Ask the Questions
Monday, February 9, 1998 by Dave Winer.
On Saturday, the President's defenders used a new word. Exonerate. The spin doctors are going to have a lovely time with this word. The President is exonerated. The rest of the world wonders what the fuss was about. Perfect ammo for the President's spin doctors. We'll deal with that later.
Meantime, the CNN scoop, reported here last week, is now the ABC News scoop. (How come no one else paid attention when Byrd said the same things on CNN on Wednesday? Interesting..)
Robert Byrd, the Democrat Senator from West Virginia said on Sunday "I have no doubt that he has given false testimony under oath and that he has misled the American people. There are indications that he did indeed obstruct justice."
He continued, "It will be very difficult to stand and say 'not guilty' -- very difficult. Who's kidding whom here? I have to live with myself. I have to live with my conscience. And I have to live with the Constitution."
Now there's the cross-party cue. The exit strategy for Republicans and Democrats. If you're tired of the debate, just get into agreement with Byrd. Who's kidding whom here? Exactly. I couldn't have said it better myself.
The beauty of the Constitution is that it forces a decision, so no matter how the Senators try to wiggle out of it, the impeachment process is a cul-de-sac, as Byrd says. Yay or nay, guilty or not, he stays or goes. There's no shade of gray possible.
The Constitution versus the Spin Doctors. The TV generation versus a Tough Decision. Professional wrestling versus the real thing. They say the vote will come later this week. I, for one, find it fascinating, even riveting. By standing up and saying so maybe I'll give courage to others who want to participate as our elected government tears up the Constitution and reinvents our legal system.
Last night watching Larry King again, I wanted to ask Louisiana Democrat John Breaux a question.
He said Clinton did horrible things, a common theme repeated by many Clinton advocates. But they never elaborate. Does Larry King know his job? He's supposed to ask a tough question here. Mr. Breaux, you just said the President did horrible things. For the record, what are they?
The Democrats want to elaborate, after they vote to acquit. That's too convenient. That's the faceoff between legal responsibility and spin. According to their plan, censure, which has no legal standing, and can be withdrawn when the Democrats control the Senate, is all that prevents future presidents from perjury and obstructing justice. Sorry, with all due respect, I don't believe it will do that.
Our political system has changed. Instead of three branches, executive, legislative and judicial, it's now a feedback loop implemented thru television. The spinners make the poll numbers go up by figuring out what people want to hear and saying it. What they do may have nothing to do with what they say. The poll numbers become the news story. (Meta-news, news about the news!) Anything that gets in the way is ground up. Anyone who disagrees is labeled as a crazy radical. The polls buy it. This is Al Gore's version of wisdom. Pfui!
I believed all the crap they told us in school about the strong moral ground that this country was built on. I held that belief thru Vietnam and Nixon because we ended the war and forced the President from office. The Constitution was challenged then too, Vietnam was an illegal war and the President tried to subvert the political system. We won that round. But maybe our country was always crazy, as some people believe, maybe the Constitution was always a lie. None of us can really know.
Anyway, never mind what the Constitution was in the past, what do we want it to be in the future? Here's what I believe: we can't afford to negotiate with our President on this level. Clinton, if he had any honor, if he loved our country, would have resigned last summer before the grand jury testimony. Instead he chose perjury. Anything that happened after that was the rest of us trying to rescue what's left of our honor and pride in our country from a greedy self-centered person who wants the legal system to stoop to embrace his illegal behavior. I won't stand by and let our system be turned around this way without fighting.
Behind all the noise, here's what's really going on. One of our three branches of government, the judicial system, is undermined. That's what perjury and obstruction of justice are about.
If you value free speech, remember, the courts were all that stood in the way of the wildly unconstitutional Communication Decency Act.
You can still count on the judicial system, to some degree, to interpret the Constitution with courage and intelligence. Eventually they will break too, as the Presidency and Congress has, if they don't have our support.
I'd like to respect the censure advocates. To do so, I need them to answer some questions.
Please state clearly the new rules of Presidential conduct after Clinton is exonerated. When are presidents allowed to lie and obstruct justice? What laws do they not have to obey?
Before we finally restructure our government, let's think it thru and debate as intelligent respectful adults instead of sweeping it away. Has this country been good to you? Then be good to it. Ask the questions.