A couple of nights ago, friends dropped by for a drink, and the conversation–inevitably–turned to impeachment. They feel it is appropriate. I don’t. When I reflected on our different positions (these are reasonable folks, not "wing-nuts"), I realized that we were beginning with different assumptions about the role of the president. I….
A couple of nights ago, friends dropped by for a drink, and the conversation–inevitably–turned to impeachment. They feel it is appropriate. I don’t. When I reflected on our different positions (these are reasonable folks, not "wing-nuts"), I realized that we were beginning with different assumptions about the role of the president. I believe the President’s job-description is akin to that of a corporate CEO–run the enterprise for the benefit of the stakeholders. They believe that the President is to be a national role model and a symbol of American moral values.
My friends insist "it isn’t the sex, it’s the fact that he lied about it." The behavior Clinton lied about was legal, although morally shabby and politically embarrassing. It was also nonmaterial to the issue at hand. There is no question that the behavior was wrong, but to be impeachable, in the view of most legal analysts, wrong behavior must involve a misuse of executive authority. To put it another way, those of us who distinguish between the man and the position see a difference between personal and official misbehavior, between sin and crime, and believe that impeachment should be reserved for specific types of criminal acts: those involving misuse of Presidential authority. We agree with the deliberate decision of the Watergate panel not to include Nixon’s tax evasion in the charges against him, for the same reason–such misbehavior is of a different order than using the IRS to "get" ones’ political enemies, and different sanctions should apply. That is not to say the behavior should not be punished; prosecutors could bring appropriate criminal charges after Clinton leaves office.
Had Ken Starr found credible evidence that Clinton sold American technology to China in return for political contributions, such behavior would clearly be impeachable. Most Americans instinctively understand the difference, and are wary of trivializing impeachment, or unleashing what one commentator has called "the politics of personal destruction." If lying about sex is enough to void election results (an election in which voters clearly knew what they were getting), where does that stop?
As a human being, Clinton seems pretty despicable. But I can’t help thinking about the elderly woman who goes into the butcher shop, picks up a chicken, and begins smelling it. She sniffs under each drumstick, then under each wing. Finally, she smells the cavity, and with a look of disgust says to the butcher, "This bird stinks!" To which the butcher replies, "Lady, could you pass that test?"
When we consider the "job description" for the Presidency, we need to think about the lady and the chicken. We need to ask ourselves if we really want to restrict public office in America to those who can pass that test. How many Bob Livingstons are we willing to sacrifice to this peculiar brand of self-righteousness? How much further are we prepared to degrade the national discourse?