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Flynt, and Still
It's a sad state of affairs when Larry Flynt of Hustler Magazine has a better grasp of the Constitution than does the entire Republican majority in our House of Representatives.
Flynt, you will remember, took Cincinnati all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court a couple decades ago to prove that the First Amendment applies even to people who want to publish gross and explicit sexual material -- you know, the sort of stuff you can find in the government-issued Starr Report. Along the way, Flynt was shot in the back by a would-be assassin, and is still paralyzed from the waist down, in what some have said is poetic justice.
Flynt, with his own sense of poetic justice, recently offered a $1 million reward to anyone who could turn up provable dirt about the private lives of self-righteous House Republicans who have been wanting to perform what amounts to a Constitutional beheading of President Clinton because of our Chief Executive's attempts to conceal his private consensual sexual antics. In this season of lo and beholds, Flynt hit paydirt. He got the goods so well on House Speaker-designate Robert Livingston that Livingston resigned in disgrace in the midst of the impeachment vote because of his "youthful indiscretions" -- oops, no, that was Rep. Henry Hyde who did that, but who hasn't resigned. Livingston just confessed to having sequentially "strayed" -- that guy had at least five affairs? -- during his 33-year marriage to one long-suffering woman. (Bets are on as to whether she intends to divorce the stiff and live happily ever after on a $1 million nest egg.)
And now Flynt has said he has about a dozen lesser Congressional Republican fish to fry, details of which he will publish in his next edition of Hustler, coming soon to an adult supermarket near you.
This could get very interesting, and not just for the prurients. After all, the new House, to be sworn in in January, has only six fewer Democrats than Republicans. A gain of only four seats would put Democrats back in the majority. Already two vacant seats will have to be filled, Livingston's and that of Newt Gingrich, who announced his resignation after winning the last election in a landslide -- go figure. If Flynt has enough goods on enough other Republicans to prompt even half of his new dirty dozen to resign, we could have six, seven, eight open seats to fill in special elections during the coming year.
Chances are slim that either Gingrich or Livingston would be replaced by a Democrat. Newt's district is white, rich, and very conservative. And Klan sweetheart David Duke is among the announced Republican primary candidates for Livingston's Louisiana job.
But in this bizarre political season, in which Clinton's post-impeachment ratings rose to an all-time high of 73 percent, where two House Republicans managed to shoot themselves in the foot a la Stephen Crane just to get off the battlefield, and when people are finally waking up to what happens when they stay home and let right-wing Republicans get elected, it looks like anything can happen.
One thing I don't think should happen next month -- I don't think the Senate should censure Clinton because he lied about his private life. Since what Clinton did had absolutely nothing to do with his Presidential duties, it is none of the Senate's business. If there is an issue of possible perjury or obstruction of justice in the matter, the Senate should throw the matter down to a lower court, where it belongs.
There is also the matter of justice and balance. The harshest penalty for perjury in any normal court of law is a couple of years in prison. With the Senate impeachment trial, Clinton -- if convicted -- is facing not only a loss of his job and his Presidential pension, but also banishment from making a living in public service of any kind for the rest of his life.
That's a bit much for lying about sex, don't you think?
As for the trial, a lot of talk has gone on about the need to ignore legal technicalities, so much so that it sounds like a high-tech lynching of an uppity Democrat.
For starters, I think there is a legitimate question about whether a 105th Congressional House vote can bind a 106th Senate to act. This is not a minor matter, as any activist or frustrated legislator knows who has seen a promising bill sail through one chamber only to watch it die in the other at the drop of the adjournment gavel. After all, the current Senate will have had more than two weeks to deal with the House impeachment articles before the new Congress is sworn in January 6. Wouldn't a failure of the existing Senate chamber to act in a timely manner mean that the issue dies? Wouldn't new House impeachment articles have to be voted in the 106th before the Senate could act?
If this impeachment vote is allowed to bridge Congresses intact, what precedent does that set for other House or Senate actions?
The trial itself has some immediate technical problems. Despite several Democrats reminding their Republican attorney/politician counterparts that Basic Law 101 requires perjury charges to include the specific words alleged to be perjorious, the House repeatedly refused. Is the Senate supposed to hunt through all of Clinton's grand jury testimony to figure out what the House had in mind? With no specific perjury allegations to address, couldn't the Senate simply dismiss that impeachment article as being defective?
And then we have the unbelievable spectacle of one of the prosecutors, House Republican Whip Tom DeLay, actually suggesting that the jury (the 100 Senators) come on over and stroll through the evidence room and look at what was NOT presented during impeachment hearings, after which we'll take a poll to see if there are enough jurors who think Clinton's guilty of SOMETHING, even if it's not what he was impeached for, so we'll know whether or not to have a trail. Is that the way justice will actually be dispensed at the highest level in the United States of America?
And sorry folks, but it is not against the law to dissect a prosecutor's poorly worded question with the comment, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." After all, it does. Are we talking present tense or past tense, now or before? It makes a difference. It is not Clinton's fault that Starr's minions did not know enough to pick up on Sen. Joe McCarthy's mantra and ask "Are you now or have you ever been.."
The other legal technicality that has received a lot of public scoffing is whether or not Clinton lied under oath. Clearly Clinton has lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He lied to you and to me on television. He lied to Hillary, his Cabinet, his lawyers.
But whether he lied under oath about a material matter is something else. I don't think he did. I think he was very cagey and chose his words carefully, that he sidestepped many questions, that he was vague and unhelpful. But, technically, I don't think it can be proven that he committed perjury. And that's why he won't confess to having done so -- a refusal which drives the Republicans up a wall.
I do agree with those who say a Senate censure wouldn't add anything to the humiliation Clinton has already received before the entire world. He's reached the saturation point. Why bother?
So, if the Senate does what I would like to see and decides against a censure vote, counting instead on justice being applied at the appropriate lower court level after Clinton leaves office, and if Clinton beats both raps in a Senate trial, as I think he can and should, does that mean the philanderer gets off scot-free? Hardly. He is only the second President in our history to have been impeached. That fact will not change.
As for Bill Clinton getting the comeuppance he deserves for his moral failings, I am willing to leave that up to God -- and Hillary.
---------------------------------------------------Jean Hay, who lives in Bangor, is a freelance political columnist as well as managing editor of The Enterprise, a small weekly paper in Bucksport, Maine.
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