WITH reality in such short supply these days in Washington and on television, here are a few observations to help keep "Impeachment Week" in perspective.
Contrary to what the White House would have us believe, this is not a "crisis" situation for the nation. Even if President Clinton is impeached, convicted and removed from office -- the worst and most unlikely scenario -- remember that the nation has lost better presidents at far more crucial times and survived nicely, thank you.
And despite what the Republicans would have you believe, worse presidents have done far more terrible things than Mr. Clinton and gotten off scot-free, without destroying the presidency or corrupting the morals of America's children.
Granted, no sane soul wants the grief of an impeachment trial in the Senate that will prolong the burden of this sorry matter. But it's too late for anyone in Washington to do the right thing now.
Thanks to all the absurdity, there is no right thing now, except for the House to vote on articles of impeachment. Anything other than that allows the president to approve his own punishment, a deal of some kind in which he accepts more humiliation and dumps more insincerity on us. Such bartering in "the best interest" of the country only adds insult to injury, making all of us hostages in a mindless political struggle we had nothing to do with.
No, we've gone this far. So let's have the impeachment vote and the shabby Senate trial. The republic will survive no matter the outcome.
If Mr. Clinton is removed from office, just remember that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt left us suddenly, too. What makes impeachment any worse for the country than assassination or sudden death of a good president?
And as for leaving the White House in the hands of Vice President Al Gore, we could be worse off. Richard Nixon left the helm to Gerald Ford at a time when oil-price driven inflation was eating the nation's economy alive. Mr. Gore is every bit as decent and honorable as Mr. Ford, and more importantly, better qualified for the job.
Remember, times are good. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt left office at moments of grave crisis, Roosevelt in the midst of a war and Lincoln at the end of one. And his successor, Andrew Johnson, quickly became the only American president to have been impeached so far.
Johnson was not removed from office, and Mr. Clinton probably won't be either. But so what if he gets off? Republicans would have us believe some epic tragedy will result. Rubbish.
Many U.S. presidents, including some recent and popular ones, committed far worse crimes against the public than Mr. Clinton while in office and never had to answer to anyone.
John Kennedy's behavior in the White House, though a bit more discreet, would look just as tawdry on today's talk shows. Lyndon Johnson's fabrications went right to the heart of impeachable offenses in office. He made up a Pearl Harbor-style attack by the North Vietnamese to justify his actions in Vietnam. The lies Ronald Reagan and George Bush told about the Iran-contra make Mr. Clinton's evasions about sex look pedestrian in comparison.
And every White House from Johnson on concocted one elaborate ruse after another designed to mislead the public and the world on far more important matters. And they would have lied about it all under oath, too, only in most cases they never had to.
And as for all that nonsense about an impeachment trial paralyzing the Congress and threatening the republic, forget it. This president is not going to accomplish anything anyway. And the less lawmaking done by Congress the better. After watching the House Judiciary Committee on television, who wants any more laws passed by its members?
What's a little more turmoil and inertia in Washington? That's all we've had for a year. Might as well go for two. But don't look so forlorn. This president is not being impeached because he is so bad.
Like so many other great moments in history, this impeachment is the result of a confluence of circumstances never before experienced: He got caught doing something wrong that made great soap opera television, and caught by people who hate him so much they refused to give him a pass.
The argument can be made that he is getting what he deserves. And perhaps so will we.
The fact is that neither Mr. Clinton nor his congressional persecutors are as important to the stability of the nation as Washington and the media would have us believe.
An impeachment crisis will occur only if we buy the line that there is one. The democracy depends not upon this White House or the kooks in Congress, but on the confidence of the people and the strength of the system. Neither should be shaken by any of this, since it is only more of the same.
Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune, covered the Watergate scandal. He is now a horse breeder in Versailles, Ky. This column first appeared in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader.
Pub Date: 12/16/98