Less than a mere month ago the nearly unanimous consensus was that Bill Clinton would not be impeached, despite the abundance of evidence against him. But his supercilious responses to Henry Hyde’s 81 questions changed his prospects overnight. His answers awakened the slumbering Republicans and catalyzed them into an irrepressible resolve to consummate his impeachment.
Throughout this ordeal, Mr. Clinton’s attitude and m.o. have remained consistent. Anyone (following his post-impeachment speech) who continues to doubt his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions is simply never going to get it. In many ways his Rose Garden speech was reminiscent of his finger-wagging speech, and of the one he delivered after his grand jury testimony. In its singular smugness, it also smacked of his answers to the 81 questions.
In his public denial of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, he registered his annoyance at this distraction from focusing on the people’s business. He intended, he said, to get back to doing the work of the American people. Saturday he repeated that statement.
In his grand jury postmortem he angrily lashed out at Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, betraying the disingenuousness of his earlier quasi-apology. Saturday, albeit more subtly, he condemned his impeachment, and attributed it to partisanship and “the politics of personal destruction,” again refusing to own up to any of the misbehavior for which he was impeached. So yesterday it was Starr, today it is Congress. But make no mistake: In the eyes of Bill Clinton it is never the fault of Bill Clinton, who is unable to view life through anything other than the prism of his own debased self-interest.
Some may argue that Clinton did utter words of apology Saturday. But what exactly did he say? He said, “I’ve accepted responsibility for what I’ve done wrong in my personal life.” House Republicans, however, made it abundantly clear that they were not impeaching Mr. Clinton for his personal misbehavior. There is nary a word about adultery, oral sex, or phone sex in the Articles of Impeachment. He knows that, and so do the scores of Democratic Congressmen who have incessantly mischaracterized the conduct leading to these proceedings as being just a private matter about sex. Their shameless reduction to moral equivalence of Mr. Livingston’s adultery with Mr. Clinton’s illegal acts demonstrates their concerted duplicity in painting this as a private matter.
While in his speech Clinton paid lip service to the need for healing and civility, he clearly implied that his Republican opponents had improperly impeached him because of their “excessive animosity, excessive partisanship, and uncontrolled anger.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! His statement that “we have to keep working to build that elusive one-America,” was also a thinly masked indictment of Republican-spawned divisiveness. And his closing pledge to continue to work until “the last hour of the last day of my term” was an in-your-face assertion of confidence that he is going to prevail in the Senate trial.
Today most observers wouldn’t bet a quarter that Bill Clinton will be convicted in the Senate. Yet a month ago they wouldn’t have bet a dime that he would be impeached. No one knows what the ultimate outcome will be. But what we have come to know is that as adroit an actor as he is, Bill Clinton possesses a stubborn unwillingness, indeed apparent inability to even credibly fake contrition. Something in his makeup will not allow him to accept ownership for any wrongdoing. Every time he yields to pressure to include words of remorse in his remarks, he invariably punctuates them with contradictory accusations of others for his problems.
Mr. Clinton’s self-destructive insolence may turn out to be his ultimate undoing. The more serious the charges of his misconduct, the more pugnacious and defiant are his denials. Impeachment is the gravest charge ever formally leveled against him. His initial reaction to it finds him true to form. The sobering seriousness of the allegations have predictably elicited from him an extreme and completely polarizing response: He has done nothing wrong — and the real criminals are those Republican reprobates in Congress.
Clinton’s unyielding insistence on blaming others for his felonies, while claiming virtual victimhood, may just transform a Daniel Patrick Moynihan into Barry Goldwater mode for that little sojourn from the Hill to the White House; or it may flush 12 or more Democratic senators out of their hiding places and force them to deal squarely with the evidence, which will leave them honor bound finally to remove this incorrigible president.