NOW that President Clinton's spokesman has promised that his boss won't throw a victory party when the impeachment trial is over -- now that the White House has been declared a "gloat-free zone" -- maybe the Senate will finally find a way to call a halt to this futile exhibition of political tap-dancing.
After much talk about a plan to approve a "finding of fact" that would enable the Senate to pronounce Mr. Clinton guilty of impeachable offenses without actually convicting him, it is now obvious that the proposal was primarily a product of certain senators' preoccupation with Mr. Clinton's penchant for dancing in the end zone.
Here's how Jonathan Weisman of The Sun in Baltimore explained it:
"With the end of the impeachment saga now in sight, White House aides took pains Wednesday to reassure senators that President Clinton would not stage an 'unseemly' victory celebration after his expected acquittal by the Senate.
"The prospects for such a celebration have put a chill in Senate efforts to end the trial, with Republicans scrambling for a graceful conclusion that would not appear to exonerate the president of any wrongdoing.
"Senators, especially Republicans, have been haunted by the image of Clinton and House Democrats gathered on the White House lawn in December for an exuberant show of solidarity just hours after the House had voted to impeach the president.
"The prospect of a repeat performance has been the subject of 'very, very deep concern' among Republicans, acknowledged Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt.
"Until now, the White House has danced around the notion of whether a victory show would be staged after the conclusion of the Senate trial. . . . But Wednesday, Joe Lockhart, Clinton's spokesman, finally addressed the matter, declaring the 'post-impeachment era' at the White House 'a gloat-free zone.' "
Think about what's happening here. Despite the fervent wish of most Americans to get this impeachment business over with as quickly as possible, the U.S. Senate has been holding up the works in hopes of finding a way to keep Mr. Clinton from celebrating.
Can you believe it? Can you believe that duly elected members of the world's greatest deliberative body could be so petty and paranoid as to thwart the Constitution and the will of the people out of fear that the president will gloat?
It would be funny -- if it weren't so annoying.
For one thing, there's nothing the Senate can do to prevent Mr. Clinton from claiming victory at the end of the impeachment trial. Since the only outcome that the president might consider a defeat -- conviction and removal from office -- is a virtual impossibility, the Senate is powerless to influence Mr. Clinton's reaction. If he wants to do back-flips when the trial is over, well, go ahead.
Mr. Clinton, don't forget, is the man who dubbed himself "the Comeback Kid" after losing the New Hampshire primary in 1992. Who could have been shocked that a politician who took a victory lap after finishing second in an election would treat himself to a pep rally after being impeached?
If Mr. Clinton wants to light up a cigar, pound a drum and slap himself on the back once he's acquitted by the Senate, no extra-constitutional "finding of fact" can stop him. We are dealing with an arrogant, self-indulgent, highly competitive individual here; when it comes to winning and losing, restraint and good taste have rarely been Mr. Clinton's hallmarks.
Nor has promise-keeping, which could lead us to suspect that a no-celebration pledge from Mr. Clinton might be worth no more than those oaths he took when testifying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
But if the president's mouthpiece says the White House has been declared a "no-gloat zone," let's take him at his word. Let's hope that, just this once, Mr. Clinton will show some humility and decorum.
We might not want to bet on it. But we can hope.
Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Pub Date: 2/08/99