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We haven’t had better news for the future of this nation in a long time
than the fact that two of the articles of impeachment against Bill
Clinton were passed, and that in the coming year we shall see the Senate
faced with the constitutional requirement to try these issues. This is
truly good news for the integrity and future of the country.
That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily news in which we should rejoice
— I feel no sense of rejoicing in this at all. I feel a deep sense of
sorrow, and grieving, and shame. But I think that it is better for a
nation to face the truth, however hard it may be, than to sweep the
truth under the rug and allow the continuing corruption of its
conscience and integrity to destroy the foundations for liberty. And
that is the alternative we face, if we do not move forward with integrity
to deal with the wrongdoing of this president.
I want to discuss with you a piece that appeared this week in the New
York Times that I believe speaks for the corrupt political establishment
in this country. And sadly speaking, it is signed by two former
presidents of the United States. Called “A Time to Heal Our Nation,” it
was written by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. And without any rationale
whatsoever that I can see, they call for an effort to move toward a
censure resolution in the Senate rather than deal with these matters, as
the Constitution provides, by trying the evidence and having the Senate
come to a conclusion.
I was disappointed to see Jimmy Carter’s name affixed to this, because
however much I disagreed with many of his policies, I have thought that
of all the former presidents he is the one who has shown the greatest
integrity out of office. That is why seeing his name at the end led me
to read the piece more carefully, because I was looking to see whether
there was an argument in it that would make sense.
And there wasn’t one.
The title, “A Time to Heal Our Nation,” summarizes their analysis that
this is a time of great division in the country, and their suggestion
that we must therefore reach a conclusion that will bring this division
to an end — by “healing our nation,” as they say. But then the
question we have to ask is, “What is the nation’s wound?” This article
suggests that America is wounded because there are different opinions
about Bill Clinton, and about the impeachment vote that was taken. They
think that it is these divisions that are wounding America. And they
are profoundly and dangerously wrong.
We can see their error if we look at the different times in our history
when Americans have disagreed over truly important questions, and ask
what has gotten us through many of these difficulties and
disagreements. American unity has survived some truly deep
disagreements, such as during the 1930s when the rest of the world was
being tempted by communism and totalitarianism. We had those very
temptations in America — but they were resisted by the American people.
And in the midst of a great depression, and all of the terrible ills
that accompanied it, the American people nonetheless maintained the
basic fabric of the country in spite of their disagreements.
What was it that enabled us to preserve our national unity through all
of these ups and downs, through all of the eras of our disagreement;
throughout the periods of the civil rights movement, of the Vietnam War,
and all of the times in which we have had tremendous differences of
opinion in America? What was it that got us through?
I think it is pretty clear that what got us through was an underlying
sense that, whatever our political disagreements on issues, we all stood
on the common ground of our respect for the Constitution and for the
basic principles of justice from which that Constitution flows. The
confidence that we all share a fundamental commitment to preserve
respect for the God-given rights of individuals has been the source of
our cohesion as a people. Without that confidence, we would not have
been able to move through periods of great disagreement, division, and
conflict, and still come out on the other side of those periods as a
So I ask again, “What is the wound that we have to heal in this
episode”? Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford act as if our current political
disagreements about Bill Clinton are the wound. They show no concern
for the things that have allowed us in the past to move forward in spite
of our very strong differences of opinion, to maintain our sense of
nationhood, and to accept, in the end, outcomes with which we did not
all agree. They show no awareness that the key to all of this is our
allegiance to the Constitution, our respect for the rule of law, and
above all our sense of justice deriving from the great moral principles
on which this nation is based.
The greatest threat we face as a people is not in our temporary and
partisan disagreements. It is not in the fact that some of us think
that Bill Clinton should stay and some of us strongly believe he should
go, or that some of us think he is good and some of us think he is
evil. This is not what really threatens the nation. What threatens the
nation is whatever destroys our allegiance to the Constitution.
Whatever destroys our trust that this is a government of laws and not of
whims, a government in which the rule of law is respected and in which
the God-given rights of human beings will not be trampled, is a mortal
threat to the American republic.
Our great national treasure is our confidence that we do not have a
lawless government in this country, because of the constraints implied
both by the Constitution and by the transcendent principles of justice
and human rights on which that Constitution is based. This confidence
is the source of our strength and unity — and if anything destroys
that confidence, it inflicts a wound on this nation from which it cannot
hope to recover.
I found nothing in the article by Ford and Carter that addresses such wounds
— or that acknowledges such a wound has been deeply inflicted by
the many offenses of Bill Clinton and his cronies. He has inflicted
this wound by his utter disregard for his oath of office, by his
disregard for the dignity of the position that he holds, and also, of
course, by the arguments that he and his supporters have made in recent
weeks tending to destroy our respect for the rule of law, to subvert the
Constitutional process, and to expose us all to an unlimited and lawless
government that disregards the basic principles of God-given human
rights on which this nation was founded.
If Ford and Carter were seriously interested in speaking as statesmen,
they would acknowledge that we cannot address that wound in an op-ed
piece. It is a national wound that can’t be healed except by national
action. The only action that will heal this wound to America is to
hold Bill Clinton fully and publicly accountable under the Constitution
for what he has done.
If the Senate of the United States, biting the bullet and facing with
courage the difficulties of their constitutional responsibility, shows
to the nation the spectacle of principled public action taken out of
reverence for that Constitution — that will help to heal our wound.
Nothing else. Dirty little backroom deals that are made in order
to let this president off the hook will leave a permanent — permanent —
stain upon the integrity of this nation’s Constitution.
I believe that any such deal will undermine the allegiance to that
Constitution of a significant portion of our people. The political
class in this country had best be put on notice that they cannot stand
before us in ways that utterly disregard the constraints of Constitution
and principle that alone allow us to be safe from THEM, and yet think
that we are not going to understand what is going on.
I have said all along that the political class represented by people
like Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter actually have an interest in letting
Bill Clinton get away with what he has done, because it expands their
arena for abuse — all of them. As Bill Clinton gets away with it, all
of them are put in a position where they are no longer to be held
accountable for what they do, and where it will seem as if the
established structure and rules that are laid out in the country are
simply to be observed at their whim and convenience, and are therefore
no constraint upon them once they have gained the positions of power.
That means that when Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter write a piece like
this, they are speaking against the interest of the nation, but for the
interest of the political class they represent. The only wound they
seem to care about is the wound that has without doubt been inflicted
upon that class, which now stands openly revealed to the country in the
depths of its cowardice and corruption.
So, as we watch them maneuvering now, we need to be clear about this:
Anything short of a trial that weighs the evidence on its merits and
reaches a conclusion based on that evidence will represent an effort by
the political class in this country to utterly subvert the
Constitution. That will not heal the country, but instead set the stage
for its destruction.