He goes by "Bill" and tolerates "Bubba," but on Dec. 19, the whole world seemed to be calling him "William Jefferson Clinton." It was a bad omen for the beleaguered president. As any naughty child knows, being called by one's full name is a sure sign of an impending spanking. At 1:25 p.m. on that last Saturday before Christmas, with U.S. troops scrambling in the Gulf and U.S. newsmagazines on their holiday hiatus, William Jefferson Clinton finally went to the woodshed. Rep. Ray LaHood, the acting speaker, intoned the president's full legal name again and again as he read the charges against him: "Resolved, That William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors ..." "William Jefferson Clinton ... has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration ..." "William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury ..." "William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States ..." "Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States." Then, after the charges were read, William Jefferson Clinton was impeached on two of the four counts against him in a historic and largely party-line vote. It was a spanking that will never stop burning: The scarlet letter of impeachment was affixed to his administration for all time, securing his place in the basement of the presidential pantheon. In the debate leading up to the vote, Republicans sounded somber but certain. Calling Mr. Clinton "a serial violator of the oath," Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who will lead the team that presents the case in the Senate, insisted that the day's proceedings were not simply about the president's private life. "Equal justice under the law, that's what we're fighting for," he said. "And when the chief law enforcement officer trivializes, ignores, shreds, minimizes the sanctity of the oath, then justice is wounded, and you're wounded, and your children are wounded." Mr. Clinton, as usual, sounded defiant and unrepentant. In a carefully choreographed White House appearance shortly after the vote, he bitterly denounced the process that brought his administration into permanent disrepute. "We must get rid of the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship, obsessive animosity, and uncontrolled anger," he said with his jaw set. "That is not what America deserves." The president was flanked by the first lady and leading congressional Democrats, who voted party-line against all articles of impeachment. The president's remarks were directed above all to the 100 senators who will sit in judgment on his conduct. With 67 votes needed to convict, almost no one expects Mr. Clinton to be removed from office. But the mere spectacle of the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding over the Senate trial of a disgraced president will further damage Mr. Clinton's standing and add yet another black mark to his historical legacy. For conservatives who care about truth and justice and the rule of law, that may be victory enough. And for Christians who care about virtue and morality, the impeachment vote had yet another happy outcome: People are now talking about those subjects once again. Calling for a return to virtuous leadership, Speaker-designate Bob Livingston abruptly resigned his post and his House seat just hours before the impeachment vote and just days after revealing his own sexually checkered past. It was a stunning moment that reinforced a long-forgotten lesson: Private actions have public consequences. In schools across the country, curricula driven by pragmatism and relativism have been hijacked by the impeachment scandal and its undercurrents of morality. After casting his vote against impeachment, Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) returned home to face an audience of high-school honors students. Along with the expected questions ranging from diversity to drunk driving, the students also wanted to talk about sex, about lying, about right and wrong. If the President of the United States will lie to us, asked one young man, how can we trust any politician? Why shouldn't the president be held to the same moral standards as the military? asked a classmate. Students in history and civics classes debated those questions right along with their representatives in Congress. "It's a matter of trust," said a 14-year-old student at St. Richard's School in Indianapolis. "If we can't trust him with family matters, how can we trust him with other things, like Iraq?" The class voted 8 to 1 to oust the president. In Columbus, Ohio, high-school students were talking about virtue, too. "I don't believe he's a good president at all," said a young woman. "The president should be a role model, and what he did was terribly wrong, not to be looked up to. I think he should be impeached, and the Senate should get him out of there." Whether they think Bill Clinton got justice or got the shaft, students are being confronted with biblical truths that the National Education Association might have preferred to ignore: You reap what you sow. Actions have consequences. Sin hurts. In that sense, the impeachment of President Clinton was more than just news, more than history, even. It was a parable.
