By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Now, if I were sure this last point was right, that lifting the Clinton cloud would halt the Republicans in their tracks, I might just join the resignation chorus. After all, the issue for me isn't the specific sins that Clinton has acknowledged or the crimes that have been alleged. Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, one-sided and exploitative though it surely was, and the lies he may have told to cover it up while giving a deposition in a politically initiated civil suit, just don't measure up to the Constitution's standard for high crimes and misdemeanors. But then there's the high crime of subverting the Democrats' agenda, tepidly decent though it may be, and willy-nilly promoting Trent Lott's. That doesn't constitute an impeachable offense either, but if Clinton's resignation can avert it, then Clinton's resignation certainly becomes - well, thinkable.
But no more than that. A Clinton resignation would also send a message to future presidents that we might come to wish had never been sent. Presidents, after all, can and have become isolated, ineffectual, unpopular and self-subverting for all manner of bad and good reasons: Ulysses Grant because he was surrounded by crooks, Harry Truman because he was surrounded by Republicans (they controlled Congress throughout much of his presidency) and, especially after he sacked Douglas MacArthur, because he had abysmal polls. If Bill Clinton steps down because he can no longer deal with Congress, because he's lost the confidence of political and media elites, he'd set a terrible precedent for his successors. An elite consensus is a mighty thing in America, but the last group to argue that it should outweigh the verdict of the electorate was the Federalist Party of the 1810s - right before it died for lack of support.
Since late August, however, a new Clinton-Must-Go alliance has sprung up, an ad hoc coalition both too embarrassing and too ridiculous for either principal party to acknowledge its existence. One partner in this new alliance is the populist right, the Clinton haters whose loathing of the president is exceeded only by their loathing of the media, which they view as liberal, secular and soft-on-Bill. The other partner is the very same media elite, the Cokies, the Donaldsons and their ilk, who have joined the right-wing critics in their belief that Clinton has overstayed his - and certainly, their - welcome. The right loathes Clinton for cultural-political reasons, some of them moral, most of them not. The mediacrats loathe Clinton for more purely political reasons: He has squandered his power and their trust, and surely he should know better than to govern without their consent.
This is a new and bizarre alignment, and it's hard to say whether it will do more to bring Clinton down or prop him up. The 60 percent of Americans who thus far have stuck with Clinton are likely to stick with him all the more if they discern a Drudge-Limbaugh-Donaldson-Koppel united front arrayed against him. Once the Starr Report makes its way up the Hill and down again, once Americans have been sloshed in the sleaze it will doubtless document, the question remaining is whether that 60 percent will consider Bill Clinton's sexual depredations sufficient grounds for impeachment. I'd be surprised if they did.
For America is neither a theocracy nor a parliamentary state, but a republic with a more or less directly elected executive. In such a state, neither sexual sleaze, with its attendant deceptions, nor the alienation of elite confidence, with its attendant decline in one's effectiveness, ought to loom so large that it overturns the outcome of a presidential election. Clinton's offenses may be rank, but that doesn't make them high crimes and misdemeanors - any more than the betrayals of trust on the part of his newly minted Democratic critics are high crimes and misdemeanors.
Bill Clinton may one day sizzle in hell, and never again hear an encouraging word on This Week With Those Yutzes Who Succeeded David Brinkley. History may decide that he threw it all away, both for himself and, however temporarily, for his party. But if we take our imperfect democracy seriously, neither God nor the glitterati can - or should - bring a president down.