MEMBERS of the House of Representatives are asked to impeach the president, seeking his removal and disqualification from office, for actions never impeachable in the past.
The alleged crime is scandalous behavior that previous presidents have committed and evasion of a legal witch hunt to which none of them was subjected.
This serious business cannot be sloughed off as merely an act of disapproval, in the faith that the Senate will not convict. The only aims of impeachment are removal and disqualification from office.
Impeachment requires a trial by the Senate with the chief justice presiding. It means stopping the business of the country, especially that of the president and the Senate, for the duration of that trial, and depriving the Supreme Court of its chief for most deliberations.
What would happen to the international currency crisis or the showdowns with Iraq and Serbia is incalculable. The stock market fears the uncertainty.
Whoever votes to impeach is declaring such risks to be less important, even though the presidential behavior under review is not what the Framers meant by high crimes and misdemeanors, and even though the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 ignored evidence that President Nixon had lied to evade taxes as unworthy of impeachment.
Whoever votes to impeach is radically reinterpreting the Constitution, enlarging "other high crimes and misdemeanors" for future generations. This would lower the bar to impeachment for liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. It could subjectfuture politics to private-eye investigations and scandalous accusations, reducing national self-respect.
Many people feel that President Clinton should be impeached as punishment for immorality and deceit. The Constitution is adamant that Congress has no role in punishment. Only the courts are to punish.
This may happen. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is still out there. He can seek an indictment of President Clinton regardless of what Congress does.
Bill Clinton indeed demeaned his office. He deserves the censure that has been proposed, which the Constitution neither authorizes nor forbids.
In January 1997, the House of Representatives reprimanded (weaker than censure) and fined Speaker Newt Gingrich for using charitable funds for political purposes and for lying under oath. The House never considered expelling Mr. Gingrich from ++ the seat to which Georgia voters elected him.
Mr. Clinton is three-fourths through his two terms in office. He is condemned to a shabby chapter in history books.
What House members do today will affect not so much his place in history as their own.
A vote against impeachment would support the nation's institutions against the weaknesses of politicians, including mean-spiritedness and contempt for our political heritage.
A vote to impeach would attempt to nullify the will of the voters. It would lower the standard of politics in high places.
A vote against impeachment would respect the will of the voters and put the national interest above partisan eye-gouging.
Pub Date: 12/16/98