Statesmanship doesn't happen often in Washington these days, so when it is on display-as it was when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) took to the Senate floor to chastise President Clinton for moronic behavior, lying, and dissembling-people take notice. Twenty-four years after Barry Goldwater led a delegation of Republicans to the White House to tell Richard Nixon his time in office had expired, Sen. Lieberman may soon find himself in a similar position, walking "the last mile" to inform President Clinton of the ultimate in political capital punishment. Truth has such a distinctive ring to it that it is immediately discernible above the whine, finger pointing, and self-justification of "spinners." Speaking in properly serious tones, Sen. Lieberman brilliantly linked the president's conduct to the Hollywood culture with which Mr. Clinton feels so comfortable. As a frequent critic of slime TV and degrading films, Sen. Lieberman is uniquely qualified to draw the analogy. Sen. Lieberman rejected the claim by the president and his enablers that he was engaged in "private" behavior with Monica Lewinsky. He said the president is a role model, and that the role he has been modeling "is embarrassing for us all as Americans." Sen. Lieberman also took on the president's blatant hypocrisy: "The president's relationship with Miss Lewinsky not only contradicted the values he has publicly embraced over the past six years. It has compromised his moral authority at a time when Americans of every political persuasion agree that the decline of the family is one of the most pressing problems we as a nation are facing." He called the president "deceptive" and said his lies were "intentional and premeditated." He said they have weakened the power of his office and put his presidency "in peril." Two other conscientious Democrats quickly joined Sen. Lieberman, Sens. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, both of whom gave impromptu seconding speeches. Later, Sen. Kerrey issued a more formal statement in which he said he wants his and other children to know "there is truth and there is falsehood and that their responsibility lies with the former. I do not believe public leaders can condone the parsing of words into pieces so small they no longer convey plain meaning. The coinage of democracy is language, and I believe when we distort the meaning of words we devalue the currency by which the commerce of democracy is conducted. Legal technicality is not an adequate standard for truth for my children, for me or for the leader of our country." Soundings from the White House indicate President Clinton will reach into his familiar trick bag and may try to pick a fight with congressional Republicans again over self-described efforts to "protect our children" and shut down the government. It won't work this time, not only because we've seen this tired act before, but because the Ken Starr report is about to land on Capitol Hill with an impact that will send shock waves throughout the nation. There are reports circulating in Washington of imminent disclosures about affairs the president might have had with other young women under his authority. Despite his reluctantly offered apologies, Mr. Clinton is damaged goods, and increasing numbers of Democrats know it. The only instinct natural to all politicians is survival, and Democrats see themselves an endangered political species this fall, perhaps losing between 15 and 30 seats in the House and enough in the Senate to give Republicans a veto-proof majority of 60. The drill now will be for them to cut their losses. The debate within Democratic ranks is whether cutting losses means cutting loose Bill Clinton. Even that may not work with new concerns about broken campaign finance laws and fears that Al Gore may be up to his telephone calling card in violations. Thanks to Sens. Lieberman, Kerrey, and Moynihan, it is becoming easier to distinguish between self-serving politicians and genuine statesmen who believe that the preservation of the nation and its ideals is more important than any person or party. That's what America used to be about. With leaders like these, maybe it can be again.
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate