President Clinton should not be impeached. What the president did was despicable, and the lies he told and caused others to tell are indefensible. His transgressions, though serious, involve lies about an illicit affair. Even when labeled perjury or obstruction of justice, they are simply lies about sex.
Yet, Congress has no alternative but to proceed with impeachment hearings. That is the only process provided in the Constitution. It is indisputable that impeachment hearings will obscure all other issues and subject the American people to additional months of the same sort of not-suitable-for-prime-time news coverage that has so sickened us these past several months.
Sadly, no good will come from the impeachment process. There can be only one of two outcomes. Congress could set the dubious precedent that an illicit sexual relationship is grounds for impeachment. Or, Mr. Clinton will be allowed to complete his term, having survived impeachment while sacrificing his capacity to lead. Neither option will bring closure to this sad episode.
I am perplexed that apparently no one in the Democratic Party leadership has gone to the president to tell him that enough is enough. Republican calls for resignation would be viewed as partisan.
It is Clintons fellow Democrats who must step forward to convince him to step down.
Polls show that most Americans dont feel the president should resign or be impeached. These polls indicate a strong desire on the part of the electorate to move beyond the presidents indiscretions and get on with the nations business. Unfortunately, we cant have it both ways.
Americas is not a parliamentary system. Theres no opportunity for an expedited vote of confidence to either affirm the presidents support or set the stage for new elections.
We have only one impeachment process and we are not off to a good start. The judiciary committees imprudent releases of the presidents taped testimony sends a worrisome signal. By voting to release this material on a party-line vote, the Republican Congress risks making an ugly situation even uglier.
A pitched partisan battle over the presidents personal behavior will serve no purpose. It will simply distract Congress and the president from dealing with other issues such as the world economic crisis and Social Security reform. Democratic Party leaders must persuade the president that the nations needs are best served by his voluntary departure.
While his actions dont meet the constitutionally delineated test of impeachable offenses treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors the nature of Clintons encounters with Monica Lewinsky do raise serious questions. He was her superior in an employment situation. He evidently invited, and certainly facilitated, the relationship. These encounters occurred at the Oval Office. He subsequently favored her with assistance in securing employment. Similar activity wouldnt be tolerated in any other work setting in America.
Until forced into a corner by the independent counsel, Clinton denied a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. From January to August, he deliberately misled his staff, the Congress, the investigators office and the public. Once cornered, he sounded more belligerent than contrite. Accordingly, his subsequent expressions of apology now seem more staged than sincere.
Clintons transgressions may not be impeachable offenses, nonetheless his behavior is unacceptably offensive. His tryst was both reckless and selfish. His unconscionable behavior, and the deceit that followed, has diminished the presidency. He has shamed himself and embarrassed the nation.
Clearly, dragging this matter on will further punish the nation for the sins of one man. Clinton alone can forestall this ugly spectacle, and salvage some dignity for himself and the office of the presidency, by resigning now.
* Timothy Penny, a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute, is a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota.