Sunday, April 24, 2011

1999: The Impeachment of Bill Clinton

As this issue goes to press, the Senate seems to have come to the conclusion that it's time to come to a conclusion. With the lopsided vote against calling live witnesses, the stage is now set for the President's impeachment trial to come to an end on Friday, February 12, as scheduled. Of course, this slow-motion train wreck has reversed itself so many times that it's not really safe to make any predictions until all the Congresscritters have voted and left for their vacations. But, God willing, it'll all be over soon.

As I mentioned after the Starr Report came out, the obstruction charge is the only one that has any teeth to it, and even there the President's lawyers have succeeded in establishing reasonable doubt. The perjury charge will be lucky to get a simple majority, let alone two-thirds. Thus the Republicans are hoist on their own petard, lower in the public esteem than at any time since Watergate. And it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of folks.

The spuriousness of their claim that this was all about the rule of law was on display every day of the Senate trial in the person of its presiding officer, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. William Rehnquist lied under oath at his confirmation hearings in 1986, much more obviously than slick William Clinton ever did. For the Lizard Party to press ever onward with its quixotic vendetta, all the while intoning pieties about equal justice under the law, with Rehnquist in charge of the charade, is akin to the LAPD discovering that Judge Ito had stabbed his wife to death, then giving him a pass because "he's on our side."

Thus the latest "Trial of the Century" shudders to a finish. Just as when satirist Tom Lehrer abandoned his calling after Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize, noting the ironies seems almost futile. There was Rehnquist, sworn in by Strom Thurmond, 1948 candidate for president on the Segregationist Party ticket. It was Thurmond who streamlined Rehnquist's perjury-tainted confirmation in the first place. The lies in question concerned Rehnquist's own segregationist views back in the 1950s. He claimed that when he wrote a memo for Supreme Court Justice Jackson opposing the reversal of the notorious Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, he was simply reflecting the Justice's views.

Not only was this a baldfaced lie, but a slander on Jackson's memory. That jurist arose from a hospital bed where he lay recovering from heart surgery, just so he could cast a vote overturning Plessy. The memo clearly reflects the views of old Bill Rehnquist, who, as longtime Arizonans may remember, made it his business to intimidate black voters at Phoenix polling places back in the 60s.

And really, we have Rehnquist to thank for this whole ordeal in the first place. It was he who appointed the three-judge panel that fired Whitewater Independent Counsel Robert Fisk and replaced him with that 20th century Inspector Javert, Kenneth Starr. And it was Rehnquist who authored the unanimous decision in Jones vs. Clinton, based on the reasoning that allowing citizens to sue a sitting president couldn't possibly distract him from his duties.

And then, of course, we were given the whole cast of characters, notably the amazing Linda Tripp, who, it turns out, has been a covert intelligence operative for more than 20 years. It was she who passed information between the Jones lawyers and Starr's office. So, too did a group of attorneys belonging to the Federalist Society, a reactionary Beltway clique headed by, among others, William Rehnquist.

As much as I disdain President Clinton, as much as I would love to see him get his comeuppance, he has been fortunate in his choice of enemies. It's much better to see this motley collection of GOP hacks get their comeuppance.

Take Georgia Representative Bob Barr, who was for impeachment before impeachment was cool. Now it turns out he may have lied under oath himself about his extramarital affairs. Oops, how embarrassing. Or the head prosecutor Henry Hyde - not only an admitted philanderer himself, but an S&L crook who caused much more ruin than Bill & Hillary were ever accused of at Whitewater. How much drearier this whole ordeal would have been without the stream of revelations from our next Attorney General, Larry Flynt.

I know that our nation's editorial cartoonists are gonna miss the whole big show, but I'm looking forward to going back to opposing both Clinton and the Republicans on policy grounds. Remember policy? There was a time in this country when we had actual politics.

The problem is, when they finally get back to passing laws again, we'll probably be wishing they'd stayed stuck in the briar patch a little longer.

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