Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#26, January 27, 1999


by Marylaine Block

When my senator, Tom Harkin, told the prosecution that senators were not jurors in the impeachment trial, he was saying something more important than many people understand.

Henry Hyde thinks he is presenting a crime to a jury. He says since the president lied under oath and sought to cover it up, he should be punished by removal from office.

But normally we punish the criminal, with fines or jail time. Impeachment punishes US by overruling an election. In this case, TWO elections.

Hyde apparently doesn't think that's a big deal. But then, he seems to believe that if voters had only known all the awful things about Bill Clinton, we never would have elected him. He can't understand why we're not grateful to him for bringing Clinton to justice.

Stubborn, aren't we, to persist in believing we are the ones who get to make this choice. We're not choosing between perfect people, but simply choosing the one we think will be a good president in spite of his flaws. In 1992, voters knew about Genifer Flowers and "I didn't inhale," and elected Clinton anyway. In 1996, voters knew about Paula Jones, but chose him anyway.

After four years and 40 million dollars, Ken Starr has proved to us what we knew when we voted for Clinton: the man has a problem with zippers and truth. For this, Starr believes, we should expel Clinton from office. He and Henry Hyde believe they know better than we do. Like a father who can't stand his daughter's fiance, they are saying "You only THINK you love him."

Opinion polls are the only way we have to tell them we do not want to be saved from ourselves. We have said, over and over, that we meant what we said when we elected Clinton.

The framers of the Constitution did not want Congress to overrule elections lightly -- they feared the ill will of partisanship might disturb the delicate balance of powers, allowing Congress to rule the president. They allowed impeachment ONLY when the president could be proved to have committed crimes against the state.

When it was proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Richard Nixon had used his office to act against his private enemies, cover up crimes, and fire prosecutors who would not stop investigating them, it was his own loyal Republicans who told him to step down because otherwise he would not only be impeached but convicted.

Impeachment has to meet the partisan smell test. When Reagan arranged financial support for the Contras after Congress explicitly voted against such aid, Congress might justly have regarded this as a crime against the nation. It chose not to.

Congress might have taken exception to Reagan's secret government dealings with Iran without its consent. It chose not to.

Congress might have regarded the consequent frenzied shredding of documents as obstruction of justice. It chose not to.

It might have viewed Reagan's statements under oath as perjury. It chose not to.

Are perjury and obstruction of justice, then, in the eye of the beholder? Do we have any reason to believe Clinton's offenses, if committed by a Republican, would have been investigated so long at public expense?

Many of us believe that Republicans who despise Bill Clinton have chosen to impeach him because they CAN, using raw power and threats against recalcitrant Republicans to force a party line vote for impeachment.

If the Senate is a jury, then Tom Harkin and his colleagues have to decide whether the evidence proves high crimes and misdemeanors beyond a reasonable doubt. The only things that can be proved to THAT standard are tackiness, stupidity, and a lawyerly view of truth, which, though deplorable, are not even crimes.

But the Senate is NOT a jury. It's a deliberative body whose responsibility is to the Constitution. Senators must consider the precedent they set for future relationships between Congress and the president.

They also have to consider us, the voters. If we believe our votes have been overruled by mean-spirited partisans, well, you know what happened the last time we started thinking about taxation without representation.

Instead of unoffending loads of tea, though, we might try throwing Congressmen overboard this time.

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