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Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 1998 /12 Teves, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell The President versus
the presidency

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) AS AN IMPEACHMENT TRIAL LOOMS in the Senate, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has spoken out for some sort of deal for censure, so as to avoid "de-stabilizing" the presidency as an institution, rather than out of concern for Bill Clinton as the incumbent president. No doubt others have similar concerns.

Some in politics and the media seem to be anxious just to "get all this behind us" instead of going through a trial in the Senate. But nothing that anyone can do now will get this behind us. Whether the Senate censures, convicts or acquits, a landmark precedent will be set and this country will have to live with the consequences for many years to come.

In the long run, we may not even be the same country any more if someone wielding the enormous powers of the presidency can violate laws with impunity, even when caught red-handed. It is no longer simply a question of what Bill Clinton did. It is a far more momentous question of what future presidents can do if Clinton escapes unscathed. That is what is in front of us and we cannot get it behind us with a deal that simply takes the case out of the headlines and off the television tube.

What about de-stabilizing the presidency as an institution? Is that a consequence to be feared as well?

Some have talked about "overturning an election" with a "coup d'etat." Others have claimed that impeachment and removal from office would change our whole form of government to a parliamentary system in which the chief executive serves at the pleasure of the legislators.

Ironically, some of those who are talking most loudly about the dangers of a coup d'etat overturning an election were themselves attempting to do just that a quarter of a century ago during the Watergate impeachment crisis. The Democrats' Congressman John Conyers was one of them.

President Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned under a cloud of scandal long before Nixon himself did. With the vice presidency vacant, impeachment of Nixon and his removal from office would have left the Speaker of the House of Representatives -- a Democrat -- to become the new president. That would have indeed overturned the previous election and allowed the Democrats to take control of the White House, even though the voters had elected a Republican.

Some Congressional Democrats, including John Conyers, opposed confirming Gerald Ford as the new vice president. This is the same John Conyers who is today loudly warning us about a coup d'etat overturning an election, even though Bill Clinton's removal or resignation would leave the White House still in the hands of the Democrats.

Turning from the sheer hypocrisy of people like Conyers to the concerns of those like Senator Moynihan, who does not want the presidency itself reduced, we have a more serious issue.

In a parliamentary system, such as that in Great Britain, a prime minister can be removed whenever he loses the confidence of parliament, usually over some serious differences of opinion over policy issues. But none of the impeachment charges against President Clinton are about policy issues. They are about flagrant and repeated violations of law by the top law enforcement official of the country.

No action taken regarding a president impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice will provide any precedent for getting rid of another president for policy differences. All Americans understand that presidents do not have to agree with Congress on policies. Neither our laws nor two centuries of legal precedents would permit removing a president for policy differences.

As for other damage done to the presidency as an on-going institution, Bill Clinton has already lowered the respect and esteem of that office. His remaining in the White House is more likely to do lasting damage to that high office than his leaving would.

Already we have American foreign policy and military actions falling under a cloud of suspicion as being motivated by attempts to distract the country from Clinton's personal scandals. Everything that Clinton does from here on out will be open to similar questions, both here and around the world.

No matter what happens to Bill Clinton, we will not be without a president for even a day. The only question is what kind of president and what kind of confidence he can command.

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.