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Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 1998 /28 Kislev, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Politically "contrite"

ONE OF THE MOST DISTURBING aspects of the whole presidential impeachment crisis is the number of people who seem to think that this is about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. What they did in the past and how they will deal with it in the future are things that can be left to them ---- and to the tabloids.

What matters is not their past but this country's future. All the talk about whether Clinton has been genuinely contrite, or contrite enough, is completely beside the point. No one needs to see someone grovel. We certainly do not need to see the President of the United States grovelling to keep his job, especially since he must continue to represent us to other countries and to the world, so long as he is in office.

While the country would undoubtedly have been better off if this whole tawdry episode had never happened -- or perhaps even if none of it had ever come to light -- now that it has come to light, ignoring it will not get rid of the problem.

Repeated perjuries and an orchestrated campaign of obstruction of justice have happened. Nothing can change that. You cannot unring the bell.

All that can be done now is to choose whether perjury and obstruction of justice will be condoned or punished. There is no third way, however much some politicians and journalists might like to have one.

Censure means less than a traffic ticket. You can ignore censure with no consequences. A later Congress can even repeal it. But impeachment is set in stone in the pages of history, whether or not it is followed by conviction in the Senate and removal from office. If you want a censure that sticks, then you want impeachment.

When all is said and done, either the president gets away with perjury and obstruction of justice or he doesn't.

Either way, it won't change the past. But it can make a huge difference to the future of this country. And that is the real issue, not Clinton or Lewinsky or Starr or anybody else.

If Congress says that the President of the United States -- and that means future presidents, even more so than the current president -- can violate the laws of the land without any real consequences, then that decision and that precedent will haunt this country long after Clinton, Lewinsky, Starr and all the others are gone and forgotten.

All of history tells us what people will do when they are above the law -- and it goes a long way beyond cheap sex in the Oval Office. Those who wrote the Constitution of the United States two centuries ago understood that painful history and how important it was to be able to remove anyone from office who crossed the line.

We in the twentieth century have no excuse for forgetting the enormous dangers that go with letting leaders be lawless because they are popular. Many of the horrors of this century resulted from leaders whose popularity allowed them to ignore laws.

Lenin, Hitler and Mao were all popular -- and millions paid with their lives for the power that popularity gave them. This is not to compare Clinton with them. On the contrary, Clinton's past and future deeds are as nothing compared to what others who hold the power of the presidency can do in the future if he gets away with his violations of laws and his corruption of our institutions.

At this point, Clinton doesn't matter and his contrition doesn't matter, whether real or fake. In the context of history -- and what is happening in Congress now is historic, regardless of how it turns out -- Clinton just happens to be the man who confronted us with this challenge to the rule of law.

Our response is what matters. And it matters, not just to us, but to our children and our children's children. Today we live under a system in which no ruler is above the law because of what happened in England three centuries ago. It was not just about King Charles I then and it is not just about Bill Clinton now.

One of the reasons we are a free people today is because they chopped off the king's head then, creating a powerful precedent that has come down through Anglo-American law. More subtle methods might or might not have gotten the point across. But we know that this way worked.

Today are our representatives too squeamish even to vote to send the case to the Senate? If so, what will our descendants say? And will they even have the freedom to say it?

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.