Saturday, May 28, 2011
1998: The Starr Report
The Starr Report proposes eleven possible impeachment counts against the President (in contrast, Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski simply forwarded his evidence to Congress without comment). Most of them are tenuous at best. The perjury counts would be laughed out of court if the defendant were anyone other than the President. Clinton's oily lawyers are correct when they state that lying is not the same as perjury; Clinton is an oily lawyer himself, and while he's clearly lying, he seems to have largely avoided the perjury trap. And count eleven is even more ridiculous, charging that Clinton's "frivolous" litigation of executive privilege claims constitutes an abuse of power.
But I have bad news for Clinton partisans. Counts six and seven, on obstruction of justice, look to me like they have some teeth to them. Miss Lewinsky's account of this is far more credible than Mr. Clinton's, and if she is to believed, the two of them conspired to file a false affidavit and to withhold evidence which was under subpoena. I don't think the head of the Executive Branch should be allowed to get away with this kind of conduct. It may well warrant an impeachment inquiry - but at the same time, I don't think it warrants removal from office.
As Gerald Ford once famously remarked, an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House decides it to be at any given time. And if impeachment is an inherently political process, so too are the investigations of the President. There would have been no "justice" for him to obstruct without a well-funded network of right-wing wackos collaborating on endlessly digging up dirt on him. That's not to say that the Clinton Administration hasn't been full of odious ethical lapses - but those mostly concern policy.
For the attack dogs of the right who complain that this is the most corrupt administration in history, let's remember that over 400 members of the Reagan Administration were indicted or investigated. And while the first impeachment count against Richard Nixon charged him with lying to the American people, he was lying about attempts to subvert the Constitution - not about with whom he was making whoopee.
So let's put this in perspective. George Bush had a longtime mistress in the State Department. Ronald Reagan carried on for years, both as Governor and President, with a fetching ex-Nazi from Austria. Lyndon Johnson used to screw women on his desk in the Oval Office, never mind a side room (Harding preferred White House closets). After LBJ was caught once by Lady Bird, he had an alarm system installed so he'd know whenever she left the living quarters. Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had their longtime extramarital partners, as did Ike. And never mind JFK. Hell, even Nixon was rumored to have made some sort of whoopee with a China lobbyist.
Does anybody doubt they would have lied to us about these affairs? Nixon would lie about things he didn't even need to, just to keep in practice. Ike lied to us about the U2 flight; JFK, about the Bay of Pigs; LBJ, about the Gulf of Tonkin. Reagan and Bush lied about their illegal wars, which left thousands of blood stains, not semen stains. Gerald Ford was a part of the biggest lie in our history, the Warren Commission Report. And Jimmy Carter lied when he said he'd never lie to us.
By now, the Republicans have done the seemingly impossible: make me want to hold my nose and support Bill Clinton. In fact, I believe the only reason his poll numbers stay high is that people know the GOP doesn't have a leg to stand on, whether in terms of squirrely campaign financing or extramarital affairs. Believe me, I've had a bellyfull of Bill; I'll be glad to see the backside of him, as inelegant as that sounds. But I don't want to see him tossed out of office on such blatantly partisan charges. Once again, a plague on both their stinking houses.
And while the media give us saturation coverage of Monica's dress (so to speak), here's what the Lizard Party has been doing: Killed the minimum wage hike. Killed campaign finance reform again, on a filibuster with 52 Senators in favor, but 60 needed to overrule Trent Lott. Made it more difficult for ordinary folks (but not big corporations) to declare bankruptcy. Paved the way for the high-tech industry to import cheap workers instead of hiring Americans. Watered down the Patients' Bill of Rights. Loaded up Interior appropriations with anti-environmental riders. And that's just for starters (but hey, we killed fast track again!)
So while it's clear that Al Gore wouldn't be much worse than Bill, he wouldn't be much better, either, and he'd leave Newt as next in line. I do expect further shoes to drop on the Clinton scandals (this is, after all, a slow-motion coup attempt), but they'll have to come up with something more substantial than what we've seen so far. So I say, reluctantly: two cheers for the Weasel Party.