Two Families Deal With Presidential Scandal

A congressman writes to his daughter about the president, morality, and telling the truth

Yesterday, I cast a vote which will be remembered for a long time. History will recall Oct. 8, 1998 as the third time the House of Representatives voted to open an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of the president. I suppose, purposefully, your mother and I have not talked about President Clinton's problems in great detail with you, but we know you've heard us discuss his lying to the people.

You know me well enough to know that I have strong personal feelings about the president's behavior, his lying to Mrs. Clinton, his supporters, and his Cabinet. As my daughter, you know that I'm also sad for his daughter.

Now that Congress will begin its own deliberations on the charges against Clinton contained in the independent counsel's report to Congress, I have to put aside my personal views and evaluate that report and all documents in a fair manner Polls and mail are helpful, but a member of Congress must decide for himself or herself without merely putting a finger up to test the wind. I don't have the luxury of staying on the sidelines.

The president's predicament will change our country. I'm afraid it already has. Where once the privacy of what happens to men and women behind closed doors was not known to the public at large, today, all of America is sadly poised at the keyhole of the president's door with a clear view of his private behavior in the most public of buildings, the White House.

I want to talk to you about that behavior. I have read the report and other materials, and if true, I think the president took advantage of a young woman. He was wrong. Both should have known better, but mostly, I fault the president's judgment because he is older and should have been wiser.

This world is far from perfect, and I hope that you are never in such a situation. That said, I'm also confident your mother and I have raised you in a manner that has given you enough common sense to stay away from such a predicament. We count on you to always use your best judgment and weigh your conscience.

America is a great country in part because we are disciplined by a rule of law premised on individual rights and liberties. Truth and honesty are its bedrock. From the time you were starting out in school and learned the legend of the young George Washington and his father's cherry tree, you learned that "honesty is the best policy." It was true in Washington's day, and it still is. Please don't forget that simple lesson, although today some would tell you the truth doesn't matter. It always matters - even if you are the president. This is why I voted to start the inquiry.

And the truth will guide my decisions as Congress decides what is the right thing to do. I wish he had told the truth at the start of this controversy because chances are the nation would not be in this mess. Like the oath he took when he became our president to protect our Constitution, in court he took an oath to tell the truth. He violated both of those oaths.

The last time America was faced with a test of our Constitution of this magnitude, your grandfather served here in Congress. I remember it was a trying time for him too when Congress began the process to impeach President Nixon. He had hoped, as did the rest of the nation, that it would be the last time we would consider impeachment.

I can't tell you how disturbed I am to be in the same position. This is not good for our nation. Mostly, though, I'm sorry you and your friends must now experience what it means for your country to be led astray by a leader the people once trusted and respected. At this time when you are learning your nation's history, we are also living it. And right now, I'm not proud of this small part of it.

I've told you politics and government are all about keeping your word, setting a good example, and being mindful that people have different opinions that you need to respect. Most elected officials try to follow these principles.

I think that many people are scared by our deliberations on the president's future - a deliberative process we must constitutionally undertake. I am positive that America will continue to thrive as a great nation because our forebears built a system of government with tremendous resiliency. Our Constitution is being tested, but it surely will survive this crisis well.

During your 8th grade graduation ceremonies last June, I quoted passages from Teddy Roosevelt's "Letters to His Children" that I thought were pertinent to your class' future. I think it is quite significant, too, that on the very same day we began a constitutional examination of whether or not our president is fit to serve in office, Congress also passed a resolution to award the Congressional Medal of Honor to our late, great President Roosevelt for his heroism during the Spanish-American War. Aren't we lucky that America has the memory of great leaders like him?

* Rodney P. Frelinghuysen is a Republican congressman from New Jersey. This article is an excerpt of a letter he wrote to his teenage daughter.

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