Lieberman's advice may point to way out Rebuke to Clinton: Balancing imperatives of moral authority with restraints of Constitution.

September 08, 1998

IN SUGGESTING a congressional resolution of reprimand or censure of President Clinton for carrying on an affair with a young intern and deceiving the American people, Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut pointed to one path of dealing with hysteria that reflects national values while respecting the Constitution.

Senator Lieberman spoke for many in finding Mr. Clinton's behavior not just inappropriate but immoral and harmful, "for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family" and undermines the moral authority of the president.

The senator also acknowledged "the high threshold our Constitution rightly sets for overturning the results of a popular election in our democracy and bringing on the national trauma of removing an incumbent president . . ."

Senator Lieberman, an observant Orthodox Jew, resembles the Christian right in holding others to his moral standards. Yet he also shares many liberals' policy views. He was a pillar of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council along with Governor Clinton of Arkansas. Long ago, young grad student Clinton was a protege and supporter of his in Connecticut politics. Mr. Lieberman's pained disapproval on the Senate floor last week brought pain to the White House.

At the same time, he repudiated the "cacophony of media and political voices calling for impeachment or resignation or censure" as unjust and unwise at this time.

Senator Lieberman's speech cannot heal the nation's wounds, which will soon be opened further by independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report. Congress cannot judge until more than leaks and innuendo are available.

Yet now a proponent of centrism in politics has suggested a way between ignoring scandal and subverting the will of the voters. After the House and public have heard authoritatively what Mr. Starr has learned, the Lieberman middle road may well be the best route.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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