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August 3, 2007

Impeachment or Not?

Roy Meachum

A Republican friend holds that Bill Clinton's impeachment had nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky. It was about perjury, a deliberate lie told to the U.S. Congress. The cause didn't matter.

With no particular brief for any politician, of whatever party, I not so respectfully disagree.

When called before adults for his adolescent mischief committed with another adolescent, Billy had no intention of admitting how childish he had been. After all, occupants of the Oval Office are supposed to be grown-up.

As the chief executive of the world's most powerful and affluent nation, it was embarrassing - to say the least - admitting he had committed "statutory rape." Ms. Lewinsky was merely a few years officially past the age of consent. That made the only difference.

Not since Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy, to keep these observations non-partisan, had any president been caught exploiting the power that Henry Kissinger described as a mighty aphrodisiac. Neither of those flagrant sexual abusers was hauled before a tribunal.

In their time the personal tendencies of the POTUS was considered - well - personal, off limits to the press and his political adversaries.

But even in those days, lies told by one branch of the government to another, whether sworn or not, constituted an infringement on the constitutional separation of powers. The separation is completely essential to the balance that keeps the democracy afloat.

The big change came with 1994's Contract with America. Led by Newt Gingrich, Republicans managed to take back Washington. While ignoring principles stated or implied in the contract, the GOP held on to control of Capitol Hill. But they could not retake the Oval Office.

The result was a frantic burst of partisanship that set aside old rules without factoring an arrangement that would allow national politics to function in, for the lack of a better word, comity. This cannot be defined as scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Comity, in this sense, means avoiding cheap shots that denigrate office holders before the general public. The total lack of comity today has plunged all national offices and those who hold them into new depths before the voters.

The reasons for this abominable situation may differ person-to-person and depends very much of the degree of party loyalty. As readers know, I have none. I am a Democrat and a Catholic for the simple reason that's how I started on the road to life. Neither the church nor the party can count on me looking away when I see a flagrant wrong.

At George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration, I admonished readers that the new president deserved fealty and close support, because he was the people's choice.

At the time I was aware that his victory had come in the Electoral College, despite his opponents receiving more votes.

What was done was done; now move on.

But I failed to anticipate that Mr. Bush and his colleagues would immediately construct an imperial presidency that shuffled dissenting views out of sight. Being elected by a lack of consensus, the new administration further divided this divided nation.

We came together when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked on this century's Day of Infamy. With a united citizenry behind them, the president and all his men could have easily forged a nation indivisible, without partisan brinkmanship. They didn't.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerrey lost the presidential race, which is not the same as Mr. Bush won. For proof that the president and his policies were not endorsed by his fellow citizens, look what happened on Capitol Hill.

What the administration saw was evidently how their majority had been melted away by individual contests, attributed to strictly local reasons. The man in the Oval Office and his coterie continued to practice their imperial rule as before. Under that rule, the divided powers are united and made subservient to the executive.

In essence, having shifted the Supreme Court, through appointments, into a more conservative philosophy, although not yet the bastion that the GOP radical-wing wants, the White House can concentrate on keeping the Congress in place.

When intimidation and disdain fail to work, the executive branch can withhold information, which is the means to assure laws are passed with due regard to both the prevailing situation and the common interest.

White House apologists are presumably right: the president may terminate the nation's U.S. attorneys all by himself. His difficulty arises with the attempt to name replacements that may take up their posts only with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

This is not the sole issue on Washington's plate, but it continues to be the most sensitive; underlined this week by the invocation of executive privilege to keep Karl Rove from appearing for a Capitol Hearing. The political honcho has received an official and legitimate summons. The huge problem appears trying to get this justice department to enforce the rule.

Of course, no one expects any conciliation and possible compromise. As long as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales dominates the department, the F.B.I. and the U.S. Marshals will remain under lock and key. Let free to fulfill their duties, without fear or favor, Mr. Gonzales could easily become instantly a target.

The battle can no longer be stamped partisan. More and more Republicans are joining the Democratic majority in pointing out the attorney general has been less than truthful in dealing with the U.S. Congress. At times, as with the former F.B.I. director's testimony, Mr. Gonzales has been caught in an obvious lie.

If the nation's chief enforcement officer can deal so negligently with the truth, how can we expect more from juvenile criminals and drug dealers?

As the first Hispanic to reach so high in government, Alberto Gonzales carries a responsibility to the young woman and men who come after him; those who share his culture; those whose fathers and mothers were treated worse than cattle. After all, cows could bring real money.

If the attorney general will not do the right thing and step down, then the United States Congress has an obligation to remove him, as a disgrace to both this nation and his race.

While lying is their common crime, Mr. Clinton's conduct did not threaten our political system. Mr. Gonzales' does.

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