by Patrick J. Buchanan – December 15, 1998
Tom DeLay is acting like a statesman! said an astounded Carl Bernstein. Bernstein, of Watergate fame, had just watched the majority whip shrug off Tim Russert’s observation that he and his colleagues may be risking a backlash that could lose them the House in 2000.
Bernstein is right, but it is not only DeLay — the emerging leader of the 105th Congress in its closing days — who is playing the statesman. Henry Hyde and his troops have exhibited a grace under pressure and a political courage many have been looking for from this Congress for four long years.
Today, neither DeLay nor Hyde could walk to the podium of a conservative conclave without a cheering crowd hoisting them onto its shoulders and parading them around the room in triumph. Some who were embarrassed to admit they were Republicans in that wretched, issueless fall election are today proud to say so.
Yet, let it be conceded: There are risks in what Republicans are doing. Approval of the congressional GOP has fallen. Americans favor censure, not impeachment; most believe the House should end it now. Passions are rising, as Republicans are being painted as far-right extremists not only by Democrats and the White House but by journalists who are in shocked disbelief that the GOP would ignore the national polls and defy the national establishment.
The Republican governors, latest darlings of the Big Media, are also almost unanimous in urging censure. Many have gone to the press to emphasize their opposition to impeachment. This city is flummoxed that a Republican House may actually impeach Clinton and bind him over to the Senate for trial, without regard to what that would mean to their party or their future.
To a secular city that worships the gods of power, that men and women would risk martyrdom on something called “principle” is incomprehensible. How does one deal with people like that?
And this is what makes Republican perseverance so admirable.
Whether these men and women are returned, or defeated, they will be able to look their kids and grandkids in the eye and say, “Back in ’98, I defied the lot of them and voted the Constitution.”
Even some journalists must admire the Republicans’ courage in risking all they fought for over four decades — to do the right thing. And something tells me that the Democrats and press are not wholly convinced the GOP is committing suicide. If the Republicans are cutting their throats, why is the left in near panic? After all, who gains if the GOP is ousted from power? Can it be that this city is more terrified of a Senate trial than is the GOP?
One NBC journalist reported over the weekend that the White House, so full of cockiness after the election, is “shuddering” at the prospect of impeachment. Clearly, the courage of the Republicans is as alarming as it was unanticipated after Nov. 5.
Of late, we have heard the Constitution invoked many times. Now comes the hour to honor, or dishonor, that document. The House should vote either to impeach Bill Clinton or to let him go.
Censure is a coward’s option, another one of those wretched insider deals that explain why so many Americans hate politics. No provision for it exists in the Constitution; no House ever censured a president. It is an extra-constitutional act, a corrupt bargain, the clever concoction of a White House desperate to hold power and doing all it can to construct a vehicle by which frightened congressmen can escape their constitutional duties.
As for fining Clinton, that would be an act of thievery that would put a price tag on the presidency.
The issue is simple: Did Clinton commit impeachable offenses? If not, his misconduct with Monica Lewinsky is no more the business of the House than the sexual escapades of its members, which are rarely punished. And if a member believes Clinton lied under oath, but his perjuries are not impeachable, he should vote to let Clinton go and take the consequences.
But if a member believes Clinton lied to destroy Paula Jones’ trial, lied before a U.S. grand jury empowered to investigate his corruption of that trial, and obstructed justice by leading others to testify falsely, then Bill Clinton violated his oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States — and he should be impeached.
Either way, it is time for everyone to stand up and be counted.
If Clinton committed impeachable offenses, impeach him and send him to the Senate for trial. If he did not, let him go. There is no honorable third way out; there is only a cop-out called censure.