Here's another of the marvels of Impeachment Wonderland. Robert Bork, the former US appeals judge and (like Kenneth Starr) solicitor general, solicited signatures from various conservative notables on a letter urging Clinton's impeachment or resignation. At least one academic who was sympathetic to the idea refused to sign because of the letter's slash-and-burn language; Bork's still Bork. And he still seems to be smarting at the hit campaign that kiboshed his 1987 nomination to the US Supreme Court—which gave us the resonant new verb "to bork," meaning something between smearing and justly exposing. The borking of Bork and Clarence Thomas and the Contragate investigation (under the Democratic-created Independent Counsel Act) left Republicans thirsting for Democratic blood. And so they borked Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, her would-be successor Henry Foster, and would-be ambassador William Weld (a Republican, but nominated by Clinton). Now they've rushed to give Clinton the Mother of All Borkings before the new, Republican Congress is seated.
Don't they remember the first law of partisan dynamics? Every borking brings a counterborking. The Democrats are still paying for their past excesses. But they're in the ascendant, and shortsighted Republicans will soon be on the other end of the payback gun. And so national governance becomes gang warfare.
The biggest gags
What was the most nauseating bit of impeachment spin? There was Tom "The Exterminator" DeLay thundering that because of his prevarications, Clinton had no credibility to deal with Saddam Hussein. That means either Saddam the master liar respects only truth tellers or Congress won't back up Clinton—a threat that, if not seditious, at least gives aid and comfort to the enemy.
Then there were the high-toned declarations of all the "moderate" Republicans who just had to vote for impeachment because Clinton wouldn't make a full confession. But anything he said would likely be used against him in court. So they're demanding self-incrimination, while they engage in cynical entrapment.
And there were Henry Hyde and Robert Livingston intoning that we had to complete the impeachment vote they've pushed so strenuously for, so we could put the whole sordid business "behind us." But as they know better than you or I, impeachment is just the entree to a Senate trial, another long wallow in Clinterngate—a way to keep the game going.
Maybe the Republicans still hope to stir up a massive public backlash against Clinton. That's the only way they can hope to get the Democrats they need for a two-thirds Senate vote to convict. But the harder the Republicans try, the more ire they stir up—against themselves.
So why do they keep flogging this hopeless cause? There's the practical explanation: They want to keep Clinton twisting in the wind as long as possible, to neutralize him, demoralize the Dems, and, with any luck, rub some dirt off on Gore, in preparation for the 2000 campaign. The last thing they want to do is actually eject Clinton and let Gore run as an incumbent.
And there's the psychosocial explanation: Congressional members are just like the rest of us. They're jonesing for celebrity superscandals. Life just doesn't seem complete without a Trial of the Century. And each Trial of the Century must be taken to its supposedly cathartic conclusion. Claus von Bulow, the Menendez brothers, Rodney King, Dr. Kevorkian, O.J., Louise Woodward. . . . Your turn, Bill.
That must be what prompted the ordinarily levelheaded Rep. Ray LaHood, who presided over the impeachment hearing, to say, with a straight face, "What we are doing in the House is the most important thing we will do this century as a House." Say what? More important than declaring war in 1917 and 1941? Than the 19th Amendment (granting women the vote) or the Civil Rights Act? Take a deep breath, and get some perspective.
Be careful what you wish for
But Clinton could outfox the lynch mob by giving them what they claim they want: He could up and resign—preferably after patching up the Israeli-Palestinian accord. (Remember how he shone in Gaza, even as he was getting tarred and feathered in absentia.) He would leave with a statesmanlike flourish, the Republicans would take the blame for driving him out, and Gore would get a head start on 2000 and no Democratic opposition. Clinton might wind up the second US president to be impeached, the second to resign—and the third to win the Nobel Peace Prize—all at once. Funny things happen on the way to the history books.
Time was, getting shown on a postage stamp was the definitive confirmation of stature. Not for Bill Clinton. After the jackals, the hucksters pile on. Last week, on Impeachment Speech Friday, Marlen Stamp & Coin Co.—exclusive purveyors of gaudy Star Trek stamps from St. Vincent, Titanic stamps from Gambia, "Kate and Leonardo" stamps from Somaliland, and Di and Disney stamps from everywhere, announced a really special issue: A souvenir sheet "on the occasion of the historic House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton" from the Russian "region of Abkhasia" (and not valid as postage anywhere else). It shows a beaming Monica Lewinsky in a schoolgirl's ribbon, dress, and bobby sox, and a leering Clinton holding a martini and wearing heart-patterned boxers.
The president's drawers
Both those last details ring false. Whatever he may have smoked, Clinton's no drinker. And as the whole world knows, he wears briefs, not boxers. When a teenager asked him which he wore during a 1996 televised forum, he moaned, "I can't believe she asked that!" And then he answered.
That was precisely the moment when his presidency, and "the dignity of the presidency," started to unravel. Clinton's real problem isn't what he's been impeached for, his failure to answer sticky questions. It's his inability to say, "None of your business" (or at least "Ask again when I'm no longer president") to impertinent questions.