I have always dismissed as too cynical the view that the Washington
environment will eventually erode the honor and convictions of many
congressmen. But it may be time to reconsider.
House Republicans unquestionably demonstrated their independence from
any corrupting influences of the Beltway when they persevered against
incredible pressure and delivered Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.
But look at the Senate. We have been treated to Senator Lott's
vacillation all week. And on one of the Sunday talk shows, a leading
Republican senator also made some disturbing remarks. First, he said
that the preferable way for the Senate to proceed with the impeachment
matter is for the House managers and the White House to stipulate to the
facts, which would greatly streamline and expedite a trial. This is
absurd on its face.
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The president's supporters want us to believe that he has admitted to
the charges -- that's what House Democrats were saying before the
impeachment hearings started. But afterwards they schizophrenically
complained that it was unfair because the Republicans called no
witnesses. But as discriminating observers of this saga learned long
ago, Bill Clinton is never going to confess to the underlying facts
concerning perjury and obstruction of justice, much less to their
legal/impeachable consequences if proven. So it is just a little
annoying to hear a purported conservative Senate Republican suggest such
And, according to the Republican senator, if no stipulation can be
reached, the Lieberman proposal may be the best course of action. That
proposal is that a trial be averted in favor of a hypothetical vote to
determine whether a conviction would be warranted even if all the
allegations are assumed as true. No, that is emphatically not the best
approach, and it is not the constitutionally prescribed method.
The Constitution requires a trial upon impeachment by the House. And,
Senate rules in force since before the Andrew Johnson impeachment
require every senator to take an oath of impartiality before the trial
begins. Are Republican senators also now suggesting that the Senate
ignore the Constitution and its own rules by avoiding both the oath and
a trial or that they collectively violate the oath once taken?
Of course there won't be a vote to convict in the abstract. Giving the White
House a pass on the presentation of damning evidence in a trial will allow senators to escape the serious deliberation and public scrutiny the framers so purposefully sought to ensure.
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What are the operative imperatives here? We are constantly bombarded
with the notion that there must be an expeditious resolution of this
matter so that the Senate can return to its legislative business. Are
senators so convinced of their indispensability to the orderly flow of
society that they believe the nation can not survive without their
intrusive, freedom-smothering legislation for a month or so?
Besides, what could be more important business facing this Senate
than the constitutionally mandated impeachment trial of Bill Clinton who
has been indicted by the House for multiple felonious impeachable
offenses? Are we to tell our children and grandchildren that we
jettisoned the unpleasant trial of Bill Clinton to allow the Senate to
get back to work on statutes to further micromanage our daily lives --
that it was more important to pass tobacco legislation than it was to
establish an irreducible precedent that felonious conduct in office by
this nation's chief executive officer will not be tolerated in this
Senate Republicans know there will be no unequivocal stipulation to
criminal offenses by Bill Clinton. So if their next preferred course of
action is the Lieberman proposal, then they are necessarily saying they
favor resolving this matter without a trial, because in the absence of
real evidence a hypothetical acquittal is inevitable. Therefore, there
is no other reasonable conclusion than that they are affirmatively
trying to abrogate their constitutional duty.
Some have speculated that this curious behavior by Senate Republicans is nothing more than the floating of trial balloons. If that is the case it is all the more reprehensible. Floating trial balloons, making irresponsible remarks on talk shows and seeking advice from Dick Morris are the basest form of political behavior. As Churchill observed, "The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground."
We have come to expect from Bill Clinton and his ilk, government by
polls. But if Senate Republicans are going to follow suit and likewise
abandon constitutional principles and the rule of law, there are less
compelling reasons to dissuade freedom lovers from initiating either a
major overhaul of the Republican Party (leadership) or a mass exodus