Celebrities lend weight to case for the defence

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The Independent Online
IF SOMEONE has a video of the rally held at the New York University School of Law this Monday evening, they should give a copy to President Clinton. One by one, they denounced the Republican drive for his impeachment and removal from office - historians, writers, Nobel prize winners, and one Hollywood actor.

For sure, nobody among the Republicans may pay heed. This was a luvvies- for-Clinton kind of deal - all warmth for the embattled President and angst for the Republic and its Constitution. But these were luvvies with intellectual stature, except for the Hollywood hard man Alec Baldwin. For the 750 souls who crowded in to listen, it was a night of electrifying eloquence and high indignation.

The writer E L Doctorow, his voice quavering at the microphone, had this message for those who would overthrow the President: to do so, he said, would constitute "the unseating of a democratically elected president - with all the legitimacy of a coup d'etat".

The very soul of America was being threatened, Mr Doctorow insisted. "If Mr Clinton is impeached, or tried, or forced to resign, American puritanism, with its punitive lust and autocratic and theocratic vision, will be reborn for the 21st century.

"We are going through this constitutional crisis because this President lied to the American people. I've been trying to think of a president in my life who didn't lie to the American people."

Recalling the illegal arm sales to Iran to fund right-wing contras in Nicaragua by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and Lyndon Johnson's distortions during the Vietnam War, Mr Doctorow said: "Perhaps the problem with President Clinton's lie is that it lacked grandeur."

The coup d'etat was a common theme of the night. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat representative and member of the House Judiciary, thundered to mighty applause: "If a trial starts in the Senate we may be able to find out who started this coup d'etat, and who paid for it."

For the Nobel Prize winner Eli Wiesel it is the battering of Mr Clinton that must end. To Republicans, he said: "We appeal to you to put an end to the humiliation that President Clinton has been subjected to for three years. Public humiliation is a sin equal to bloodshed. For the sake of our collective honour, we plead with you to do what so many of us wish you had done earlier: censure the President for his actions."

Gloria Steinem, an icon of American feminism, was also at the rally. Women, she said, "will not stand by as a Congress that is 90 per cent men attempts to remove the first president elected by women voters."

By attacking the President for his affair with the intern, Monica Lewinsky, Republicans were sabotaging the progress made on sexual harassment of women, Ms Steinem said. "The right wing is succeeding in destroying sexual harassment law."

The meeting, organised by an ad hoc group, Americans Against Impeachment, also had a man of God at the ready. The Rev Paul Moore, former Episcopal Bishop of New York, reminded Republicans of this familiar Biblical homily: when Jesus addressed the mob as it prepared to pelt the adulteress, he said: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The Bishop noted: "The onlookers all slunk away. I wish someone had said that to the Republicans."

The consequence of impeaching President Clinton, several speakers suggested, would be to destabilise the political and constitutional bedrock of the Union. It would open the way for opposition parties to try and unseat future presidents on trumped-upcharges.

"The political stability that we have known for 200 years is not a gift of providence. It does not happen by chance," warned Robert Torricelli, a Democrat Senator from New Jersey.

Mr Baldwin, in the end, brought the house down by mimicking a fictional southern Republican agonising over what he should do, even as the polls continue to show that a sizeable majority of Americans do not want impeachment.

But he offered serious points too: "I am not a lawyer but I know that in a trial you are meant to be judged by a jury of your peers. In the partisan filth that we have now in this country, with the Republicans we have in the Senate, how can they be viewed as peers of President Clinton?"