Americans now know more than many of them ever wanted to know about the affair between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. It is questionable whether this much detail was necessary. Kenneth Starr's prosecutorial team argues it had to be done to establish the charge of perjury; the president's defenders decry it as a smear tactic.
But such a debate only clouds the basic impeachment issue. Do the charges in Mr. Starr's report reach the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors"? It's well to remember, also, that the constitutional term "misdemeanors" has a wider moral scope than acts of criminality.
The members of the House Judiciary Committee must examine this question as individual Americans deeply concerned about the moral tone of their society, as well as lawyers and politicians. That first standpoint is pivotal. President Clinton has broken faith with what many Americans consider the moral standards necessary in his high post of public trust.
The president has asked for forgiveness from his family, the Lewinskys, his colleagues in government, and the people. He has admitted that he sinned. Americans should take at face value his penitence and demand his continuing adherence to the highest standards in his activities, both public and private. On this basis, he can still lead.
What's unfolding in Washington is, emphatically, not "just politics," nor "just about sex." On its merits, the perjury charge seems, to us, difficult to rebut. Witness tampering? Abuse of presidential power? These charges are much less clear-cut.
The Judiciary Committee's deliberations start a process by which judgment can be fairly applied. Starr's findings will be balanced against the president's rebuttals. Every effort should be made to complete the committee's work with due speed, not sacrificing judicious care. An election is fast approaching, but that factor can't be allowed to skew this work.
Partisan, political bickering must be out, but members will, rightfully, keep an ear to the public's sentiments. The questions involved here are tied inseparably to the moral judgment not just of Congress, but of the people the president serves.
This is a time for the prayers of everyone in the world who loves America's ideals.
In that regard, we're reminded of a very relevant prayer by the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy. Referring to the Almighty, she wrote: "'Thy kingdom come;' let the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in me, and rule out of me all sin; and may Thy Word enrich the affections of all mankind and govern them!"