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
Judging by their conduct over the past week, some of the right-wingers seem so mired in their hatred of Clinton that just being Clinton is enough, by their lights, to merit impeachment. On Saturday, Judiciary Committee member Bob Inglis — one of those House Republicans who’d lost his seat in the November election — reacted to Clinton’s three-minute Friday-afternoon apology by telling his colleagues, "It’s horrific to me that the president would even continue that [i.e., committing perjury] as late as 4 yesterday . . . He continues to lie. He continues to deceive the American people!"
In the talk in question, Clinton agreed to accept a congressional censure, admitted misleading the public and the attorneys in the Jones deposition, and quoted the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám. It’s not clear which of these Inglis considered a "lie": maybe the line that says, "The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on." What really bothered Inglis, of course, was that Clinton didn’t confess to perjury — although, since five former federal prosecutors had told the committee that Clinton’s remarks didn’t even meet the criteria for a perjury indictment, it’s not clear why Clinton himself would confess that they did.
But there’s a method to the right’s madness. By stamping him, as Judiciary Committee member Bill McCollum suggested they do, with "a scarlet letter," by impeaching him though they have no serious prospects of convicting him in the Senate, they nonetheless effectively end his presidency. They seek to make it impossible for him to govern, to restrict his every move. "It’s horrific," Inglis told his colleagues, "that the man is leaving now to a trip [to the Mideast] where who knows what he would say, and who can count on what he says?"
The beauty of impeachment, argues Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec, who’s formulated some of the theories that underlie Inglis’ and McCollum’s remarks, is that it can serve as "a check on the president," that it can put Clinton "on probation" — even if it doesn’t result in a conviction, even if it doesn’t go to trial. I spoke with Kmiec last Thursday and got a preview of Inglis’ outburst that followed two days later. "I actually have some concerns about our president and his immediate travel plans to the Middle East," Kmiec told me. "I wonder to what degree his attempt to get a peace settlement [between Israel and the Palestinians] at Wye was driven by the need to look presidential. The agreement looked pretty thin; many questions were left unanswered. So my sense is that we need a remedy that is adequate to convey to the president that he cannot carry over the deception in what was an attempt to manipulate events in a civil action to anything else."
In other words, impeachment would be a good in itself, since it would impede the president’s ability to conduct affairs of state. It would in essence make it impossible for him to get anything done during the last two years of his presidency — just as Whitewater helped cripple Clinton’s universal-health-care initiative in 1994, just as the Lewinsky affair impeded Clinton’s ability to push for a tobacco bill and campaign-finance reform all this year. As I noted two weeks ago, I’m not sure that Clinton’s agenda for the next two years — in particular, the partial privatization of Social Security — is even worthy of support. But whatever uncertainties I may harbor as to the wisdom of Clinton’s policies, I am certain beyond any doubt that the public had the right to choose Clinton to conduct its affairs of state, and that it chose him twice and then reaffirmed that choice just last month.
There is, of course, a counter to this argument — the counter of Edmund Burke. Legislators, said the great late-18th-century British conservative, were elected to exercise their own judgment. Today’s congressional Republicans, argued Paul Gigot, the most affable of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial bomb throwers, in a recent column, should heed Burke and pay no mind to mere "voter ‘instructions.’"
Let’s put aside any notion that Republican representatives may be dismissing "voter instructions" not for the promptings of their conscience, as Burke would have it, but under pressure from their legislative leaders. Let us assume they are all models of Burkean probity. But even if they are, presidential impeachment is the one issue to which Burke’s model of representation cannot possibly pertain. A vote to impeach the president has no analogue in the British parliamentary system, where Burke served. If a member of Parliament votes to bring down the government, and the government falls, general elections ensue, and his constituents can immediately choose whether to ratify his decision by re-electing him or oppose it by defeating him. But if a congressman here votes to topple the executive, and the executive topples, he undoes the last election and doesn’t trigger the next. It is one thing to hew to your own counsel between elections; quite another to substitute your counsel for the election altogether.