cy, when anyone who can drive a car isrnprononnced fit to exercise the franchise.rnThere’s a wonderfully enlighteningrnchapter in William Alexander Percy’srnLanterns on the Levee —A too-much-neglectedrnwork of literature —concerningrnthe downfall of Mississippi’s gentlemanlyrnU.S. Sen. LeRoy Percy (the author’s father)rnat the hands of the distinctly nongendemanlyrnJames Vardaman. The votersrn—and this was 1912 —didn’t want arngentleman; they wanted one of theirrno\ n. And they got him.rnWliat does this prove? That the gentlernPercys are ever destined to give way beforernthe no-holds-barred Vardamans?rnNot really. The Vardamans won longrnago. Yet even today, Republicans someliowrnhave a better knack than Democratsrnat retaining personal dignity, and a betterrngrasp of the reasons yvhy, in the Age ofrnClinton, dignity is indispensable.rnEven when it looks like wimpery, yourndon’t want this condition to endure. Yournwant a little respect, a little civilit}’. At thernsame time, you hope Republicans canrncome to understand the stakes in the ongoingrnconfirmation wars. As soon as thernnext Supreme Court vacancy comes up.rnDemocrats are going to scream bloodyrnmurder about any nominee with thernslightest taint of conser’ative blood —thernkind of nominee George Bush says hernwill propose. We’ll hear of racism. We’llrnhear of nefarious places where the nomineernhas made speeches. You can countrnon his intention of sending poor womenrnto the alleys for coat-hanger abortions.rnSomething else can’t be counted on,rnbut it can be hoped. A well-loved Episcopalrnbishop—a conservative —once putrnit well. Of his revisionist adversaries, hernprayed: “Lord, let them go too far.” Letrnthem show, in other words, what badrnguys they are, for all their fine talk. Thenrnlef the people judge. Let the truth —rnwhose tones are resonant —be heardrnloudly, cleady.rn— William MurchisonrnTHE PRESIDENTIAL PARDON ofrnMarc Rich, the Belgian-born, naturalizedrnAmerican billionaire financier andrnfugitive who has renounced his U.S. citizenshiprnand fled to Switzerland to avoidrnmulti-million-dollar tax liability, evokedrnincredulous responses from many. SaidrnNew York’s Mayor Rudy Guiliani, “WhenrnI first heard about it, m — my reactionrnwas, quite honestly, no. No. It’s a mistake.rnIt must—thev must be confusedrnwith somebody else. No president wouldrnpardon a fugifive. No president wouldrnpardon someone on the FBI’s top numberrnone list of fugitives for a long, longrnfime. No president would ever pardonrnsomeone where the charges are sfill openrnthat he traded with Iran during thernhostage crisis. I mean, what presidentrnwould do that?” The President who did,rnof course, was William Jefferson Clinton.rnRich had been involved in what NBCrnnews called “a complex oil scam exploifingrnAmerica’s energy crisis in tlie early 80’s”—rnfrom which he made a profit of $100 million.rnAnd while 52 Americans were heldrnhostage. Rich’s company allegedly made arnkilling trading with Iran, in violation of tliernU.S. embargo. Then he allegedly failed tornpay any taxes on the profits.rnRich, one of only six people on thernFBI’s Most Wanted list, was still pardonedrnby President Clinton. As the WallrnStreet Journal’s John Fund told ChrisrnMatthews on CNBC’s Hardball, “Wernhave had pardon problems in the past,rnChris, but we have never had people likern[Democratic party fundraiser] Beth Dozoretzrn—and I can tell you, [newly designatedrnchairman of the Democratic Party]rnTerry McAuliffe . . . involved in givingrnadvice to people on pardons in early January.rnWe have never had that before inrnAmerican history.” What Fund was implying,rnwhat internet news sites and somernof the tabloids were beginning to speculate,rnand what two Congressional investigafionsrnin both the House and the Senaternwere looking into, was whether MarcrnRich’s ex-wife Denise —a prominentrncontributor to the Democratic Partyaidedrnand abetted by Dozoretz andrnMcAuliffe, had managed to funnel hundredsrnof thousands of dollars of MarcrnRich’s ill-gotten gains to both the DemocraficrnParty and the Clinton PresidentialrnLibrary, in exchange for the pardon.rnDenise Richards quickly pled the Fifth,rnand by mid-February, Congress and thernnew attorney general, John Ashcroft,rnwere taking steps to grant her immunity,rnto gain further information.rnIf it was true—as virtually everv’ Americanrnsuspected —that Clinton hadrnpromised the pardon in exchange forrncontributions, it would be the clearestrncase of Clintonian audacity yet. Onernstrange soul, Sen. Aden Specter—who,rnduring the Clinton impeachment trial,rnhad (making a strange and utterly irrelevantrnallusion to Scottish law) voted “notrnproven”—suggested that it might be appropriaternto impeach Clinton oncernagain, stripping him of his remaining federalrnemoluments: his pension. SecretrnService protection, and office allowance.rnThe odds of that happening, of course,rnare slim.rnBut the Rich fiasco —and Clinton’srncontemporaneous pardoning of dozensrnof others, including his half-brother, hisrnformer business partner, and an extraordinaryrncollection of miscellaneous miscreants,rnmany of whom seemed to be directlyrnconnected either to him, hisrnfamily, or powerful members of his politicalrnparty—did focus new interest on thernpresidential pardoning power. Couldrnthis have been what the Framers had inrnmind? The Consfitution is a bit opaque.rnIt provides merely that the Presidentrn”shall have Power to Grant Reprieves andrnPardons for Offenses against the UnitedrnStates, except in Cases of Impeachment.”rnIt sets no standards for the grantingrnof pardons, and it imposes no fettersrnon the absolute discretion of the President.rnThe Federalist, our most reliablernguide to the original understanding ofrnthe Constitution, devotes only a couplernof pages to pardons, but some passagesrnare intriguing. Hamilton, in Federalistrn74, writes that “the reflection that the faternof a fellow-creature depended on his solernfiat would naturally inspire scrupulousnessrnand caufion; the dread of being accusedrnof weakness or connivance wouldrnbeget equal circumspection, though of arndifferent kind.” Claiming that it was betterrnto put the power of pardon in thernhands of the single executive rather thanrnrequiring legislative concurrence (evenrnin eases of treason), Hamilton concludedrnthat “It is not to be doubted that a singlernman of prudence and good sense is betterrnfitted, in delicate conjunctures, to balancernthe motives which may plead forrnand against the remission of the punishmentrnthan any numerous body whatever.”rnBut Hamilton believed that thernElectoral College, indirect election ofrnthe president, and other safeguardsrnagainst direct democracy that thernFramers had built into the Constitutionrnwould give us a chief executive knownrnfor probity and good character. Hamiltonrnwas thinking of George Washington,rnof course, and he never met Bill Clinton.rnThat sound you hear is, undoubtedlv,rnHamilton spinning in his grave.rn— Stephen B. PresserrnC A R T A D E L P O N T E ‘ S talks m Belgradernwith President Vojislav Kostunicarn8/CHRONICLESrnrnrn