Leading Article: Sordid hounding of the President demeans America

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The Independent Culture
WITH YESTERDAY'S extraordinary video show, the ever more sordid and humiliating hounding of Bill Clinton continues. The whole sorry affair has now grown to become a running sore, with not just Washington, but the whole globe, engrossed by the sight of supposedly the world's most powerful man squirming on the stand over every detail of his relationship with a young woman. As the watching world faces economic crisis, the last superpower has turned inwards, choosing to torture its own leader rather than face real policy decisions. This obsessive interest does not only betray the outside world; it subverts the very ideals of the United States.

Absorbed in the evasions and hair-splitting of their President's evidence before the Grand Jury, Americans have forgotten the principles on which their Republic was founded. Principal among these was the rule of law. No citizen, and no President, should be above that law. Equally, however, no one should be beneath it. It has now become clear that the proceedings against Clinton are being driven by raw party politics, and not justice.

Grand Jury hearings are not court cases, in which evidence is carefully weighed, and a conclusion reached: hence, they are conducted in secret, in order to gather material vital to any future case. There are convicted criminals serving long sentences in American jails who have not had their testimony before such proceedings published. Yesterday's video has reached the public in defiance of this, under Congressional privilege. It has been released because Republicans wish to hurt a Democrat President, not because they wish to uphold the law.

Congressional Republicans are gleeful, with mid-term elections just seven weeks away. No-one can really blame them; it is not their fault that the President's behaviour reflects badly on his party. In their capacity as members of the House Judiciary Committee, however, the Constitution demands that Republicans act as arbiters, not as partisans. Given that many of the most ideological of the New Right sit on that Committee, there seems to be little hope of that.

Republicans will wish to hurt the White House just enough to incapacitate their political opponents, while not bringing the squeaky-clean Vice-President Al Gore to power. They will prolong the drip-feed of salacious gossip for as long as they can. Democrats, fighting a rearguard action for their President, may unwittingly help them by stringing out the judicial process. The President's defence team could further poison the atmosphere by releasing more details of the personal lives of their Congressional opponents.

If Congress does find that the President committed perjury, then he should be punished: and impeachment remains the best means for Congress to deal with him. That would be the moment at which to acquaint the public with the evidence; but this outcome is still far from certain. A motion of censure in either House of Congress could be another option, and can be compared to a Judge finding a defendant guilty, but imposing only a caution. This option is beginning to gain support in Congress: it may be the best way to cut through the Gordian knot of legal wrangles.

It is imperative that the media circus ends, sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the controversy could rage on until spring. If it is not too late for the President to bow to censure, and clearly admit that he lied, then he should do so. Congress should halt the stream of gossip that seems to pass for evidence, and deal impartially and quickly with the case. If the President has to leave office, then so be it; but at least the affair should be conducted with dignity, true to the ideals of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.