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Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 1998 / 20 Elul, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Moment of truth

PERHAPS HOUSE MINORITY LEADER RICHARD GEPHARDT said it best -- that "next to declaring war," impeaching a president is one of the most serious issues for anyone in Congress to consider. House Speaker Newt Gingrich struck a similar note of solemn duty, as did other members of Congress from both political parties.

Someone pointed out that, when the Watergate hearings were over and Nixon had resigned as president, House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter Rodino wept. A Democrat, he was not weeping about Nixon, for the issue was not Nixon. He was weeping for this country, which had been put through so much and which had just escaped the dangers of letting a president be above the law.

In purely partisan political terms, Rodino had "won." But he obviously didn't see it that way. The issues were too big, too fundamental and the stakes for the country were too high.

The issue today is not Bill Clinton. The issue is the United States of America and the rule of law.

Whether Clinton is or is not contrite, and whether he is or is not forgiven, are pathetically insignificant things, alongside the issue of whether the enormous powers of the presidency can be used to thwart, corrupt and mock the very laws of the land that every president is sworn to uphold. If we reduce all that to personalities and psychobabble, then we are in worse dangers than those which caused Peter Rodino to weep.

One of the sad signs of our times was a question from a reporter to a spokesman from the independent counsel's office, as he delivered the official report and dozens of boxes of evidence: "How do you feel" about this? Can this generation no longer think beyond personal feelings?

No small part of the success of the White House spin-masters in confusing the issues has been due to their understanding that there are many people out there who can only react emotionally. In the latest spin cycle, the special prosecutor's report to Congress is downgraded to just another viewpoint -- just "the special prosecutor's allegations," according to Clinton lawyer David Kendall.

The taped conversations, the subpoenaed documents, the DNA tests, the court records of perjured testimony -- all of these, all 36 boxes of material delivered to Congress -- are suddenly just Kenneth Starr's opinions. Clinton's media allies have already started echoing this line.

Congress will of course have to weigh evidence and testimony from all sides. But that is wholly different from saying that it is all just a matter of opinion. The difference between the truth and a lie is fundamental, even if it is not fashionable. And the search for the truth is not just a search for opinions, whether Starr's opinions or the public's opinions.

If the report presented to Congress focusses just on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that can be a tactical error with potentially dire consequences for the country as a whole, for it will allow the spin-masters to play the old familiar refrain that this is all about "the president's private sex life."

However shocking the Lewinsky escapade may be in itself, that is not what poses a danger to the institutions of this country and to the rule of law. Lewinsky was just an exclamation point at the end of a decades-long history of the Clintons' thumbing their noses at the laws of the land, both in Arkansas and in Washington.

What happened in the Oval Office was less important than what happened afterwards, as the powers of that office were mobilized behind elaborately organized attempts to corrupt the whole legal process, in order to cover up.

Even as the president was talking piously of contrition and forgiveness, the threat was going out that the White House has dirt on others and that this dirt will be used as retaliation. Nor is there any reason to believe that Congressmen voting on impeachment will be exempt. That is why illegally obtained FBI files are a far more important threat to the rule of law in this country than a sexy intern.

An even bigger threat are mushy-minded people who are looking for excuses to avoid hard thinking and hard decisions. Yet the very fact that we have a tradition that no one is above the law is due to 17th-century Britons who beheaded one king and forced another to flee for his life.

The question for today is whether we even have the stomach for considering impeachment -- or the brains to resist spin.

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.