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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 1999 /5 Shevat, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Who is going to
convict Santa Claus?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) BILL CLINTON'S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH offered something to everybody -- farmers, children, Palestinians -- regardless of whether they are naughty or nice. St. Nick himself can't beat that.

It was of course a shameless farce -- spending like a drunken sailor on innumerable new government programs, while "saving" the budget surplus for Social Security. But shamelessness goes with the territory when Bill Clinton is involved.

Bread and circuses have been the magic formula for political popularity for thousands of years, so it can hardly be surprising that Clinton pulled out all the stops while his impeachment trial is going on in the Senate. He offered a war hero, Rosa Parks, Sammy Sosa and assorted others, all served up with flowery rhetoric.

He also urged that we "put a human face on the global economy" and "bring down the barriers to racial prejudice." This last phrase makes no sense, but making sense is not a requirement for popularity.

In terms of actual legislation or policies, this may all be sound and fury signifying nothing. But this whole performance was not about legislation or policies. It was about saving Bill Clinton's job.

A recent cartoon showed Clinton saying: "I only regret that I have but one country to give for my life."

Everything has been about Bill Clinton from day one back in Arkansas -- at least as far as Bill Clinton is concerned. But that does not mean that everything should be about him as far as the rest of us are concerned -- and certainly not as far as his impeachment trial in the Senate is concerned.

The president's accusers and defenders alike have been overly focused on what Bill Clinton did in the past and whether he would now say that he is sorry, seek forgiveness, admit that he has lied, come clean with the American people, etc. But the stakes are infinitely higher than the fate of one man. That is why we will never "get all this behind us," no matter how the Senate votes.

What is going to be in front of us, far into the future, is whatever precedent the Senate sets in this case. Either the dangerous power to commit perjury and obstruction of justice with impunity will be added to the already sweeping powers of the presidency or a line will be drawn in the sand to say to all future presidents: Thus far and no farther.

Things should never have come to this. But it has come to this -- and you cannot unring the bell. The most dangerous precedent of all would be a demonstration of the Senate's inability even to face an up or down vote in the impeachment trial. A vote for conviction that fails to get the necessary two-thirds majority would at least tell this president -- and, more important, future presidents -- that he had a close call.

A vote for censure would be a declaration of political impotence and moral bankruptcy by the Senate. It would advertise to all future presidents that the Constitutional boundaries to their powers are unenforceable, because Senators are more concerned with being on both sides of such tough issues with empty gestures than with their oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

The president's guilt cannot be seriously challenged. Even the highest-priced lawyers in Washington cannot do any more to defend him than try to confuse the issues. Nobody with even a minimal knowledge of the facts can seriously believe that Bill Clinton did not lie under oath, tamper with witnesses and hide subpoenaed evidence.

The importance of this -- whether it "rises to the level of an impeachable offense" -- does not depend on the importance of the tawdry things that Clinton was trying to cover up. Once it becomes a historic precedent that a president can commit such illegalities and remain in office, far more dangerous acts can be covered up, precisely because covering them up prevents the rest of us from knowing how dangerous they are.

In the background of all this is an ugly campaign of character assassination clearly intended to intimidate members of Congress during the impeachment process. The hundreds of confidential FBI files that the White House obtained illegally are potent weapons in mafia-like jury tampering -- all the while piously deploring "the politics of personal destruction."

The State of the Union address was only a small sample of monumental hypocrisy.

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.