Leading article: The stained presidency

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

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies