The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton poses a serious threat to the prosperity of our economy, the stability of our government, and the peace of the entire world. That, more or less, is the line being taken by the Democratic leadership. Whatever Messrs. Gephardt, Daschle, and Moynihan may think privately of the President’s fitness to retain his office, they are resolved, in public at least, to treat the prospect of his removal as a constitutional crisis.

To salve their conscience and preserve even a particle of dignity, some Democratic senators have made a show of condemning Mr. Clinton’s disgusting behavior. There are even suckers out here in Middle America who took Senator Lieberman seriously as the liberal conscience of his party. Eventually, however, Lieberman and company resort to the same cliches as their less dignified colleagues: Adultery, sexual harassment, kinky sex, lying, perjury, obstruction of justice (“and them,” as Saphire used to tell the Kingfish, “is your good points”), and whatever else he might have done in his entirely despicable career do not constitute grounds for expulsion from office.

It is in vain that the House Republicans point out that any other federal official or military officer would have been given the boot a long time ago. After all, it is the office of the presidency that is at stake and not just the future of one career politician. Most of these statements can be discounted on the usual “consider the source” basis. Dick Gephart has taken both sides of virtually every major issue that has come up before Congress, from abortion to taxes, and when the House Democrats gave him a standing ovation, it was as if they were all saying “One of us, one of us.” At least they’re not hypocrites: Modern liberals exult in their shame.

Senator Moynihan is a different story. He is often pig-headed in a bad cause, but he is also a bleeding-heart liberal who has over the years cauterized some of the wounds, a two-fisted debater with an enormous capacity for argument and an Irishman’s thirst for truth. There is at least a drop of truth in his glass when he warns against the terrible consequences of removing any sitting president from office. The President of the United States has become a kind of symbol: He is the commander in chief, leader of the free world, an expert—like Stalin—on any subject his aides choose to prep him on, and before too long we can expect President Al Gore to be promoting Lysenkoism. Global Warmingism, and homeopathic medicine with NSF grants and professorships at government-controlled universities like Harvard. Senator Moynihan’s message is clear: The President is above the law.

What did Senator Moynihan think, I wonder, when his old boss Richard Nixon was hounded out of office for conniving at the kind of dirty tricks that both parties play on each other? We know what many people thought at that time, which is that the President of the United States should display a loftier character than the average citizen. But that was 25 years ago, and more than a generation has passed. We are not the people we were.

In 1972, when Richard Nixon was reelected. World War II veterans were still running the country, and people of my and Clinton’s generation were still dodging the draft. In the intervening quarter of a century, we have learned to depend less upon ourselves and more upon the government. Most of us have spent a large part of our lives in front of the television. We know little history and that little consists of regime-serving myths that would embarrass a Stalinist. We read less — and what we read is written on a level for TV-watchers. We are so thoroughly indoctrinated that we do not even realize that much of what we call news is vulgar propaganda.

As our lives become drabber and less substantial, we become obsessed with celebrities—body-sculpted starlets, basketball players, and jet-setting politicos. People magazine is our Bible and Larry King is the greatest prophet. Every day, American life becomes less and less like something the authors of the Federalist would have understood and more and more like scenes from Petronius’s Satyricon, where sex substitutes for love, profits for productivity.

Petronius lived in the time of the Emperor Nero, when the Romans no longer voted for their consuls but were content to worship whatever buffoon had been selected to be the god-man who ruled the world’s only remaining superpower. Even after his disgusted associates finally succeeded in murdering their emperor, Nero remained popular with the masses, and pretender after pretender was greeted by adoring crowds. Nero had been popular in his lifetime. His sexual escapades and the murder of his friends counted for nothing, and the Roman senate, which had long since given up its pretense to independence, treated him as a god.

In a republic, a man of Nero’s character would not rise to the position of mayor, much less that of chief magistrate, and in a republic. Bill Clinton would have become a personal injury lawyer or an Elvis-impersonator. In anointing Clinton with the holy oil of their votes, the American people were saying they did not care what kind of man became President, so long as he promised them jobs and benefits, and in refusing to remove him from office, the Senate of the United States is living up to the standard set by their Roman predecessors.