lest we forget
By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 19, 2008
Today, comrades, is a bittersweet anniversary. 'Twas ten years ago that the House of Representatives impeached President William Jefferson Clinton of perjury before a grand jury (by a 228-206 vote) and obstruction of justice (by a 221-212 vote).
Readers who followed the Clinton follies will remember the weird optic the President's allies applied to the Starr Report (the conclusions of the investigation conducted by the Office of the Independent Counsel). It was the Clintonites who kept media attention focused on the presidential sex so as to distract public interest from the presidential lies. By talking up his sexual iniquities and downplaying the mendacity he used to evade responsibility for them, Clinton's supporters succeeded in portraying the prosecutors as theocrats out to enforce a sectarian sexual morality. Judge Robert Bork demolished the claim with irreducible succinctness:
Sex is not the gravamen of [the Starr Report] but merely the predicate for the cover-up allegations. If a man was charged with lying about a break-in and inducing others to lie, you might, if you were brainless, say the whole thing was just about a "third-rate burglary" and therefore not grounds for impeachment. To prove the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, a prosecutor would have to prove the burglary, just as Starr, to prove his charges, had to establish the sex.
As it happened, the GOP senators funked their duty, allowing Clinton to be acquitted on both counts and helping turn the charge of perjury into the juridical joke that it is today. The consequences are painfully evident in our public life. It comes as no surprise that the creatrix of the "vast right wing conspiracy" -- that conspiracy which, by a fluke, maliciously guessed the President's misbehavior eight months before he confessed to it -- will soon be the principal communicator of our nation's good faith to the rest of the world.
For a brief shining moment, though, it might have been otherwise.
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