Leading article: The stained presidency

Share
Related Topics
IT IS over. The grotesque legal spectacle in Washington ended at last on Friday when the Senate voted to acquit President Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice. We might like to think that the whole dreamlike - or nightmarish - episode which began more than a year ago is over too. Clinton has survived, true, but it would be absurd to claim that he has emerged untarnished, or that the United States will easily recover from the squalor surrounding this presidency. Certainly, not everyone will have been reassured by the Clinton aide who was quoted yesterday as saying that it was now business as usual in the White House. Will they be passing round the cigars this weekend?

To anyone sane it was always obvious that impeachment was a hideously inappropriate and disproportionate punishment for President Clinton's "low crimes and misdemeanours". But that does not absolve the man. Clinton's behaviour has been contemptible throughout, from his initial offences, to his legalistic evasions, to his unbearably mawkish and snivelling apologies. It is not enough to be told that the White House is a "gloat-free zone" after the acquittal. Clinton's (in more than one sense) diminished band of supporters need to make it clear that they understand the outcome.

Plainly adultery isn't in itself a disqualification from high office, as innumerable historical examples show. But Clinton was not merely a decorous adulterer, like many greater prime ministers and presidents before him. His sexual escapades have been both unusually sordid and unusually reckless. More to the point, he has offended not only against the traditional moral code but against the new morality of feminism, which insists that men - and especially men in authority - should not even allow the suspicion that they are abusing their power over younger underlings.

But even if Clinton is a political mediocrity and an unworthy human being, what of his enemies? A year ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke of "a vast right-wing conspiracy" trying to destroy her husband. She was wrong; but there was certainly a small right-wing conspiracy, or several of them. Apart from fascistic militiamen, the bigots of talk radio, Internet crackpots, and religious maniacs, we now know that a group of rich, clever, zealous lawyers have been trying for years to bring down the President, and recognised that the Paula Jones case might be the most fruitful line of approach - as it proved.

Then Kenneth Starr set off on his own mission to bag the President. Unable to substantiate what had seemed far graver accusations of criminality, he, too, realised that Clinton's lewd and ungovernable concupiscence might be his undoing. Even then he needed the uncovenanted help of the unspeakable

Linda Tripp, surely the nastiest figure in the whole story. Thereafter, the plot sickened. There is no doubt that Starr and his associates used forms of harrying and entrapment which would have been thrown out of court in any ordinary case.

In the end, the Republican rightists' fanatical determination to get Clinton has not only deranged them, but has undone them. Under the guise of an elaborate and pompous quasi- judicial proceeding, an attempt was made to mount a coup against a President who had been twice elected, who had presided (doubtless through luck as much as judgement) over a fruitful era in American economic affairs, and whose approval by the electorate was as high as ever even after his various disgraces. What the Republicans persuaded themselves was a principled way of chastising a miscreant looked to more and more Americans like an unprincipled and embittered attempt to reverse the lawful verdict of the polling booth.

And so how does the United States stand six years after William Jefferson Clinton was first inaugurated, and a year after the Lewinsky scandal erupted? Although Clinton has shown again an astonishing talent for survival, it cannot be pleasant for him to contemplate how his presidency will be remembered by posterity. His office, as well as his own standing, has obviously been weakened. And yet that attempt to overthrow the electors' will has been thwarted. No thanks to America's politicians, America's democracy has survived.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week