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"... the first elected president to be impeached...'; AFTERMATH OF IMPEACHMENT


When the textbooks of tomorrow are written, the part about Bill Clinton will almost certainly open with that phrase. His legacy will revolve around the tawdry affair with a young White House intern that led him to become only the second president ever tried for impeachable offenses.

But what has been the impact of the Clinton scandal on the rest of us? Have the workings of government been affected? What about the press? The law? The American workplace?

As events that became a part of our national consciousness start to recede into memory, members of The Sun's Washington bureau take a look at what's left behind and what has changed, now that the impeachment trial is over.

The presidency

He demeaned the presidency. He dishonored his office. He brought shame to it. Those phrases - and worse - were hurled at President Clinton on the Senate floor last week.

But has the impeachment of the president, only the second in history, inflicted lasting damage? According to presidential historians and political scientists, the biggest harm may have been the way that the Clinton scandal has diminished the public's trust in government.

"One of the problems in judging impact is whether this has been about the presidency or about Bill Clinton as president. I think it is more the latter," says Charles O. Jones, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin. "If so, then there need not be lasting effects."

Robert Dallek, a Boston University historian whose subjects have included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, agrees that any fallout from impeachment is likely to revolve around the more personal aspects of the presidency, rather than the powers of the office.

"There is probably going to be a reaction against all this machismo business," he predicts, referring to the sexual adventurism of Clinton and modern predecessors such as President John F. Kennedy.

Any changes are likely to be far different from the limitations imposed on the "imperial presidency" in the Watergate era.

During the year leading to Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974, Congress passed the War Powers Act to restrict the president's ability to commit U.S. military forces without congressional approval.

After Nixon, presidential papers became the property of the federal government; campaign contributions and spending were strictly limited in presidential elections (though inventive politicians found gaping loopholes); and the independent counsel's office was created, establishing, in effect, an investigative authority whose only purpose was to probe the president and senior members of his government.

The Clinton impeachment is not expected to generate new curbs on presidential power. If the independent counsel statute is scrapped, as some expect, it would result in fewer limitations on future presidents.

There has been another less noticeable, though profoundly corrosive, consequence of the Clinton scandal: Trust in government, which had started to move up in the mid-1990s, after a long period of decline, took a sharp drop over the past year.

"The prevailing wisdom is that impeachment hasn't changed the presidency at all," says Paul C. Light, director of the Center for Public Service at the Brookings Institution. "The government is continuing to function. But there is evidence of a fairly significant decline in public confidence in government."

In 1997, just before the world learned the name Monica Lewinsky, 38 percent of Americans said that government could be trusted to do the right thing all or most of the time. Last month, that figure had been cut in half - to just 19 percent - according to a national survey by the Center on Policy Attitudes, an independent group of social science researchers.

It was during the last presidential scandal - the Iran-contra affair of the 1980s - that discontent with government began to increase noticeably. And it would take almost a decade after that before public trust started to rebound.

Paul West

Campaign 2000

As the Senate trial wound down, one Republican offered an unusually candid - and cutting - assessment of his party's plight.

"The GOP is standing in quicksand," Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado told a reporter. Voters "aren't going to compartmentalize [impeachment]. This has implications for the year 2000."

Polls say the same thing. A majority of Americans think Republicans will be punished politically for trying to drive Bill Clinton from office. Clinton is described as bent on revenge - and determined to engineer the defeat of Republican representatives who pressed the case against him.

But the next national election is 21 months away. And political consultants in both parties believe that is plenty of time for impeachment to vanish as an issue - even if Clinton's ardent defenders try to make it one.

"It'll be gone. We won't even discuss it," predicts a strategist who advises Democratic candidates, speaking on condition that he not be identified. "It'll be a distant, distant memory."

Economic trends, the presidential campaign, an unforeseen event. All are likely to have more to do with election results in 2000 than any residue of anger over impeachment, strategists say.

Still, it seems clear that the Clinton scandal will be the backdrop for the 2000 campaign, whether or not it determines the result.

When Elizabeth Hanford Dole hinted that she might run for president, she evoked an unusually strong - and positive - response. Some might have seen her as an antidote to Clinton. A serious woman presidential candidate seems about as far as one could get from the current occupant of the Oval Office and his legacy of "bimbo eruptions." Dole, in a recent speech in New Hampshire, the first primary state, indicated that her candidacy would center on themes of moral leadership.

"At a time when the presidency has been tarnished," she said, "our confidence in leaders is shaken. But we can rebuild it."

Her catch phrase - "America deserves a government worthy of her people" - recalls the offer made by Jimmy Carter to a Watergate-weary electorate in 1976: A government as good as its people, he pledged.

Now that the glare of news coverage of impeachment is fading, media attention is shifting to the 2000 presidential race. Already, the character cops in the press corps have been interrogating prospective candidates.

No topic appears out of bounds. In a recent television interview, the early Republican front-runner, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, was asked (not for the first time) whether he had ever used illegal drugs.

"I'm not going to talk about what I did as a child," replied Bush, hoping that he won't be penalized for ducking personal questions in the post-Lewinsky era. "I do not want to send signals to anybody that what Governor Bush did 30 years ago is cool to try."

Paul West

Independent counsel

Out of the ashes of the Lewinsky scandal comes at least one near-certain change on the legal front: the reform or, more likely, death of the controversial independent counsel statute.

Running a stake through the independent counsel law is perhaps the one proposal that enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Authorized by Congress in 1978 in the wake of the Watergate scandal and reauthorized several times since - most recently in 1994 after it had lapsed - the law expires at the end of June. Independent counsels still active, including Kenneth W. Starr, would be allowed to finish their work.

On the heels of Starr's much-criticized investigation, few give the statute much chance to survive.

"The odds are against it at this point," says independent counsel expert Katy Harriger, a Wake Forest University professor. "I don't think anybody is prepared to defend the statute in its current form."

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has planned hearings Feb. 24 to discuss whether the law should be reauthorized, reformed or killed. The first witnesses are to be former Republican Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and former Democratic Attorney General Griffin Bell, both opponents of the statute. Sen. Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, the committee chairman, also opposes reauthorization.

Historically, Democrats have been the chief proponents of the statute while Republicans, especially enraged by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh's protracted Iran-contra investigation during the Reagan administration, have opposed it.

In 1994, House Republicans led by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, now Judiciary Committee chairman, tried to rein in the authority of independent counsels by imposing time and budgetary limits. But Democrats, including Clinton, refused to back the bill, and the statute was extended with minor changes - leading to the appointment of Starr.

Now, many Democrats, having watched an independent counsel pursue one of their own for 4 years - with no limit on time or resources or direction - have had second thoughts.

So, too, has the American Bar Association, which led the drive for the law more than 20 years ago. Last week, in a significant turnabout, the organization's delegates voted 384-49 to oppose the statute's renewal "in any form." If Congress should decide to retain it, the ABA noted, drastic changes should be made.

"We jointly concluded that the theory of the statute is great, but in practice it does not take politics out of the prosecution. It puts politics into it, reducing public confidence," says George Washington University law professor Stephen

A. Saltzburg, co-chairman of the ABA's task force whose work led to the vote. Saltzburg said all of the proposed fixes to the law have problems.

But a key Democrat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan, has long said that Congress should "amend it, don't end it."

Levin would like to see the law changed in profound ways. He would restrict the independent counsel to investigating the president, vice president and Cabinet-level officials; limit the acts under investigation to those that occurred after the official took office; and limit the budget.

An outspoken defender of Clinton during the impeachment trial, Levin says that without some sort of independent prosecutor, there would be a conflict of interest in having a Justice Department official investigate another official within an administration.

But Levin has found few colleagues who share his continued support for the statute.

"If you find one," says John Brennan, his communications director, "give me a call."

Susan Baer

The media

True, she did not flash her thong, but the day Monica Lewinsky hit the media 13 months ago, the chemistry was instantly combustible.

"I remember when I woke up and read the headlines in the paper that first morning, I thought to myself, 'The world has changed,"' said Fox News' managing editor, Brit Hume, a longtime Washington correspondent. "And indeed it had."

To reporters like Hume, the story shaped not only the presidency but the media that covered it. Traditional news organizations were no longer controlling the coverage as the fast-breaking story found other outlets on the Internet and cable. The public learned details about cigars and the like from late-night comedy shows but not from their morning newspapers. Mainstream news organizations were pushing the limits, reporting ever more details about the private lives of public officials.

The news audience scattered: Some stuck with the networks and newspapers; others got their own copies of the Starr report. Some turned on Monica-saturated cable news shows; others collected gossip from Matt Drudge's Web site. Some went to talk-radio scandal;, others considered the political musings of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt.

Media analysts say that alternative outlets were strengthened by the story and that Monica Lewinsky helped bring to prominence a form of "new news" that is here to stay.

"The coverage of the scandal represents the triumph of the new news over the traditional news," said Marvin Kalb, a former CBS News reporter who teaches at Harvard University and is writing a book on the theme. Future coverage, he said, will be just like the Lewinsky stories, "only the subject will change - it will be some other kind of scandal."

The year was a boon to the leading 24-hour cable news stations - including relative newcomers MSNBC and Fox News Channel, which thrived after the scandal broke.

"This story broke at a time when the conventional wisdom was [that] people weren't interested in the news in Washington," said Hume, whose show on Fox News at times garnered 15 times the show's initial viewership. "We had the opportunity to gain an audience."

But the outlook was not always so rosy for the mainstream news media, which much of the public accused of hyping a story no one cared about. Backbiting abounded within the ranks: Reporters who got leaks from the independent counsel's office were branded as Starr sympathizers more interested in protecting their source than telling the whole story. Reporters who wrote critically of the Republicans were called Clinton apologists.

The seamy details acquired an official patina: An independent counsel's investigation and a congressionally released report put those issues legitimately into the public debate. News organizations divided over how to handle the sexual details and rumors.

Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus believes the experience could change the media for the better. "I think one of the great lessons of the last year was that no newspaper and no network really got hurt by exercising caution," he said. "But a number of newspapers and networks did suffer damage to their reputations by failing to do so."

Ellen Gamerman

Values and morality

It may be left to the history books to determine how the extraordinary events of the past year - in which tawdry topics were blared in headlines and on round-the-clock TV - have affected the public's sense of values and morality.

"We're so close to the controversy, the anger, the polarization and the fatigue that it will take a little while to digest what's happened," says the Rev. Philip Wogaman, pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington.

The scandal has deepened the public's dissatisfaction with and cynicism about politics and government and the institutions associated with both, including the press and legal system. But for all the sordid discussions of the past year, few believe the scandal will leave any lasting scars on the nation's moral code.

"There's been much more serious, sober thought and discussion in our country about moral issues - and that's to the good," says Wogaman, one of President Clinton's spiritual advisers. "I do not think there will be a deterioration of the moral tone, partly because it has registered so clearly in the public view that the things the president did were wrong. And he himself made that clear."

David Blankenhorn, director of the Institute for American Values in New York, believes the deep divisions over the Clinton scandal have reflected the widening cultural gulf between "moral orthodoxy" and "moral progressivism." He says one of the chief lessons of the past year is that the balance in America has shifted significantly toward a more loosely defined, less absolute, view of morality.

"I was surprised," Blankenhorn concedes. "I thought public lying was a firewall."

One of the big surprises has been the public's continued support for Clinton and its seeming tolerance for his conduct.

William A. Galston, a professor at the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy and former Clinton domestic policy adviser, agrees that such reaction reflects the increased tolerance for differences, and even wrongdoing, that has developed in American society in the last 30 or 40 years.

"So many household have been touched by problems - divorce, infidelity, out-of-wedlock births, child or spouse abuse, drug abuse," Galston says. "There's a real sense that a stern, puritanical judgment cuts too wide a swath through our society."

But while Americans have been more tolerant than censorious, he adds, "My hunch is, they don't like what they've been put through and, if they had their druthers, would not want to go through it again."

Consequently, he believes the nation will select a different sort of political leader in the next election.

For all the discussion about how the president's behavior would affect the values of children and teens, some say young people have looked upon Clinton's transgressions with a harsher eye than their parents, that they are more likely to reject than be corrupted by his example.

"My impression is, teens have experienced the unhappiness that comes with family breakdown, and there's no way you can tell them this stuff is OK," says Patrick Fagan, a fellow in family and culture studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "I suspect what teens will do is look at how adults have handled it. Based on trends already there, I'd expect to see them being a bit more critical of the adults than the adults are of themselves."

Susan Baer

The workplace

Some company bosses sent out memos reminding employees not to e-mail each other Monica Lewinsky jokes for fear of sexual harassment charges. Others told top executives who had their own "inappropriate relationships" to resign quietly. And still more engaged in one version or another of the Lewinsky affair - the office romance that rocked the world.

That woman has made her mark on the nation's workplaces. But instead of clearing up the murky realm of office intimacy, the Lewinsky scandal seems to have confused it.

"The story creates an even greater need for clarity and distinguishing between what is and is not sexual harassment," said Ellen Bravo, co-director of 9to5, a national association for working women that receives about 15,000 sexual harassment complaints each year. "We see the Monica Lewinsky scandal as an abuse of workplace power - that's different from sexual harassment. It's not a violation of the law, but it's nevertheless a problem."

The story made plenty of bosses nervous about their own interns. After the news broke, Bravo said she received calls from companies seeking to refine their guidelines and start training programs to prevent sexual harassment. Public attention remained strong: The Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit and settlement put the issue in the spotlight, as did a 1998 Supreme Court ruling holding employers legally responsible for sexual harassment of their workers.

While the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings inspired caution in many offices, the Lewinsky story at times had the opposite effect. Discussions of the Starr report were quick to turn graphic and allowed co-workers to discuss sex under the guise of current events.

Sometimes the Lewinsky story figured as a player in sexual harassment episodes. A female staff member at a Midwestern telemarketing firm recently called Bravo's group after office co-workers leeringly told her to re-enact Lewinsky's Oval Office acts. When she complained, Bravo said, the company apologized but suggested she find a new job.

This sort of story is nothing new. Some business people say the notion that Clinton would have been fired for his relationship were he a corporate CEO is a glaring overstatement.

"The idea that a CEO would be removed for that is much truer in recent years than it used to be, but it's still a clubby atmosphere with a board of directors that lets the CEO, another good old boy, get away with whatever behavior he wants," said Susan Meisinger, senior vice president of the Society for Human Resource Management, which represents personnel workers.

Regardless of the bad press the workplace romance got in the White House scandal, workmate-mating is not likely to go away soon. Dennis Powers, who wrote "The Office Romance," said companies have not enacted policies to halt office dating and that such relationships continue.

"People are going to fall in love regardless of whether there is bad press," said Powers, who reinterviewed couples after the scandal to see how it changed them. "Most people don't see how it affects them. As one man told me, 'I'm not the president of the United States."'

Ellen Gamerman

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