Why Impeachment Drives 'Em Crazy

New York Post
December 31 David Gelertner

   IF you think the House of Representatives did right when it impeached the President, hold the phone for a message from professor Alan Dershowitz, famed Harvard law professor. You represent ''the forces of evil, evil, genuine evil.'' Got that, or shall I repeat?

When Dershowitz talks about evil, the nation ought to listen. This is a man (after all) of moral stature, a former member of O.J. Simpson's defense team. Dershowitz happened to be explaining to Geraldo Rivera what ''a vote against impeachment'' would mean. Such a vote would not (contrary to what you might have suspected) be ''a vote for Bill Clinton.'' Instead it would be ''a vote against bigotry. It's a vote against fundamentalism. It's a vote against anti-environmentalism. It's a vote against the right-to-life movement.'' And it would also be a vote against ''the forces of evil, evil, genuine evil.''

These ''forces of evil'' presumably have a grip on the entire pro-impeachment population. That means me, and many other people who write for this newspaper, and possibly you. Of course it would be no fun to be declared ''evil'' even by a law professor from a respectable second-tier school, but to be declared evil by an expert like Dershowitz is no laughing matter.

It would be undignified and silly for conservatives to respond to this sort of attack. But they shouldn't ignore it either. They should try to understand. All over the country liberals have been saying strange things. Dershowitz is not to everyone's taste, but he doesn't ordinarily talk crazy either.

What's happening? Why did the New Republic (the respected liberal weekly) say that House Republicans were ''determined to disgrace themselves'' and that Henry Hyde ''appears to have succumbed to megalomania''? Why did Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) say that the House wasn't actually impeaching the President, it was ''impeaching 130 years of opportunity and hope for every American''?

Several reasons. One is a matter of perspective. The other is basic household psychology: Nothing makes a man angrier than to be wrong and know it.

Certain crimes are forgivable and certain others are not. When someone commits a forgivable crime, the community isn't obliged to forgive him - merely allowed to weigh the circumstances. Some of today's crazy bitterness among liberals reflects a truth that conservatives don't like to acknowledge, that the President's crimes in the Monica case are forgivable crimes.

That doesn't mean they aren't serious, or that perjury is ever defensible or justifiable. It does mean that in some circumstances, a reasonable person might forgive an act of sex-perjury like the President's. (It makes no sense to claim that sex has nothing to do with it. Every perjury is a crime, but all perjuries are not created equal.) These particular crimes demand to be taken in context.

For Republicans, context makes forgiveness impossible. It's exactly because the man is esident that letting him get away with perjury is such a dangerous idea. Laws that apply to the people apply to the President. No man is above the law. These inciples are basic to American democracy; it's even possible they are taught at Harvard, although esumably not by Professor Dershowitz.

And then there is the President's record of shady behavior, and the various outrages that have been committed on his watch. And the President's flip arrogance, interspersed with episodes of phony contrition in which he freely admits that he has caused himself a lot of pain, but reassures us that he will be feeling better soon. And meanwhile his aides explain (in effect) that he didn't commit perjury because he didn't mean to lie, only wanted to mislead people while simultaneously not telling the truth. Something like O.J. explaining that he didn't mean to kill those people, only dismember them. A man's record must be weighed in considering whether to forgive a crime that everyone knows he committed.

Sometimes the lines of duty and of grim pleasure coincide. House Republicans say they acted on principle, and did. But many of them had come to believe that this President could get away with anything, that his behavior was disgusting and disgraceful - and they were delighted to bring him down.

For most Democrats, on the other hand, not to forgive the President was out of the question. The President stands (in his way) for policies that Democrats believe in, and has accomplished things that are important to them. Most important, he beat off the reformist Republicans who came to Congress in 1994. Future esidents would save the country a lot of bother if they would commit unforgivable crimes or none at all.

Opposite viewpoints on a forgivable crime explain a lot, but not everything. They explain why certain liberals got angry, but not why they went crazy. Dershowitz knows very well, my guess is, that Henry Hyde doesn't reesent the ''forces of evil.'' Dershowitz is no fool, but the President is forcing him to play the fool.

Democrats love to talk about the rule of law, and how the Constitution applies to everyone, and how justice must be served. They enjoy lashing out against powerful men who twist the law around their little fingers, and big-shot executives who outmaneuver justice with the help of their craven staffers, and male bosses who dominate female subordinates without even trying and then chuckle about it. Democrats love to explain how government osecutors must attack injustice no matter what, and how arrogant white males must be brought to heel, and how the legal system must do what is right, period, and to hell with public opinion.

And now they are forced to listen as Republicans solemnly (while attempting to keep straight faces) repeat the whole list right back at them. The President humiliated his wife and Monica Lewinsky, but that's nothing compared to the humiliation wrought by the Sadist-in-Chief on the likes of Alan Dershowitz, Jesse Jackson Jr. and the entire Democratic Party.

No Republican has ever humiliated the Democrats the way President Clinton has. He has made an entire political movement look ridiculous - and Democrats know it, even if the public doesn't. They won't admit it, but it hurts.