JWR Jeff JacobyBen WattenbergTony Snow
Mona CharenDr. Laura
Linda Chavez

Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellMUGGERWalter Williams
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Click on banner ad to support JWR

Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 1999 /12 Shevat, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell What is at stake?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) DOES HAVING A TAWDRY AFFAIR in the White House "rise to the level of an impeachable offense"? Of course not. Nobody believes that it does. Not Kenneth Starr, not Henry Hyde. Nobody.

That has never been the issue, regardless of how many times the issue has been misstated this way by those who realize that the only way to defend Bill Clinton is to confuse the issue. The event that set off a chain of actions is not a measure of how important those actions are for now or how large the stakes are for the future.

The most famous Supreme Court decision of our time -- "Brown v. Board of Education" -- was not about where one little girl in Topeka would go to school. That was what set off the dispute but, if that was all that was involved, the Supreme Court would undoubtedly have refused to take the case and confined itself to the "real work" that they had to do "for the American people."

The reason the Supreme Court took the case was a principle that applied far beyond the individuals involved. The issue was the role of racial segregation in light of the Constitution's mandate of equal treatment for all.

The most momentous Supreme Court decision in American history began in the early nineteenth century because an obscure individual named William Marbury thought he was entitled to a minor government job in the District of Columbia, even though Secretary of State James Madison thought otherwise. Does that in itself "rise to the level" of a case worthy of the Supreme Court? Of course not.

What made the case of "Marbury versus Madison" historic was the principle involved, that courts have the authority to over-rule actions of the executive branch of government or of Congress, when those actions violate the Constitution. This crucial principle of judicial review, affecting the whole American system of government, rests on this case about a minor dispute over a trivial issue. What made it momentous was the principle involved.

The "So what?" defense of Bill Clinton that has been used repeatedly by his defenders would surely have applied equally to somebody trying to get a job in the D.C. government.

The momentous stakes in the impeachment of Bill Clinton are ultimately not about him or his sexual activities. The momentous issue is whether the president of the United States -- which means future presidents, even more so than Clinton himself -- shall have the dangerous power to violate federal laws against perjury and obstruction of justice.

The reason perjury laws are so crucial, and the punishment of them so severe, is that perjury can cover up all sorts of other crimes and abuses. So can obstruction of justice.

The question is not what those other crimes are. Once presidents are able to defy the judicial system and remain in office, the whole governmental balance of power, on which the rule of law depends, is jeopardized. If any lesson is written in blood across the pages of history, it is that you cannot trust anybody with unbridled power.

If the worst we had to fear in the future was cheap sex in the White House, none of this would be worth arguing about, much less appointing a special prosecutor or impeaching a president. Neither would it have been worthwhile to have appointed a special prosecutor or to have started impeachment proceedings over a burglary at the Watergate Hotel that was nipped in the bud, with nothing taken and nobody hurt.

In Watergate, everyone understood that the real issues were obstruction of justice and whether the president was above the law. If the difference between the Watergate impeachment and the current impeachment is that we the public are no longer capable of understanding the lasting impact of principles and precedents, then that is the most dangerous degeneration of all.

A censure vote would make things even worse. What would Bill Clinton be censured for if he were not guilty, or if what he was guilty of was his own private life? Censure would announce that we find the president guilty but will not take any action beyond words. It would be as if the jury in the O.J. Simpson murder case had taken a second vote, saying that they knew he was guilty but had decided to let him off anyway.

What message would that send to future presidents? That they don't even have to worry about getting caught violating the law, if they are popular? That is truly playing with fire and disregarding the future of this country for the sake of today's polls.

01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
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.