President Clinton must still face punishment for his wrongdoings

President Clinton must still face punishment for his wrongdoings By Guest Commentary This much seems clear today: Bill Clinton's political backside is safe.

He will not be unceremoniously thrown out of office by the Senate in any impeachment trial. He may face the impeachment proceedings, but the mathematics of the 106th Congress already guarantee he will survive.

In fact, the president may not even face impeachment at all. There is building sentiment on Capitol Hill against having Clinton — whose long list of transgressions don't need to be repeated here (consult any television news talk show for the details ad nauseam) — face a long, drawn-out constitutional process that will almost certainly break down into heavy-handed, partisan and unappetizing political theater. The nation has grown weary of this tawdry, embarrassing mess, or so virtually every opinion poll indicates. And that's enough to sow the seeds of doubt and the need for a quick out in D.C.

Yes, there is still the matter of the Judiciary Committee hearings. The matter of impeachment may come to a full vote of the U.S. House and it may still go to the Senate. But then again, don't be surprised if this all slips away by year's end. Clinton's proponents are solidified and buoyed by the surprising results of the general election. Clinton's foes are either self-destructing or are seeing the writing on the wall; the GOP's new Speaker of the House, Rep. Bob Livingston, wants this quagmire cleared from the agenda before he formally assumes power.

We are on record as believing that Clinton should face impeachment and that the constitutional process should play itself out. But what we, and many other people, believe and what the political realities of November 1998 dictate appear to be two very different things. That is ultimately a disservice to the nation and to its principles.

There's no question that the surprising results of the Nov. 3 election have a lot to do with the current state of things. Some Democrats say the results indicate that people are sick of the Lewinsky scandal and are saying it's time to move on. We're not sure if that assessment is completely correct, but we do think the results suggest the scandal is not the earthshaking political matter that many in the beltway convinced themselves it was.

And so perhaps it is time to move on.

But we believe Clinton has played time to his advantage. He has selfishly slowed the process of justice and has played the dwindling patience of Americans like a piano. At this point, he has persevered — again.

But this in no way acquits him for his judgments, his actions, his crimes and his indiscretions. Even if he survives — even if he escapes facing impeachment — this president must be brought to some kind of accountability, and it must be done for the good of the office he has defamed and for the good of the people he has let down.

That may now mean Congressional censure — an embarrassing tag that this president, no doubt, would be willing to live with so long as the perks of power are still at his disposal.

And unfortunately, that may be the best that can be hoped for at his point.

If Clinton is impeached and then acquitted by the Senate, he then escapes without punishment.

And that is unacceptable.

Our lawmakers must do what is best for the nation — given the circumstances. Even the president's most ardent supporters say his conduct has been reprehensible, but even his harshest critics say censure may be the best course.

Clinton must be held accountable. But if circumstances say that punishment can only be a censure, then that — very unfortunately — is what must be done.

–Yankton Press & Dakotan

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