On Monday, the 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, will commit what could be a fatal political error by allowing himself to be questioned under oath by an independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, who has taken more than four years and spent $40 million in taxpayer money trying to prove that Clinton must be guilty of something or other and so should be impeached by the House of Representatives and tried and convicted by the Senate (as the Constitution requires) for what the peculiar Starr will argue is a high crime or misdemeanor like treason or taking bribes or insufficient racial bigotry.
Foreigners are mystified by the whole business, while thoughtful Americans--there are several of us--are equally mystified that the ruling establishment of the country has proved to be so mindlessly vindictive that it is willing, to be blunt, to overthrow the lawful government of the United States--that is, a president elected in 1992 and reelected in 1996 by We the People, that sole source of all political legitimacy, which takes precedence over the Constitution and the common law and God himself. This last was a concept highly uncongenial to the enlightened 18th century founders but not, we are told, to a one-time judge of meager intellectual capacity but deep faith in all the superstitions that ruling classes encourage the lower orders to believe so that they will not question authority.
First, what is the president guilty of? Attempts to prove that he did something criminal 15 years ago in Arkansas in a real estate deal came to nothing. Undeterred, Starr kept on searching for "high crime, and misdemeanors," as the Constitution puts it. Had one of Clinton's associates in the White House been murdered, possibly by Mrs. Clinton, said to be his mistress? This "murder" was found to be a suicide, the result of depression brought on by savage attacks from the Wall Street Journal. The restless Starr moved on to other areas. Meanwhile, in 1994, Congress became Republican and political partisans are now reveling in the political paralysis of the Democratic White House. According to Starr, the fate of the Republic depends upon whether Clinton lied under oath when he denied having had sexual relations with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, assuming anyone can define, satisfactorily, a sexual relation. Does a frictive act performed on a passive president, idly daydreaming of the budget, count as intercourse? Finally, semanticists are stuck with the English word "intercourse." "Inter" means between at least two people; "intra" would suggest something of a crowd, not practical in the Oval Office unless sturdy Secret Service lads join in. Did they? As I write, the nation awaits the laboratory analysis of what is, according to Lewinsky, a presidential semen stain on her elegant blue dress, carefully preserved so that, when her time comes, she can take her place in history alongside if not Joan of Arc, Charlotte Corday.
A few years ago, two pollsters did an elaborate study of a wide spectrum of the American population. Many questions were asked on many subjects. The results were published in book called "The Day America Told the Truth," not a confidence-inspiring title when more than 90% of those polled confessed to being "habitual liars." That the president of such an electorate should lie about sex makes him more sympathetic than not. Certainly, if so irrelevant a question was asked of George Washington, he would have run Starr through with his sword, while Abraham Lincoln would have thrown him out the window. But irrelevance is now the American condition, both as a global empire and incoherent domestic polity. Two-thirds of all the world's lawyers are American, and they have made a highly profitable, for them, mess of our legal system. They could not prove, in the 1950s, that Alger Hiss had been a spy for the Soviets, so they sent him to prison on an unconvincing perjury charge. Al Capone was never convicted of murder or extortion; he was put in jail for income tax evasion. Unable ever to be relevant to what is the true case, we make not telling the truth under oath (to whom? what?) the crime of crimes. This is law in its decadence.
After four years, Starr has found no crime that Clinton has committed except denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, which she has already said under oath never took place but now says, under oath and with a wink from Starr for her previous perjury, did take place. The president cannot be indicted by a civil grand jury. He need not speak to Starr, who is, ironically, his employee. The president's attorney general, Janet Reno, with the connivance of two right-wing senators (one is Jesse Helms, tobacco's best friend) and a panel of three right-wing judges, came up with Starr as independent counsel to investigate, originally, Whitewater, and then anything else that might undo two presidential elections.
What is behind this vendetta against Clinton, a popular president? First, the most powerful emotion in American political life is the undying hatred of certain whites for all blacks. For American blacks, Clinton is white knight. Arkansas is also a Southern state, where the Ku Klux Klan is still a force. When the schools were desegregated in the '50s, a battle line was drawn. A former judge and a member of the White Citizens Council known as "Justice" Jim Johnson kept up a war against blacks in general and Clinton in particular ever since. "Justice Jim" is also associated with David Hale, who pleaded guilty to fraud and is in charge of the "Arkansas Project," funded by a conservative billionaire named Richard Mellon Scaife. This brings us to the Clintons' other nemesis: the wealthy conservative ruling class. In order to avoid taxation, the wealthy have, through their lawyers, placed their capital in tax-free foundations for "charitable" purposes. To have such a foundation, one must never use it to meddle in politics. But Scaife does meddle. He gives money to such disreputable magazines as the American Spectator, which has published numerous wild stories about the Clintons. A year or so ago, Scaife rewarded Starr with a future deanship at Pepperdine University, which Starr accepted and then, as the publicity was bad, hastily returned to his war on Clinton. Presumably, he will be paid off by Scaife once his holy work is done. Every society gets the Titus Oates it deserves.
Mrs. Clinton is correct when she says that there is a right-wing conspiracy against them. Unfortunately for her, Americans have been trained by the media to go into Pavlovian giggles at the mention of the word "conspiracy," because for an American to believe in a conspiracy, he must also believe in flying saucers or, craziest of all, that more than one person was involved in the JFK murder. Mrs. Clinton, perhaps, emphasizes too heavily the "right wing" aspect of her enemies. It is corporate America, quite winless in political as opposed to money matters, that declared war on the Clintons in 1993 when the innocent couple tried to give the American people a national health service, something every civilized country has but we must never enjoy because the insurance companies now get one-third of the money spent on health care and the insurance companies are the piggy banks--the cash cows--of corporate America.
In order to destroy the health service plan, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in tandem with lively elements of the American Medical Assn., conspired to raise, according to some estimates, as much as hundreds of millions of dollars to create and then air a barrage of TV advertisements to persuade the electorate that such a service was communist, not to mention an affront to the Darwinian principle that every American has the right to die, unhelped by the state, which collects half his income in life with which to buy, thus far, $5.5 trillion worth of military hardware. Then, not content with the political destruction of the Clintons' health plan, corporate America decided to destroy their reputations. Nothing personal in this, by the way. But how else can the ownership of the country send a warning to other feckless politicians that the country and its people exist only to make money for corporations now so internationalized that they cannot be made to pay tax on much, if any, of their profits? Starr is now the most visible agent of corporate American wielding a new weapon under the sun: endless legal harassment of a twice-elected president so that he cannot exercise his office as first magistrate.
All sovereignty in the United States rests, most vividly, on the concept of "We the People of the United States" (with the sometime addition of "in Congress Assembled"). The Constitution, the common law and even the wealth of corporate America or the rage of lumpen white Americans against blacks must bow to this great engine that could, through a constitutional convention, sweep into limbo all our current arrangements. President John Adams wanted a republic not of men but of laws. He could not have foreseen the madness of our present condition, with everyone at law and expensive prisons filling up while a partisan lawyer, through legal harassment, is busy undoing the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996 because his paymasters did not like the results.
Happily, when the collapse begins, there may yet be a time for the most feared (Pavlov again) rendezvous with destiny: a constitutional convention. Meanwhile, I should not in the least be surprised if yet another "conspiracy," in the name of We the People, will be set in motion against Kenneth W. Starr for his willful and malicious attempt to overthrow two lawful elections reflective of the people's will and that he be put promptly on trial for treason against the United States and its People; if nothing else, such an exercise might reveal all sorts of highly interesting co-conspirators.