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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 1998 / 18 Tishrei, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Alternatives to seriousness

"ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION" has been one of the catch phrases of liberals trying to keep criminals from having to go to jail for their crimes. Suspended sentences, community service, half-way houses and even weekend furloughs for imprisoned murderers have all been part of this constant search for alternatives to making people pay the price for what they have done.

The skyrocketing crime rates that followed these 1960s ideas -- and the declining crime rates in recent years, as more and more criminals have been locked up -- have still not put an end to this kind of thinking. Indeed, so-called moderate Republicans have picked up this discredited liberal idea -- as they have so many others -- and have begun to apply it to Bill Clinton.

First it w as former Senator Bob Dole meeting with the president to try to see if a deal of some sort could be made to avoid impeachment. Then it was former president Gerald Ford suggesting some form of in-person Congressional "rebuke" as an alternative.

With all due respect to these estimable gentlemen, they illustrate too well why the Republicans were political losers for so many years before new leadership came along, beginning with Ronald Reagan. Long years of being minority leaders in the Senate and in the House of Representative may have left too deep a pattern of going along to get along.

It is hard to avoid wondering if Bob Dole ever met a deal he didn't like. We all have to make deals of one sort or another, but nobody has ever rallied the troops with banners saying "Let's Make A Deal." At some point, you have to stand for something or you will fall for anything.

To this day, President Ford seems not to understand what was so deeply wrong about his pardon of Richard Nixon. It offended the most fundamental principle that the Watergate impeachment process was all about --- that no one is above the law.

This is more than a catch phrase. It is what our whole system of government is about. It is what all our freedoms ultimately depend upon. You cannot have holders of power who are above the law and still have free citizens.

To throw the rule of law overboard because we were sick of hearing about Watergate -- and today Monica Lewinsky -- is an irresponsible self-indulgence. Many a diabetic may be sick of taking insulin, but what is the alternative?

Both with Nixon and with Clinton, we were not talking about people who happened to stray over the line. We all stray over the line sometimes. But that is very different from deliberately driving your tractor-trailer on the wrong side of the road and forcing everybody else out of your way.

Corrupting witnesses, concealing evidence, evading subpoenas, retaliating against "enemies," misusing the FBI --- these things are not straying over the line. They are driving the tractor-trailer of the presidency on the wrong side of the road. Nixon and Clinton both did it, but the issue is bigger than either or both of them.

Abuse of power is one of those things that has to be nipped in the bud. If you wait until it becomes entrenched, you may no longer be able to stop it. Only Linda Tripp's tapes and the DNA on Monica Lewinsky's dress prevented Clinton from getting away scot free. Nixon was also done in by tapes. But we cannot rely on happenstances like this to preserve the rule of law.

We certainly cannot preserve the rule of law if even those who deliberately and repeatedly subvert it are saved at the eleventh hour by those preoccupied with making deals to spare us all from paying the price of maintaining a government of laws and not of men.

These deals are not simply alternatives to impeachment. They are alternatives to responsibility -- and their cumulative effects can be worse than the effects of the "alternatives to incarceration" that led to soaring crime rates.

After all, we could always change our minds and later decide that criminals belonged behind bars, as we did. But once you let lawlessness in the highest office in the land get out of control, all those who might try to bring it back under control do so at increasing risks to themselves and with declining likelihood of success.

There is a point of no return. And, once we have reached that point, no deals and no alternatives can bring back what we have foolishly frittered away for the convenience of the moment.

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.