Down a slippery slope in Congress House vote: Broadening definition of impeachable offense will haunt nation's future.

October 09, 1998

THE House of Representatives undermined constitutional government by radically enlarging its definition of an impeachable offense.

In accepting the independent counsel's report as the basis for its own unlimited inquiry, the House implicitly diluted "high crimes and misdemeanors" from its historic meaning of crimes against the government and its Constitution.

By accepting President Clinton's reckless and scandalous personal behavior as worthy of this inquiry, the House opened future political struggle to prurience, violations of privacy and perjury traps.

Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr added to the irresponsibility tantalizing the House with the possibility of referring more matters from his fishing expedition.

That opens the door for an endless inquiry, a permanent, institutionalized investigation of the president as long as his term in office. Mr. Starr's activities and the House vote are victories for those people who did not accept the election results of 1992 and 1996 and do not feel obliged to abide by them.

The politicians' incredible preoccupations with the polls, which currently bolster the president's defense, is equally undermining the Constitution. The president was elected for four years by an electorate with its eyes wide open.

That is not dependent on the support of Congress, as in a parliamentary system, or on retaining the approval of the people. Presidents have survived periods of unpopularity. They should not have to win in the polls every day.

A great deal of harm is being done the nation and its time-tested political system in the name of moral outrage, both genuine and feigned. This is not what the framers of the Constitution intended.

Such degradation of constitutional meaning cannot be done once and then banished. It is precedent that could permanently scar public life in this nation.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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