Impeach President Clinton? Not very likely

November 23, 1997|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun staff

"The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton," by R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. Regnery.275 pages. $24.95.

If it hadn't been for R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., there would be no Paula Jones, no "distinguishing characteristics," no impending sexual misconduct case featuring the presidential anatomy as a possible surprise witness.

Tyrrell is founder and editor of the American Spectator, a peculiar little magazine that - since 1993, anyway - has been obsessed with the foibles, real and imagined, of the man in the Oval Office. In a January 1994 article about Bill Clinton's womanizing, the magazine referred to someone identified only as Paula. That brief mention prompted Jones to sue the president in a case that has already been to the Supreme Court and back and appears to be headed for trial in Little Rock.

In Tyrrell's fantasies, the Jones case is part of a chain reaction that will climax in Clinton's impeachment next year. This semi-fictional account, co-authored by "Anonymous" (a lame imitation of someone else's success, like so much of the book) purports to tell how it will happen. Tyrrell calls his scenario "a work of imagination." A hallucination would be more like it.

It is delusional to think that Clinton will be impeached, even though that's a hot aspiration in conservative circles right now. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia recently got support from 18 fellow Republicans when he called for the start of an impeachment inquiry. (Barr also wrote the enthusiastic foreword to this book, in which he comes off as a hero.) The offenses for which Tyrrell would prosecute Clinton are well-known. They include the firing of the White House travel office staff, improper use of hundreds of FBI files and fund-raising abuses by the president's re-election campaign. These events have been investigated by Congress and the Justice Department, and there is, as yet, no clear evidence that Clinton broke any laws. Tyrrell contends that this doesn't matter. The "high crimes" for which Clinton deserves to be impeached, he argues, have less to do with specific offenses than with lax morality overall.

The case against Clinton is based on the familiar, and deeply flawed, contention that his presidency is as corrupt as Richard Nixon's. In this vein, Tyrrell invents a collection of secret White House tapes, which (shades of Tricky Dick!) prove to be Clinton's undoing. The recent release of actual Nixon tapes ("Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes" by Stanley Kutler) is a reminder of how faulty the comparison is.

If this book weren't quite so sneering and smug, it would be funny. There are plenty of inside jokes and mean-spirited digs at politicians and media celebrities. The narrative takes the form of quite realistic "transcripts" of congressional hearings, news reports and fictional White House conversations. The Watergate phrase "expletive deleted" is often used in place of imagined profanity in the imagined dialogue.

Tyrrell's role in the Paula Jones case earned him a footnote in the history of the Clinton presidency. As this work of conservative agitprop makes perfectly clear, he's got grander ambitions. Expletive deleted.

Paul West, The Sun's Washington bureau chief, has worked as a reporter in the capital for almost 20 years. He helped cover this summer's Senate hearing on financing of the 1996 presidential campaign.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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