Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 1998 /10 Teves, 5759

Thomas Sowell
The time is now

(JWR) --- (

NOW THAT BILL CLINTON has been impeached, brace yourself for a lot of hysteria and a lot of lies. A Senate
trial is being depicted as a terrible trauma that would be just too much of an ordeal to be inflicted on the American people.

Ask yourself: How much have you personally suffered as a result of the impeachment in the House of Representatives? How much sleep did you lose? How many headaches did you have? Did you even have to postpone your Christmas shopping to get yourself together?

Of course not. Nor will a Senate trial cause us to collapse like a house of cards. Nobody is forced to watch it or read about it. If the public is bored with it and stops watching, the major TV networks are unlikely to keep broadcasting it, even if it is still shown on C-SPAN or some of the cable networks.

When the impeachment of Richard Nixon was before Congress, we were in the midst of a war in Vietnam that was far bigger than Clinton's four-day bombing of Iraq. Within a week after Nixon resigned, the stock market began rising.

The sky is not going to fall, no matter what happens to Bill Clinton.

All the desperate ingenuity that has gone into trying to concoct some meaningless compromise like "censure" might lead us to think that impeachment was something inhuman like flogging or hanging. It is not. Even conviction in the Senate would lead to nothing worse than an early departure from the White House for the Clintons -- and no doubt multimillion dollar book deals for both of them soon thereafter.

The orchestrated hysteria over what a trauma a Senate trial will be for us all is just a continuation of the political spinning that has been going on ever since Clinton got into trouble and had to create distractions from his own wrong-doing. Opinion polls show that the public has fallen for a lot of it.

Thank heaven there were enough people in the House of Representatives with enough character to recognize the high stakes when a president thumbs his nose at the law, no matter how many times the spin masters talk about sex and "private" behavior. Perjury is not private behavior and neither is obstruction of justice. Both undermine the whole foundation of law that the president takes an oath to uphold.

Those in the House of Representatives who saw through the smokescreen of disinformation and distractions, and who had the courage to buck the polls, deserve credit for sticking to their duty. They certainly deserve a lot better than having the rug pulled out from under them with some "deal" in the Senate that allows perjury and obstruction of justice to escape the penalties that the
Constitution provides for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Talk about how apologetic or contrite Bill Clinton is or isn't misses the whole point. This is not about one individual. It is about the future of this country. Whether he pays the price or escapes through some deal, that fact is going to be known across the length and breadth of the United States of America. It is going to be known to our children -- and no amount of rhetoric is going to turn a wrist slap into anything other than a wrist slap that says, loud and clear, that he got away with it.

Far worse, future presidents will be left a blueprint for how they too can operate above the law. Lie, stonewall, evade, redefine, corrupt witnesses and launch campaigns of character assassination against all who expose or challenge you. The enormous powers of the presidency can be used for all these purposes -- and can be deployed to cover up things far worse than cheap sex in the Oval Office.

A cop-out for Clinton would open a Pandora's box. That is why it is not just Bill Clinton who will be on trial in the Senate. The Senators themselves will be on trial before the judgment of history.

They will be on trial for their clarity of mind in seeing through the rhetoric and red herrings concocted by the White House spin-masters. They will be on trial for their courage and steadfastness in resisting the easy way out and the habit of playing let's-make-a-deal.

Public opinion matters. But that opinion has already begun to change and the Senate's actions can change it some more. At the very least, Senators do not take an oath to uphold the opinion polls, but to uphold the Constitution.