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Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 1998 /6 Kislev, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell The impeachment legacy

THE 12 HOURS OF QUESTIONING of independent counsel Kenneth Starr by the House Judiciary Committee may not have told us much more than we already knew about the facts in the case for impeachment. But it told us some very painful things about where we are as a country.

The rude and childish behavior of some Democrats on the committee was not just a shameful performance for them. The very fact such behavior could go on for hours, on nationwide television, told us how confident they were that our national standards had degenerated to the point where there would be no public outrage at the sight of Members of Congress acting like little brats.

Starr's moment of truth
Judge Starr's dignity and poise while these childish displays and irrelevant questions continued for 12 hours was a sharp contrast to the political antics which had nothing to do with impeachment -- and everything to do with distracting the public's attention from the serious issues and grave responsibilities that these committee members were avoiding and mocking.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike want to get rid of the impeachment issue and it is now only a question of how to do it, without looking like they are abandoning their constitutional duty for the sake of polls. Since that is in fact what they are doing, it will be a political challenge to make it look like something else. They would like to end the matter gracefully, but they are prepared to do it disgracefully, if that is what it takes to get the issue over with.

The ultimate disgrace would be for Congress itself to join in the deception and corruption that began in the White House by voting for some meaningless "punishment" like censure. If there are not enough votes to get impeachment, it is no dishonor to lose. But there is indelible dishonor in the pages of history for those who became accomplices in the shameless deception that has accompanied this whole sordid episode.

Despite cries from politicians and the media to "get this behind us," sweeping things under the rug does not get anything behind us. On the contrary, it buys big trouble down the road by demonstrating how a president can escape punishment for blatantly criminal actions. The dangers that this creates will be with us long after Bill Clinton is gone.

We need not speculate about those dangers. We need only look around us in the world to see what happens to ordinary people in countries where those who hold power are, for all practical purposes, above the law. History provides still more examples -- especially the chilling history of twentieth-century despots.

We have been spared most of these traumas by the very rule of law that we have come to take so much for granted, and value so lightly, that we are willing to brush it aside, so that we can "get back to the real issues."

While "everybody" does not do what Bill Clinton did -- he and Hillary are, after all, the first president and "first lady" to be in the kinds of legal troubles that they have been in -- such behavior has long been far more common in other countries than in the United States of America. There is a reason: the centuries-old Anglo-American legal tradition that no ruler is above the law.

This has been more than a phrase. A British king had his head chopped off when he abused his authority and another fled to France to avoid a similar fate. But today we don't even have the stomach for impeachment.

This is not just because we have been confused by the non-stop political spinning that has been going on for months. What is even more scary than our gullibility is our sense of dependence on our Big Daddy in Washington, whom we credit with economic prosperity that he has done little to create, and to whom we are looking for both rhetorical solace and largess from the public treasury.

Others, for ideological reasons, take the position that he may be a so-and-so, but he is our so-and-so. Clinton is their last best hope for keeping liberalism alive, under false colors, after it has been rejected under its true colors.

After testifying for 12 hours, Judge Starr made a smiling but pointed reference to a song about what you can take this job and do with it. In future, getting other people with high reputations to take on the job of upholding the rule of law against those in power will be a lot harder after the non-stop smears that Starr has endured. That too is a painful legacy that will be with us long after all the actors in the current drama are gone.

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.