Issue 223 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
'Clinton lies by being technically accurate. I wish he would stop it. He's not 14 anymore, trying to outsmart the principal'
'Politics' as defined by bourgeois politicians rarely centres on the issues most important to ordinary people. But the congressional three ring circus parading as a political crisis in Washington has crossed the line into the surreal. With nearly half the world sunk into depression-and the rest of the world hurtling towards it--the most powerful government officials in the world's largest imperialist superpower have immersed themselves in a collective panic, hotly debating page after page of a $40 million pornographic manuscript, starring the president of the United States.
At issue is whether the said manuscript-- independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's description of Clinton's sexual exploits with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his bungled attempts to cover them up-- constitutes grounds for Clinton's impeachment. A sombre and stately Newt Gingrich managed to keep a straight face as he advised Congress, 'members engaging in debate must abstain from language that is personally offensive toward the president ... freedom of speech does not mean license to indulge in personal abuse or ridicule,' and he urged the public to 'let due process run its course' and not to rush to judgment.
Throughout the eight month soap opera, played daily in the mass media, the public has consistently expressed complete disinterest in the entire matter. Most people believe, quite simply, that private lives should remain private and public officials should be judged only on the basis of social policy. The release of the Starr report has not changed this quite reasonable public opinion.
Results of opinion polls taken since the report was delivered to Congress on 9 September remain identical to before: roughly two thirds of those polled think that Clinton should not resign from office over an extramarital affair while roughly one third think he should resign or be impeached.
Most people believe that Congress should censure Clinton--a formal reprimand most recently delivered to Newt Gingrich over a corruption scandal--and be done with it. Nevertheless, censure is not a foregone conclusion. As the New York Times wrote on 14 September, 'There are no signs that censure holds any appeal to the Republicans- now. In the short term, an unresolved scandal appears to be an asset for November's elections', in which the Republicans hope to gain an even bigger majority in Congress.
The decision whether to begin impeachment proceedings begins with the House Judiciary Committee, stacked with Republicans. Republican Representative Henry Hyde, a vocal spokesman for a variety of right wing causes, stands at its helm. Asked whether he favours impeachment proceedings, Hyde answered without hesitation, 'I must say I do.' Fellow Judiciary Committee member Bob Barr (who is twice divorced) proposed a bill last year to ban the federal government from recognising same sex marriages. He stated his position on sexual issues clearly: 'The flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self centred morality are licking at the very foundation of our society: the family unit.'
Of course, setting the precedent of dissecting politicians' sex lives is no less dangerous for Republican politicians than it is for Democrats. All politicians in Washington have their own skeletons lurking in their closets. Already, Republicans such as Representative Dan Burton and even right wing militia supporter Representative Helen Chenowith of Idaho have stepped forward to admit their own extramarital affairs. But the scandal, in many ways, has taken on a life of its own-with the mass media fanning the flames. Within days of the Starr report, more than 30 newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the San José Mercury News had called on Clinton to resign.
True, some of Clinton's staunchest Democratic defenders also reign on the Judiciary Committee. But his fair weather friends lined up to denounce him after he admitted the affair with Lewinsky. The vast majority of House Democrats joined Republicans in voting to make the Starr report public on 11 September. Women Democrats such as Barbara Boxer and Carol Moseley Braun, widely viewed as feminists, expressed revulsion at Clinton's behaviour. Even Representative Barney Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, said of Clinton, 'He lies by being technically accurate. I wish he would stop it. He's not 14 anymore, trying to outsmart the principal.'
Now that Clinton has admitted the affair and lying under oath, he has resorted to pathetic calls for forgiveness. He invited leading clergy to a White House ecumenical service the day the Starr report was made public. 'I have sinned, I have repented' he declared, looking to heaven as cameras snapped and reporters took notes. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, his staff of attorneys scrapped its first defence, based on a legalistic definition of perjury. ('Literally true statements cannot be the basis for a perjury prosecution, even if a witness intends to mislead the questioner'.) Instead, Clinton's lawyers responded to public opinion polls, and shifted to arguing that lying about a sexual affair does not constitute the kind of 'high crime' required to impeach a sitting president. This argument may well win out in the end--Clinton's Monica bears little comparison to Nixon's Watergate.
Deciding Clinton's future, nevertheless, may well take months. Whatever the ultimate decision, Clinton is a national laughing stock. Night after night, television comedians gain laughs at his expense. The Daily Show for example, recently ran a spoof called 'Operation Desert Shield me from impeachment,' showing Clinton attacking various Middle East targets to raise his popularity ratings. Even among Clinton's supporters, he has lost all moral authority.
Bill Clinton is being hung by his own
hypocrisy--and the Christian right which he
helped strengthen. He has spent the last six
years stealing the Republican programme-
spouting 'family values' rhetoric, lecturing
black teenage girls about the values of sexual
abstinence to stay off welfare, and dismissing
Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for
mentioning the word 'masturbation' in a
speech. He has overseen economic sanctions
which have killed 1.7 million Iraqis and
bombed innocent Sudanese and Afghans. all
in the name of combatting 'terrorism.' He
passed a crime bill in 1997 which will cause
hundreds of death row inmates who can
prove their innocence to die senselessly
because of legal limits on court appeals.
Clinton should be impeached--not as an adulterer,
but as a murderer.