The Magazine


Dec 21, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 14 • By DAVID FRUM
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Clinton, we are told, fears being indicted for perjury after he leaves office, and so can admit nothing. He wants Congress not just to reprieve him, but to reprieve him in a way that facilitates his legal defense after January 2001. This is not courage; it is not even leniency; it is complicity.

Bill Clinton wants Americans to see his behavior as within the bounds of permissible presidential conduct: a peccadillo, really, the equivalent, as Judge Leon Higginbotham Jr. told the Judiciary Committee, of a speeding ticket. Will Congress assent to that proposition? Will it say that a president can tear up this country's laws when those laws threaten to cost him a few bucks in damages? Or will it serve notice, to this guilty president and to future presidents who may be even more ambitious, that unlike the distinguished law faculty of Yale, Americans and their political representatives still understand what is at stake when the country's chief executive demands the right to ignore laws and defy judges when they inconvenience him?

Everybody -- Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative -- wants a strong and effective presidency. Nobody is comfortable calling for or casting an impeachment vote. Given the polls, it's understandable that a prudent congressman, Republican or Democrat, might hesitate to cast a vote against the president. But let us at least honestly describe this state of affairs. It is not a happy day for republican self-government when Congress acquiesces in presidential law-breaking for fear of the president's power. If Congress fails to impeach Bill Clinton, the encomium it least deserves for its performance is courageous.

David Frum is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.