Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

The Trial of Bill Clinton

Jerry Stratton, December 22, 1998

When the Monica thing started out, I opposed impeachment for Clinton. A person’s private life should not be subject to civil and criminal penalties. But the more I hear Clinton supporters talk--especially my fellow liberals--the more their hypocrisy and lack of principles brings me round to support impeachment. Clinton is trying very hard to be the death of liberalism in America.

For one, they say that Kenneth Starr is out to get Clinton. And I’ll agree with that. But it’s not because he’s President. It’s not because he’s from Arkansas. It isn’t some “vast right-wing conspiracy”. It’s because Kenneth Starr is a prosecutor who has been given the job of finding someone guilty. When Starr did it in Oregon to a Republican, they applauded his “fair-mindedness”. Now they think he’s out of control. It happens every day in America, and Clinton’s policies support it. It’s called “getting tough on crime”. When you “get tough on crime”, sometimes innocents--or not-so-innocents--will suffer for it. If Clinton wants Kenneth Starr to stop, he should support laws that reign in all prosecutors, not just the one who happens to be investigating him.

Clinton supporters also claim that Kenneth Starr didn’t set out to investigate perjury charges against Clinton. This is also true. But it also wouldn’t help anyone else. When a prosecutor can’t get at a “crime boss” on the murder or drug-dealing charges they want, we--and Clinton--applaud when the prosecutor gets him on tax evasion. I’d like to see laws making it illegal to use any evidence which is not named on warrants--but I don’t see that happening. I’d like to see prosecutors forbidden from trumping up charges against defendents. But I don’t see that happening either. Until then, the President deserves as fair a treatment as anyone else under investigation.

I overheard someone today saying about the Republicans that “they’re just wasting our time”. That of course is bullshit. They’re not wasting anyone’s time except their own. No one’s forcing us to sit in front of CNN. When I was eight, Watergate preempted Bugs Bunny. Sure, I was angry. But I found something else to do, and it was probably better for an eight-year-old than cartoons. I’m now an adult. Pre-empting Bugs doesn’t waste my time any more. If anything, as long as Congress dwells on this, they haven’t got the time to make bad laws that really do waste our time. As originally planned, our system of government was supposed to have a lot more of this sort of squabbling, for just that purpose. The House, Senate, Vice President, President, and Judiciary were all supposed to be at least occasionally and preferably often opposed to each other. If it weren’t for the fact that a lot of Iraqis would end up dead, I’d like to see the trial last a full two years.

“It’s not an impeachable crime... they should use censure... it’s just sex.” Yeah, right. Not impeachable? It’s downright illegal in quite a few states, and not just the perjury. Adultery and oral sex are still illegal in a number of places. People have gone to jail for sodomy and this has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Here in California, perjury, on its own is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years.

Of course it’s impeachable. That’s why it’s called “high crimes and misdemeanors” and not just “proven felonies”. Our system of government was meant to keep each part at odds with the other part. The wild card was the President--an entire branch vested in a single human being. He was originally given very strict powers: lead the country in battle; make treaties--subject to approval by the Senate; and veto laws. (The founders would be horrified at the extent to which Executive Orders have come to pass as laws.) He didn’t even get to influence the tie-breaking Senate vote: originally, Presidents and Vice Presidents were elected separately. There was no guarantee that a vice president would be on the same side as the President, and in fact he normally wouldn’t be. The vice president was the second-highest vote-getter in the elections, and thus likely to be the President’s political opponent.

And to make sure he didn’t start acting like a king, they gave Congress the power to kick him out whenever he got out of line. That’s what “high crime” means. It means conduct unbecoming a political leader. It’s a term that’s been in use for six hundred years.

Having just fought a war to get rid of a king, the framers had “the perfidity of the chief magistrate” clearly in their sights when they included broad grounds for impeachment. They discussed the Constitution’s impeachment power in terms of removing a President who “misbehaves” or “behave[s] amiss,” as two of the delegates put it. Madison wrote that impeachment was meant to remove Presidents for “incapacity, negligence, or perfidity.”--Ann Coulter, from her book “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

Even some things that aren’t crimes are grounds for impeachment. That’s what the phrase meant in 1781, and the people who wrote the laws made it clear that they understood what they were saying. I would agree that mere vices should not be grounds for impeachment, especially when we knew that Clinton was a liar and philanderer when we elected him. But we can’t have one standard for the king and one for the subjects. We aren’t supposed to have kings and subjects. If he wants to remove vices from the list of impeachable offenses, he and the Democrats and the ‘liberal’ Republicans need to remove them from the list of things that the rest of us can go to jail for if some prosecutor or police officer takes a dislike to us.

