President Clinton's peccadilloes, lies to Americans, acts of perjury, likely obstruction of justice, abuse of power and the scorched earth defense he and his allies have chosen, have potential for greater harm than anything President Nixon did. Let's look at just a bit of the Clinton scandal and ask ourselves whether we want Clinton's tactics to become a pattern future presidents. Given the continuing public support for Clinton, we might also ask what has become of our standards and values.
Regardless of what we think about Kenneth Starr, his investigative powers are lawful. He has exercised no power that wasn't first given to him by the U.S. Attorney General and a three-judge panel. If Kenneth Starr abuses his powers, he can be instantly fired by the Attorney-General. Should we accept as acceptable behavior a president's, or other elected officials, sending out people to attack the integrity and undermine the work of a duly appointed court officer? Should we also accept the idea that witnesses, who testify against or charge a public official with crimes and misdeeds, should have their personal lives investigated in an attempt to dig up dirt so as to impugn their character as the President has done in the cases of Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers?
What about the White House attempted rope-a-dope saying that requiring Secret Service agents to testify puts the lives of future presidents in jeopardy? Kenneth Starr didn't want Secret Service testimony about national or international policy discussions they may have overheard. He wanted them to testify about misdeeds they may have witnessed in the White House. Judges struck down White House specious privilege claims, but you don't have to be a legal scholar to recognize the nonsense. Never in our history has there been an assassination or attempted assassination in the White House.
For many politicians, there's little they wouldn't stoop to in order to advance or protect their political careers. However, for over 200 years the nation's moral values have stood as a shield against corrupt politicians infecting the body politic. That's changing as a result of a generalized national moral decline, ignorance and successful White House spin. Consider our new moral priorities. There was considerable public and media condemnation of Linda Tripp for having secretly taped conversations with Monica Lewinsky. Very little outrage was exhibited about the attempt to get Tripp to commit a felony (perjury) to protect the President. Apparently, for today's Americans, secretly taping a friend is far more worrisome than a president using his powers to cover up corruption.
What about the popular public sentiment shared by the President's defenders and many in Congress that if Clinton only lied about sex he shouldn't resign or be impeached. People who express this view are really arguing that in the case of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that the rule of law be suspended and substituted by mob rule. Perjury is the criminal offense of making false statements under oath. From my scant legal knowledge, there are no instances where perjury is not criminal, even if it's about sex.
The Clinton presidency might have two more years of life; quite possibly the nation can survive an immoral and dishonest presidency. The more important issue is whether we are going to allow Clinton's pattern of coverup and abuse of powers to establish a pattern for future presidents. You can bet the rent money that if Clinton gets away with coverup and abuse of powers, some other president will become more arrogant and abusive.
Walter E. Williams
September 8, 1998