THE HOUSE PROSECUTORS would have us believe that there is much more at stake in the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton than one man, weak of flesh, lying to hide his shame.
The Republicans tell us that the rule of law has been subverted by an arrogant man who places himself above it. That absolute truth has been replaced by calculated lies and the parsing of ambiguous words. That the presidency has been damaged. That the sanctity of marriage has been mocked. That faith and forgiveness have been cynically manipulated. That sacred oaths have been trampled.
Even the Democrats and the political wise men who have argued against impeachment say that the Constitution and the office of the president and the balance of power between the branches of government have been weakened and compromised by the naked power grab and vindictive campaign of the special prosecutor.
We have been told that this crisis has reduced our standing in the world community and our effectiveness as referee in its more tumultuous regions. We have also been told that this scandal has sidelined our efforts to care for the elderly and the ill by buttressing Social Security and reforming health care.
We have been told that the innocence of our children has been blighted by the revelations of President Clinton's sexual escapades and that the whiteness of the White House itself has been sullied.
How we raise our children, whether we stay married, if we tell the truth when asked -- all these things at the core of who we believe we are -- are at stake in the resolution of President Clinton's impeachment, we are told.
There's no arguing that these things are on the table, like stacks of poker chips in the game of our lives. But we didn't wager them. We didn't push these things to the center of the table.
The baying hounds from the House of Representatives and the pompous, self-important senators and their handmaidens in television and newspapers have made this wager on our behalf.
It is they, not us, who believe that the rule of law, the meaning of truth and the future of the American family are at stake in how we face the challenge of Clinton's infidelity and what he did to keep it hidden.
These things are at risk, not because I or my neighbors believe them to be, but because rhetoric has overtaken reason among those who are trying to drag Clinton down by his haunches like a stag.
The man is a reprobate. There is no doubt. Whatever he thinks of his wife -- or the office he holds -- the fact that he inflicted this humiliation on his daughter is proof enough of that for me.
But I don't have to be part of the torch-bearing lynch mob outside his door to demonstrate the fact that his values are not my own. I don't feel like my soul, or my family's soul, is in jeopardy because his may be. And I resent the pompous grandstanding that suggests that this mess is a referendum on how I raise my kids or conduct my life.
I am appalled that TV's Dan Rather would scold me for not paying reverential attention to the impeachment trial. The fact that a national newsman is castigating us for not attending to his pomposity is ludicrous to me. And I utterly reject the judgment of some of my readers, who think my lack of attentiveness to the proceedings demonstrates my lack of character.
President Clinton is the one who cheated and lied. That I do not need to see him stripped and flogged does not mean that I also cheat and lie or, for that matter, that the country is overrun with cheaters and liars. I do not measure my own values, or the values of my country, against the degree of mob justice we foment or the relish we take in any man's undoing.
As my teen-aged children often ask, "How is this about me?"
I would ask for some perspective, if it were not already too late for that. We cannot measure ourselves by the smallness of our president. We must use another standard for that measure and that standard must come from inside our own homes, inside ourselves.
Pub Date: 2/02/99