Now, let’s take a look at the law and see where censure comes in:

The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

That’s it. Unlike the rest of our millions of laws, the Constitution is short and easily understandable. The House brings the charges. The Senate votes on those charges. If they find the President guilty, they have two options: kick him out. Or kick him out and make sure he never comes back. Censure? Make him pay a fine? This isn’t a football game. The Chief Justice isn’t the Baseball Commissioner. “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further...” They have two choices. Removal. Or removal and disqualification. They don’t even have the option of claiming that these aren’t “impeachable offenses”. The allegations have been chosen. It is their duty to find Clinton guilty or not guilty on those allegations, regardless of the consequences. Unless the Senators wish to re-instate the right of jurors to judge the law in addition to the defendant, they can’t claim that the allegations should never have been brought up. And what are they going to do if they ignore the Constitution to censure him instead? Find him not guilty and then make him pay a fine for being not guilty? It makes some sense in Washington, I suppose, and it mostly makes me wonder where Hunter S. Thompson is in all this. As someone who despises both Bill Clinton and Republicans he should be laughing his ass off right now. Clinton’s been impeached and the Republicans are going to take the fall. But I’ve digressed.

Another argument is that Republicans in Congress have done it too. So what? Even if selective enforcement were a crime, which it isn’t, Congressional representatives are one among many. The President is the entire executive branch. That’s why impeachment exists for the President. Everyone does it? That argument goes a long ways. I’ve heard “30%” in these arguments as the percentage of Americans who have had some form of adultery in the past. It’s an interesting number, because it also happens to be the percentage of people who have used marijuana in some form in the past. Just because a lot of people do it doesn’t mean it’s no longer against the law. I agree that it should mean that, and I would fully support a constitutional amendment that automatically invalidated any law which 30% of the US violates. But until then, any law which is violated so often will be subject to selective enforcement, and the excuse that “everyone is doing it” just doesn’t cut it for any of us, so it shouldn’t for the President.

A Democrat on the floor Friday said “We are losing sight of the distinction between sins, which ought to be between a person and his family and his god, and crimes, which are the concern of the state and society as a whole,” (Jerrold Nadler, D-NY). Where was he when the drug laws were created? How does he stand on gambling, prostitution, and other vices? Vices are crimes in this country, including adultery. I’d agree that they shouldn’t be. But do we really want to make vices illegal for citizens and legal for politicians? It is yet another example of wanting to let Clinton get away with something that no one else could afford to get away with. Yes, it should be a vice and not a crime. But if you want to claim that Clinton should get away with it because of that, then you need to repeal the laws that make it a crime so that we all can get away with it.

Seriously, where have the Democrats been on this? While it is true that Clinton generally opposes individual privacy and the fourth through sixth amendments, this is a traditionally liberal Democrat issue. Why are they not proposing any laws to take advantage of what must be a temporary pro-privacy fervor sweeping the nation? Clinton will be forced to sign any pro-privacy bills that come his way. It would be incredibly dangerous for him to call his own problems private and oppose safeguarding everyone else’s privacy. But where are the bills? When a left-wing nut bombs a federal building, right-wing politicians are at the nation’s throat with anti-privacy laws. Now the left-wing has the opportunity to stick the country with a little freedom, and the silence is deafening.

If the Democrats believe that Clinton should get away with it, we should all get away with it. I’ll support any Censure resolution that:

  1. removes all adultery laws from the United States.
  2. removes all laws against lying in court, or
  3. removes all laws requiring answers in a court of law.
  4. removes all sodomy laws in the United States.
  5. sets a 30% or lower threshold for the “everyone does it” defense to invalidate laws.
  6. makes it against the law for prosecutors or police to go after a suspect for one suspicion and arrest or try them for something else entirely.
  7. acknowledges and supports the right of jurors to judge the law rather than the defendant.

Otherwise, I would like to see this tried as if Bill Clinton were any other American unjustly accused of something they actually did. Unless he is willing to allow the same considerations to the rest of us, Clinton deserves a full trial and, if he did as alleged, regardless of whether those allegations are “impeachable”, conviction. The Democrats say this is happening only because he’s president. The world outside the beltway proves them wrong. If they want Clinton to get off, they should change the laws so that everyone gets off. We do not need two sets of laws, one for politicians and one for everybody else. This could be a good face-saving measure for the Republicans. Just throw up their hands and say, if it’s okay for him, we can’t put other people in jail for it. And the Democrats would have nothing to say: they’re already claiming that no one goes to jail on these charges anyway. And make it retroactive. After all, if nobody is in jail on these charges, it can’t hurt, can it?

I overheard someone else say that the vote “was so partisan, it was the most embarassing moment for the U.S. I’ve ever seen in my life.” I find it hard to believe that a vote on bringing a lying president to trial is more embarassing than bombing another country into submission in order to generate high ratings to avoid a trial. I’d have to guess that “Missiles for Monica” is far more embarassing than a constitutional impeachment over perjury.

Part of the problem is that both Clinton and the Republicans have realized that no one really cares. In a year after the trial ends, few will even remember the furor. The Republicans’ problem is that they haven’t fully realized the implications. They still think they have to pretend to be fair. Clinton has it figured out: he can get away with anything as long as he ignores the consequences. The Republicans realize that the people don’t care, but they don’t realize that the people don’t want to be reminded of their apathy. The Republicans try to have a hearing in order to determine whether impeachment is required, and it takes time. We, the people, are forced to face up to who we’ve elected. If they had gone ahead and impeached him in one day, the public would have ignored it just as much as they’ve ignored Clinton’s transgressions. In the Year 2000 elections no one will remember.

In the first presidential election I voted in, I voted Reagan over Dukakis. Not because those were some weird pre-liberal days when I was Young Republican, but because even then I was liberal and proud of it. Up until the time I first heard him speak, I was a gung-ho Dukakis supporter. After hearing him speak, and make such claims as that the solution to the homeless problem was affordable housing so that working families can afford to move out of apartments, I realized that Dukakis in power would kill liberals. He would be able to get away with things that Republicans could only dream of. I worried about that vote ever since, and in 1992 I voted for Bill Clinton. He’s been proving my fears true ever since. I had thought that Dukakis would try to sneak things past his liberal supporters. Clinton, on the other hand, parades them around as rallying points, and Democrats take the bait!

Perhaps the most likely liberal supporter one would expect to drop from the Clinton ranks would have been feminists, especially radical feminists. I would have thought that feminist Democrats would be most uncomfortable with Clinton, but apparently they’re quite able to accept behavior for which they would call for harassment charges in a Republican. Here in San Diego, our own Chris Kehoe, a radical feminist from a long ways back who I almost voted for in the last election simply because she’s Chris Kehoe, held a rally in support of Clinton. Pardon me? If this had been President Gingrich she would be holding rallies in support of impeachment on sexual harassment charges alone. She’d be saying that lying doesn’t matter, no one in the President’s office should take advantage of their position to have sex with interns. And she would be right. I could understand if she were uncomfortable going the same distance against a Democratic president, but actually turning around and rallying for the guy? Does she have any principles left at all?

This is against at least one of the basic pillars upon which radical feminism rests. “The aphrodisiac of power” is what NOW calls it. What it means is that the differences in power between men and women often colors gender relationships in practically invisible ways. See, for example, The Longest War (Carol Tavris/Carole Wade), or The Lenses of Gender (Sandra Lipschitz Bem). These authors might not consider themselves radical feminists because what they’re saying is common sense. But those who use the term both disparagingly and encouragingly will recognize radical feminism when they see it. The sexual relationship alone, by this standard, should be enough to show Clinton unfit for office. Patricia Ireland of NOW, in January of 1998, said:

While we do not know the truth of the allegations made against President Clinton, we want to state clearly our belief that it would be a misuse of power for any public official to have a sexual relationship with an employee or intern.

And she was right. And misuse of power is impeachable. Now that the truth of the allegations are established, where is NOW? Right here:

NOW President Patricia Ireland Challenges Livingston to Rein in Conservatives and Calls upon Women to Lobby Against Impeachment

Not opposition, not even acquiescence or silence, but rallying around him. If this shows anything to Democrats, it is that the feminist movement is so clearly within the Democratic pocket that Democrats no longer need do anything to cater to their votes. What can they do wrong if zippergate is not only not opposed, but supported?

At the University’s Academic Computing department, we hire quite a few low-paid student workers. Our Director, opposing impeachment, when asked what would happen if he had consensual sex with one of our student workers, stated firmly that “nothing would come of it.” Now, he also stated firmly that he believed the pre-vote bombing of Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the trial. But what’s scary is that, for the former at least, he may be right. The lack of outrage from organizations such as NOW on this topic is going to kill sexual harassment awareness in the United States. If the President of the United States can get blowjobs and cigar-sex from an unpaid intern without any reprisal, what kind of hi-lo sex isn’t okay? Where is the sexual harassment in any kind of employer/employee relationship this side of violent rape?

Clinton is said to want to be remembered by History. He said as much to his holiday guests this Christmas. If there’s one thing for which History will remember Clinton, it will be how his actions resulted in the country’s best feminists going against all their principles in favor of politics. He will be the death of radical feminism. I would like to think that History will look disparagingly on this, but unless there is a feminist resurgence, Clinton will probably get his wish of being favorably remembered by History.

  1. <- Lack of Drugs
  2. State Security ->