Hastert: just a regular guy
The new "morality matters" consensus in national politics may prove to be short-lived or even counterproductive. But in the meantime, it has already produced some concrete good news for political conservatives: the anointing of Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to serve as the next Speaker of the House. He was chosen, at least in part, because his squeaky-clean private life precludes any embarrassing skeletons in his closet. After Bob Livingston (R-La.) confessed to marital infidelities and took himself out of the running, Mr. Hastert quickly emerged as the choice of Republicans across the ideological spectrum. Pro-family leaders were mostly enthusiastic. They say that in Mr. Hastert, conservatives have found a soft-spoken-yet hard-core-leader. Although the 56-year-old six-term member of Congress has a townhouse in the District of Columbia, he travels home to Yorkville (population about 6,000) most weekends. He and his wife, Jean, often can be spotted doing their grocery shopping and other chores around town in jeans and breakfasting at the Cozy Corner restaurant. He pumps his own gas at the local Amoco station. On Sundays, he visits various churches in the 14th district; he identifies himself as a Protestant evangelical. Colleagues say he faithfully reflects the moral character of small-town America. "He's one of us common folk," says Jeffrey Bundy, whose children used to play with Mr. Hastert's two sons. "In town, he wears Levi's and he gets a $5 haircut. He's a family man, and he's down to earth." A 1964 graduate of Wheaton College, where he majored in economics, Mr. Hastert became a Yorkville High School teacher the following year. He taught government and social sciences and coached its wrestling team to state championships. He also helped out with Boy Scouts activities. He kept on coaching after being elected to the Illinois legislature; he served five years before winning a U.S. House seat in 1986. He soon became his party's standard bearer on health-care issues. Mr. Hastert seems to have the right credentials for the job. His votes have earned him perfect ratings from many business and conservative-issues groups, including the Christian Coalition, and zeros from labor unions and liberal interests, including the American Civil Liberties Union. But although he has been a reliable vote for the so-called religious right, he is not an outspoken ideologue. To win legislative points, he prefers quiet back-room give-and-take persuasion over soapbox oratory. As a result, he has managed to escape being tarred and feathered in the media as a radical by the liberal establishment. Mr. Hastert boasts a good pro-life voting record. He voted to override President Clinton's veto of a ban on certain late-term abortions; to require parental notification before minors can get contraceptives from federally funded clinics; to criminalize taking a minor to another state for an abortion; and to oppose Food and Drug Administration approval of abortion-inducing drugs. He voted against federal funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, against federal funding for needle-exchange programs, and in favor of government money for private-school vouchers. -Edward E. Plowman
Setting sail the censure-ship
In Washington these days, censure is being discussed more often than new spending initiatives-a fact that may bode as well for Americans' pocketbooks as it may for America's president. But not all forms of censure are created equal. If the punishment is supposed to fit the crime, how stiff should the penalty be? Here, in roughly ascending order of severity, are some of the options under discussion: (1) Reprimand. This is simply a formal statement by the Senate that the president's actions were wrong or illegal or perhaps "morally reprehensible." Reprimand is considered the weakest option because it could be expunged from the historical record by a simple majority vote in a future Congress. (2) Reprimand with admission of wrongdoing. Some senators are insisting they will support a censure bill only if it includes a written a confession of wrongdoing by the president. After months of insisting that his testimony under oath was "legally accurate" (if intentionally misleading), Mr. Clinton intends to continue to fight any such requirement. (3) Recommendation for post-presidential criminal prosecution. Under this option, the Senate would state explicitly that its actions do not close the book on the president's alleged crimes. Through a Sense of the Senate resolution, it would recommend further prosecution and punishment when Mr. Clinton is once again a private citizen. (4) Disbarring. Attorneys found guilty of suborning perjury are routinely disbarred, or forbidden from practicing law. Some see this as a particularly appropriate penalty for Mr. Clinton, although it's unclear why he would want to return to his legal practice when he could make millions as a speaker and writer. (5) Fine. Many Republicans want to see the president forced to pay a sizeable financial penalty-perhaps even reimbursing the costs of the Starr investigation. Although there are serious questions about the constitutionality of such a penalty, Republicans like to point out that Newt Gingrich was charged $300,000 for an offense much less egregious than lying under oath. Honorable mention: One innovative trial balloon being floated by some on the right is a one-day removal. Under this plan, the president would still be subject to any of the above penalties, but in addition, he would be removed from office one day early in January of 2001. He would thus become the only president in history to be removed by the Congress-and Al Gore could give his inauguration speech and his farewell address all at the same time.
They, the jury
With the successful impeachment vote in the House, the 100 senators who will make up the president's jury have turned unusually quiet. But they weren't always so circumspect. Here are a few statements made by five key moderates over the past six months. The question now is, with history on the line, will they back up their rhetoric with a meaningful rebuke? Joseph Lieberman-The president is not just the elected leader of our country. He is, as presidential scholar Clinton Rossiter observed, "the one-man distillation of the American people," and "the personal embodiment and representative of their dignity and majesty," as President Taft once said.... So no matter how much the president or others may wish to "compartmentalize" the different spheres of his life, the inescapable truth is that the president's private conduct can and often does have profound public consequences. Pat Moynihan-You cannot have this kind of conduct as normal and acceptable and easily dismissed. Robert Byrd-This time the president himself has, by his own actions and his own words, thrown the first stone at himself and thus made himself vulnerable to the stoning by others. What a sorrowful spectacle. Bob Kerrey-Honestly, I think he does have to assess what he's going to say to the 1.3 million men and women who wear the uniforms of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.... We live in a different standard. When I'm in the military, when I'm a junior officer in the United States military, I know there are some things I cannot do because it's conduct unbecoming of an officer. Orrin Hatch-There is credible evidence that there was perjury, subornation of perjury, tampering with witnesses and obstruction of justice.... You don't have to have committed a crime to be impeached, if you look at the history of this. It's a matter of just how bad these things are and how much condemnation it's brought to the presidency.