.

These are the sort of Gray Eminences who are always called on when problems seem insoluble to others. For these are not your ordinary fixers, or run-of-the-mill dealmakers; they are the Wise Old Men others turn to in a real pickle. And now these very different types are hinting that they might be able to come up with some sort of compromise, perhaps censure, rather than have the Senate proceed too deeply or too long into the charges against this president.

This has to be welcome news to the White House, though there's still many a slip 'twixt impeachment and only censure.

After all, last month the word from those in the supposed know was that the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee were eager to avoid a vote for impeachment and would be happy to settle for censure or any other way out of this unpleasantness. Cowed by the result of the midterm elections, Republican moderates were supposed to bolt en masse. Instead, they stampeded in the other direction.

And it's been only a few weeks since the public was assured that the full House would never go for impeachment, which it promptly did.

Now censure is said to be a cinch, considering how far short the GOP is of the two-thirds vote necessary for the Senate to convict a president.

It occurs that Robert Byrd hasn't always been a source of solace to this president and his war room. The embodiment of the Senate's ornate tradition, he told the White House point-blank some time ago not to tamper with this jury.

Some of us wearied long ago of Senator Byrd's windy oratory, but he just might believe every word of the platitudes he's been uttering all these years about the pride, dignity and prerogatives of the U.S. Senate. One could almost feel a shudder pass through the White House at his warning. It will be interesting to see what he does as the Senate's moment of truth nears. Will he now try to shape some kind of plea bargain?

As for the distinguished senator from New York -- one of the few senators who really is distinguished -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan has the mind of the trained sociologist he is. Which may be why, over the years, he has so regularly seen through the conventional wisdom, even at the cost of being dismissed by those who couldn't see as far. He understood back in the '60s what disastrous consequences the welfare trap would have for what once was one of this country's more enduring institutions, the black family. Now he's seen not only deviancy defined down -- a phrase he used to sum up the contemporary culture -- but the American presidency.

Pat Moynihan thinks much about the long-range effect of political decisions on institutions, and the institution he may be most concerned about right now is the American presidency. He may be so concerned that he will confuse its interests with that of its current occupant. Which would explain why he's leaning toward some outcome -- like censure -- that would allow this president to serve out his term.

Compared to institutional stability, personal honor has struck Pat Moynihan as expendable. Some of us still remember his signal service as American ambassador to the United Nations, where he may have been this country's most eloquent and thoughtful spokesman since Adlai Stevenson. When pressed to run for a Senate seat from New York in 1976, he assured all that, should he leave his post to run for electoral office, he should be accounted a man of no personal honor. Whereupon he did just that.

So it would not surprise to find Senator Moynihan joining the elevated fixers in the Senate who think some verbal formula can be devised that would avoid a trial, or at least a clear outcome like conviction or acquittal. And if he does have a hand in working out this plea bargain, one can be sure it will be elegantly phrased.

But it is a greater challenge to draft an actual resolution of censure that would satisfy the country, and the demands of history, than just to float the idea. At last Senator Moynihan, who has encountered so few intellectual challenges in the Senate worthy of his talents, has one deserving of his ingenuity. Will he be able to craft what John Ehrlichman, in an inspired moment back in the Nixon Years, called a modified limited hangout?

Or will Daniel Patrick Moynihan dare to be a Daniel? In the words of the old hymn: Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known! Or is that sort of religious metaphor irrelevant in an age of normal nihilism? We'll see.

As for the president, by now it's no surprise how Bill Clinton reacts to tests that might shame others. He has no great problem admitting moral turpitude, at least once the evidence has grown overwhelming, so long as the admission doesn't involve any specific legal consequences, like having to give up his office. He long ago chose the politically astute course over the merely honorable.

But it will be instructive to see how senators and honorable men like Robert Byrd and Pat Moynihan respond as this moment of truth bears down on the Senate of the United States.

Courage, it has been said, is grace under pressure. We are about to see just how courageous the Senate of the United States is. For impeachment isn't just a test for presidents, but for senators.


12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
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