Leading Article: Resignation could save Clinton's and a nation's honour

PRESIDENT CLINTON said this week that he had spoken to a young boy who told him: "I want to grow up to be President and I want to be a President like you." He himself was once the young boy who spoke to a President and told him something like that, a moment captured on a famous snatch of black-and-white cine film. That President was John Kennedy, and Mr Clinton did indeed grow up to be a President like him. Kennedy was also sexually incontinent and his personal ethics suspect. But the rules of the game have changed since then. In those days, presidents did have private lives. Today, despite Mr Clinton's vain assertion last month, there are limits to that privacy. In the 1960s, journalists were deferential towards the office of the presidency in a way which seems unimaginable today. There were advantages to this discretion: it made it much easier to judge a political leader by his public words and actions rather than by his private life. But on balance, today's prurience is better. Kennedy should not have treated women the way he did, and it would have been better if he had felt under some constraint in his search for sexual pleasure.

Even if Mr Clinton did not like the new rules of the political game, he cannot argue that he did not know what they were. His behaviour has been quite perverse and self-destructive. To embark on an affair with an intern in the run-up to the 1996 election, and at a time when his private life was already under scrutiny in a sexual harassment case, almost beggars belief.

It does not matter that adultery is not grounds for impeachment. Mr Clinton is in trouble because he lied to the American people ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman - Ms Lewinsky") and because, as the Starr report is bound to set out in some detail, he committed perjury in his evidence for the Paula Jones case.

We can expect endless argument over the next few days and probably months over whether this and any other evidence of attempted obstruction of justice amounts in any way to the "high crimes and misdemeanours" encompassed in the US constitution as the grounds for impeachment. It seems unlikely that the framers of that great document intended it to do so, but in practice the phrase means whatever Congress wants it to mean.

That is as it should be. The benefit of the impeachment mechanism is that it provides a democratic safeguard - it is not as easy to impeach a president as it is to sack a prime minister, but it is easier than getting rid of a hereditary monarch. It also seems much easier now than it was before Richard Nixon's resignation. If Mr Clinton loses the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the American people, and their representatives, he will be impeached. It would not be particularly fair: Nixon's crimes against democracy were far more heinous, and in terms of public policy, Ronald Reagan's dealings in the Iran-contra affair were much more reprehensible. And he got off scot-free. But Mr Clinton will have brought it upon himself. In that sense, impeachment is real democracy in action.

Regardless of the impeachment process, however, the President is now not a lame duck but a dead duck. He is a tittering-stock not just in America but around the world. We cannot watch him on television without our eyes being drawn unwillingly to his mid-section. American teachers cannot teach the rule of law without sniggers at the back of the class.

The heart of the matter is personal: the President's personal judgement and his lack of shame. This is where the personal and the political overlap. The outcome should be decided not by the constitutional and legal machinery of impeachment but by Mr Clinton's personal honour: he should consider whether his resignation would be in the interests of the Presidency, the nation and the world.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?