Ten Days and Counting
How will the presidency fare after Clinton's Aug. 17 testimony?Skip to next paragraph
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Ten days and counting. If you have to ask, "Ten days to what?" you are out of the game. Aug. 17 stands emblazoned in neon lights over America's capital - and, we assume, the nation.
A good friend of mine, who had to leave the country for four days on a urgent financial-bailout mission, returned, sleepless, in time for a scheduled dinner.
His first question was "What's the latest?" There was no doubt about the subject, and I briefed him on the day-to-day developments of the Clinton-Lewinsky saga.
It was when he asked, "How is this going to come out?" that I began to stammer.
For those who think a veteran Washington journalist has some special insight into the unfathomable, let me make a clear breast of it. I haven't the foggiest idea how the Clinton drama will play itself out. As one who clearly saw the Nixon presidency doomed 10 months before it happened, I have no feeling at all about the outcome in this strange situation.
I can now only throw up my hands and mumble along with my colleagues, "You see it depends on the dress, or maybe whether he does a mea culpa, or maybe he will pull some rabbit out of a hat for his closed-circuit grand jury audience. Gosh, don't ask me. How do I know?"
But this I do know - that already Clinton is a seriously weakened president. Congress looks at his stalled legislative program with a jaundiced eye. Foreign leaders must factor a beleaguered president into their calculations. Is it a coincidence that Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Serbia's Milosevic, and Israel's Netanyahu are all displaying new signs of intransigence?
And, if Clinton flexes America's muscle, must we wonder whether this is a diversionary tactic? At the height of President Nixon's Watergate crisis in 1973, his motives were widely suspected when he ordered an alert of American forces in a Middle East confrontation with the Soviets.
This I also know - that the Starr investigation has already weakened not only the president, but the institution of the presidency. Privileges that were until recently part of a tacit accommodation between coequal branches of government - a president's ability to confidential relations with his aides, his lawyers, and his protectors - have been stripped away in a series of court challenges. The mystique that surrounds the presidency may not soon recover from the battering it is getting.
Twenty-five years ago, historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote of "The Imperial Presidency," a presidency grown too unaccountably strong. Fifteen years ago, historian James MacGregor Burns wrote of a weakened presidency that had lost "The Power to Lead."
How will a future historian write of a presidency that, amid peace, prosperity, and personal popularity, found itself enmeshed in a tawdry sex scandal?
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.