knowledge how little virtue meant tornthem and, perhaps, that the Americanrnpresidency was not as important as thernchampions of big government havernthought, if such a man could be left inrnsuch a position.rnPresident Clinton’s defenders willrnlikely continue piously to pronouncernthat he was wrong to do what he did, butrnby their actions in permitting him to remainrnPresident, they have severely weakenedrnthe office, with effects both foreignrnand domestic, by establishing that honesty,rnvirtue, character, probity, and judgmentrnare not requisite for the occupantrnof the Oval Office. They have also killedrnthe prospects for renewal of the independentrncounsel statute, and probably succeededrnin gutting the laws against sexualrnharassment. Some of this is all to therngood, of course, because the presidencyrnhas recently often threatened to overwhelmrnthe other engines of state and federalrngovernment, and the laws circumscribingrnwhat could and could not berndone in the workplace have oftenrnworked in ways antithetical even to whatrntheir drafters desired, as has the IndependentrnCounsel Act. Indeed, if this sorryrnepisode did anything, perhaps it led usrnfurther to question whether governmentrnis the answer to most societal problems,rnor whether we should be more worriedrnabout preserving liberty than we arernabout promoting regulation.rnConservatives who fear the nannyrnstate may take small comfort in a weakenedrnClinton presidency. But those whornbelieve in the Constitution, like thernHouse managers, can hardly feel goodrnabout the fact that senators did not permitrnthe managers to call even a singlernwitness before the Senate. The Constitutionrngives the Senate the sole power torntry impeachments, but this was, apparently,rnthe first impeachment in our 210rnyears since 1789 where an impeachmentrn(of a president or a judge) was “tried”rnwithout live witnesses. Whatever tributernthe senators paid the managers, it did notrninclude actually allowing them to tryrntheir case.rnFollowing the failure of two-thirds ofrnthe Senate to convict Samuel Chase inrnthe only impeachment trial of a UnitedrnStates Supreme Court Justice, the greatrnDemocratic orator Robert Rantoul dismissedrnimpeachment as a “bugbear” thatrnhad “lost its terrors.” Impeachment,rnthough, has been a tool that Congress,rnparticularly in the 20th century, has usedrnto remove corrupt federal judges. ThernFramers wanted a republic, with virtuousrnstatesmen at the helm. They werernhorrified at the notion of government byrnplebiscite, and they knew what Athenianrnraw democracy did to Socrates. Perhapsrntheir worst nightmare was that we mightrnelevate to high office demagogues skilledrnin manipulating public opinion to serverntheir partisan or personal purposes. Sadly,rnit now seems that we are living thatrnvery nightmare, and, at least when hernstands high in the polls, impeachmentrncannot be used to remove a corrupt andrnvenal President. The whirring noise yournhear is Washington, Hamilton, Madison,rnand Jefferson spinning in theirrngraves.rn—Stephen B. PresserrnT H E ACQUITTAL of William JeffersonrnClinton by the United States Senaternis a good thing, although amidst therngloom that justifiably surrounds this finrnde siecle, one is tempted to overlook therngood side of the bad news. The acquittalrnshould help dispel three dangerous illusionsrnthat still prevail among manyrnAmericans who cling to the hope thatrnthings are not qiute as bad as they reallyrnare.rnThe first illusion is the notion thatrnthere is a “Moral Majority” out therernsomewhere, its heart in the right placernand its mind supposedly concentratedrnon the need to win America back for thernGood People and the Cood Life. Wernnow know that most Americans eitherrndon’t find the rot so comprehensivelyrnembodied in Clinton objectionable at allrn(about a third), or simply don’t care (anotherrnthird), as long as the Dow is headingrnfor five digits and the weekly paycheckrncovers the rent, truck payments,rncable, beer, and chips.rnThe remaining third is powerless, disenfranchisedrn(it cannot assemble even arnsimple majority in the “Republican”-rncontrolled Senate), and rapidly diminishing.rnIts children belong to the DominantrnTendency, and their home-builtrndefenses are bound to crumble underrnthe steady onslaught from every screen,rnbillboard, and printed page in the land.rnThe loud minority of nihilists, perverts,rnand devil-worshippers who compose andrncontrol those messages are the ones whornnow have a “Silent Majority” behindrnthem. They know it and they like it. Therndrums may yet beat in the heartland, butrnonly to celebrate Kwanzaa.rnThe second illusion now in pieces isrnthat, for all the shortcomings of its dominantrnelites, America is still fundamentallyrnruled by law. L’affaire Clinton onlyrnconfirms what the O.J. Simpson charadernmade glaringly obvious: America is ruledrnby “due process.” This due process is atrnthe mercy of political and ideological vagaries,rnand fully detached from any recognizablernconcept of “truth” or “justice.”rnEven before the “trial,” 34 Senate Democratsrndeclared that they would not findrnClinton guilty. In doing so, they firmlyrn(and proudly) joined the moral ranks ofrnthe O.J. Simpson jury.rnWhereas the Simpson jury’s flawedrnjudgment sprang from poverty, stupidity,rnand racial-tribal allegiance, U.S. senatorsrncan plead no such mitigating circumstances.rnThey sinned with their eyesrnwide open and their heads held high.rnThey were joined by the remaining tenrnDemocrats (so much for “bipartisanship”)rnand —disgracefully—by ten Republicansrnscared by the polls (and, inrnseveral cases, by the skeletons in theirrnown closets). One can only speculaternwhich way they would have voted hadrnthe pollsters declared that two-thirds ofrnus supported impeachment.rnThe third illusion now dead is thatrnAmerica is a “democracy,” in the sensernof the res publica of informed and responsiblernfree citizens exercising theirrnrights and fulfilling their obligations.rnWith Simpson at large and Clinton inrnthe White House, we know it is not.rnAlas, for those hoping to “save the Americanrndemocracy,” our polity has lost sightrnof a rational and self-authenticating principlernat the root of moral distinctions. Itsrnsubjects are encouraged to participate,rnbut they are no longer expected to makerna meaningful contribution to a rationalrnsociety, and most of them would notrnwant to. They no longer know that “participation”rnrequires living morally andrnacting justly. If they were told that to livernotherwise is to be spiritually diseased andrnunworthy of the appellation of “citizen,”rnthey would laugh or stare blankly.rnA patient with advanced cancer mayrnhave a slim chance of recovery, but evenrnthose odds are reduced to naught if he remainsrnoblivious of the seriousness of hisrncondition. The remaining authenticrnAmericans may yet miraculously wrestierntheir country back, cit)’ by city and staternby state, but they need to be aware ofrnthe magnitude of the task. Clinton andrnthe U.S. Senate have helped enlightenrnthem. But for that unintended service tornthe cause of decency, February’s specta-rnMAY 1999/7rnrnrn