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Jewish World Review /Jan. 14, 1999 /25 Teves, 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) SENATORS MAY NOT HAVE FIGURED IT OUT, but they are the real subject of the looming impeachment trial.

The president has reduced himself to the status of curiosity. He is the Candy Man, and there is nothing he can do about it.

Congress, in handling his case, will bring judgment on itself -- which is why members of both parties have come down with extreme cases of the jitters.

Democrats find themselves in the unlovely position of defending a man many of them loathe. They cannot quite figure out how to accomplish the feat.

They have argued for, against, for, and now against having witnesses testify about L'Affaire Lewinsky and the associated allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice.

They say he deserves time in the poky for his misdeeds but shouldn't be removed from office. Some say he should stay because the Constitution requires only judges to demonstrate "good behavior."

But these debaters ignore the fact that 27 sitting senators rejected the argument just 13 years ago, when Judge Harry Claiborne asserted that Congress must establish separate impeachment standards for jurisprudes and presidents.

Republicans have an even tougher challenge. They maintain that this inquisition homes in not on the president's sexual peculiarities, but on graver things, such as the Rule of Law.

So far, nobody's buying the argument. Most Americans consider this much ado about a kinky baby boomer's hankering for Lolita. They can't look at the president without wincing at his comical inability to control himself, or the depths to which he will plunge in order to maintain his political viability. But despite their glancing revulsion of the man, they have difficulty envisioning the trial as anything more than an inquest into the pitiful particulars of the president's orgiastic inclinations.

They think not about the sanctity of statutes, but of betrayal: Linda Tripp gives Kenneth Starr some tapes. She meets on the qt with Paula Jones' lawyers as well. The Jones team plays gotcha with Clinton and gets him to fib under oath about Mizz Lewinsky. Seven long months pass and the president lies again to Ken Starr's grand jury.

The public also seems to have bought the presidential view that the English language got Bill Clinton into this mess. The president insists that our mother tongue, if you'll pardon the expression, abounds in words of such subtlety and striation that one can never say anything with perfect clarity. He believes words serve an oracular role. They direct us in the general direction of truth and certitude, but their exact meanings are as changeable and evanescent as the swirling clouds.

So when we encounter utterances, the theory goes, we must dust away the layers of connotation and denotation -- engage in linguistic archaeology -- so we might divine the contextual significance of such slippery terms as the intransitive verb, "to be."

Clinton has a similar view of morality. He dares his accusers to prove that their views on morality are superior to his, as if he and his counselors comprised an American Sanhedrin.

After all, isn't he the compassionate one?

Isn't he the friend of the poor? The meek? The of-color? The forgotten and lovelorn?

Shouldn't his heart trump all other considerations?

The man is an infinite regress of excuses, mitigations and spiritual references, all of which enable him and his defenders constantly to shift the focus of the debate and thereby avoid discussing the facts. The strategy also lets Team Clinton brush aside the conventions normally observed in polite society.

When Michael Jordan decided he no longer could function at peak efficiency, he retired from basketball. When Bob Livingston confronted his own sordid misdeeds, he resigned. But here's the president, disgraced and cornered, refusing to budge.

He epitomizes an era in which politicians complain that they must be bad people in order to get elected (this is the guiding principal of campaign finance reform) -- but that in office, no malfeasance short of murder can dislodge them.

Senators want to cloak themselves in decorum. But if they hope to produce a dignified result, they must hose away the slime and dreck, and clarify the issues for us all.

To that end, they ought to hold all sessions in the open, ask probing questions when they get the chance and conduct their final deliberations -- in which each senator may speak for up to 15 minutes -- in full view of the public.

That's the only way to answer the question that stalks involved in this scandal: Why did they do it?


01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate