It will not be possible much longer to avoid deciding whether Bill Clinton must be removed from the presidency if the various charges against him are true. The Republican leaders in Congress seem content to put off this moment of decision. But the damage to the Republic from a continuation of their faint-heartedness would be profound. They must do their duty.
If I were going to prioritize the charges against the president, I would not put at the top of the list those which have garnered the most attention in recent weeks. A very serious argument can indeed be made that the abuse of power by the president in his sexual relationships requires impeachment and removal from office. However, it is not the most compelling case that can be made.
The most compelling accusation against Bill Clinton is that as president of the United States he sold out the interests and national security of the United States to a potentially hostile foreign power to gain resources for his re-election. The Founders of this country would have understood how serious this charge is. They thought that one of the greatest dangers to the Republic was subversion by the money of foreign powers — in those days it was France and Great Britain.
Some people want the lawyers to decide whether President Clinton should be removed from office. But lawyers have nothing to do with the question of impeachment. We should think like the Founders, who understood that parchment divisions by themselves mean nothing. Impeachment is entirely a political judgment, and was meant to be so. It is in the hands of the legislature precisely because it is not a matter of legal technicality, but of whether the people of the country will insist that the executive be their servant, not their master.
This is a responsibility that the people, and their representatives in Congress, cannot escape. Let’s assume that Kenneth Starr indicts the president, and manages somehow to get a court to declare him guilty. Then the question arises: Who is going to put him in jail?
The problem with the long arm of the law is that, when you are the long arm of the law, which arm puts you in jail? The power in this country is not shared in that way. The executive is the executive and the legislature is the legislature, and the Founders did not mix these two things.
If the United States marshals came to enforce a verdict against the president, he could quite legitimately tell his Secret Service men to shoot them, and they would have to do so.
A determined president can do pretty much whatever he pleases. The Founders did that purposely, because they knew that an energetic, forceful executive is essential to the survival of any state. You cannot predict what emergencies are going to arise. Therefore, you must trust power. Confidence must be placed somewhere so that there is a necessary concentration of force available to meet emergencies.
That concentration of force is in the hands of the executive. As long as he remains the executive, under the Constitution, he can command the forces of law and they are required by their oaths to obey him — even if it seems to them that the executive is abusing his power. If they disobey him, they declare civil war, because that is what is implied when you move against the executive. Abuses of executive power ultimately must be determined and remedied by the sovereign people acting through the legislature — any other remedy is as unconstitutional as the action of the executive itself.
We should stop fooling ourselves into thinking that we will wedge President Clinton out with legal technicalities. It will take political will — lots of it — to remove him. And it will take the Congress.
President Clinton has stated publicly that he will never resign. So this crisis will not end because he resigns. We are either going to let him get away with it, or we are going to call him to account. The only people who can do so are sitting in the Congress, showing a gutlessness that makes me ashamed. Right now, all the betting is that they will not have the will to act, but instead are setting things up to ride his corrupt coattails to re-election in the fall.
This would taint the Republican party with a lasting stain. And how long will decent people continue to support a party that lets the Clinton spinmeisters kill the conscience of America in order to preserve their power? As always, the path to true political success is also the path of principle. The Republican leadership should summon their courage and face down the petty tyranny they have allowed to take root in the White House.