Saturday, February 13, 1999
THE end of the impeachment ordeal was greeted with a sigh of relief -- in the White House, in Congress, in the whole nation. For the president, it must have been an excruciating experience, but there can have been very few on either side who enjoyed it as the shock of scandalous revelations gave way to tedious repetition. The overwhelming national sentiment was to get it over with. Now it is.
acquitted but not
Bill Clinton was of course acquitted on both counts, perjury and obstruction of justice. On both, the votes fell far short of the two-thirds required by the Constitution for conviction and removal from office -- 45 for, 55 against on perjury, 50-50 on obstruction. On both counts, some Republicans deserted their leaders to vote for acquittal; all the Democrats opposed conviction.
Clinton was acquitted, but he was not cleared. The senators were divided on the appropriateness of removal from office, but they agreed that the president had behaved outrageously. Democrats who voted to acquit wanted to pass a censure resolution to show that the Senate did not condone Clinton's actions even if in the judgment of most of them the actions did not reach the constitutional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said that in the closed-door debate not one Democrat or Republican failed to condemn Clinton's behavior. The most curious vote was that of Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who said he had concluded that Clinton's acts did meet the constitutional standard but voted to acquit anyway.
In a criminal trial, a jury verdict of acquittal ends the case. But this was not really a criminal trial. The only penalty provided for upon conviction was removal from office, and the Senate could be considered a jury only by analogy. The standard the prosecution must meet in a criminal case, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, did not apply.
This was inevitably a political -- and a highly partisan -- process, although it bore some resemblance to a judicial one. Clinton escaped conviction, but he has been humiliated by the disclosure of his shameful actions, his impeachment by the House -- only the second in the nation's history -- and the proceedings in the Senate.
Although the president's approval ratings are astoundingly high, his credibility has been irreparably damaged by his lies under oath, his brazen attempts to obstruct the investigation as well as his adultery with a White House intern. Having refused to resign, as he should, he will serve out the remainder of his term licking his wounds.
The question now is whether he can perform as president with a Congress controlled by a party that tried to remove him from office. Yet both Clinton and the Republicans have incentives to make the federal government work effectively during the remainder of his term.
In brief remarks following the Senate votes, Clinton expressed regret for his actions but there are reports that he intends to seek revenge on his Republican tormentors in the 2000 elections by helping to win back Congress for the Democrats -- in addition to helping Al Gore win the presidency. Turning the elections into a referendum on Clinton's impeachment could be a risky tactic, given the volatility of public opinion.
IT'S been 20 years since the shah of Iran was overthrown by Muslim clerics. The ultra-orthodox Islamic republic they established viewed the West as an enemy whose contaminating influence had to be erased. The United States was termed "the great Satan" and the seizure of American hostages destroyed any hope of restoring relations quickly.
Change in Iran
But Iran today is not the same country; it has changed considerably for the better since those turbulent times. Iran is more democratic than it has ever been. Freedom of speech is growing although criticism of the revolution's spiritual leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remains taboo.
New newspapers and political groups are popping up, licensed by the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, who was elected 18 months ago. About 200,000 local councilors will be elected this month. The government is divided between the hard-line disciples of the Ayatollah Khomeini and moderates led by Khatami who want to reach out to the West.
Cultural and artistic restrictions based on Islamic values are being relaxed. The Islamic dress code for women is being enforced less strictly. Popular music, with religious themes, is starting to be tolerated in public. Illustrating Iran's conflicting values, in Tehran Thursday hundreds of thousands celebrated the revolution's 20th anniversary with both pop stars and readings from the Koran.
There are still reports of torture and imprisonment of dissenters, but the reign of terror that followed the shah's overthrow subsided years ago. Today Iran is at peace with its neighbors and striving for international respectability. However, there are deep contradictions yet to be resolved before the regime's course becomes clear.
Washington is watching intently for signals that the new Iran is ready to mend relations. But for the present, the chants of "Death to America!" are still heard. In the current confusion, clumsy overtures to the regime might backfire. For the United States, caution and patience are needed while waiting to see which side prevails.
Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership
Rupert E. Phillips, CEO
John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher
David Shapiro, Managing Editor
Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor
Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors
A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor