Reap the whirlwind Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

Some time early next year, as the incoming 106th Congress sits down to whatever business the lobbyists have decided is most important to it, members are likely to experience an uncomfortable sense of dj? vu. Because after all the pre-election posing and proclamations about the chief executive offender, after October's dramatic vote for an impeachment inquiry, Congress will probably have to vote again to authorize impeachment.

This being December, and the general public being thoroughly tired of the Reich-wing witch hunt against Clinton, expect Henry Hyde to move heaven and Earth to finish enough of his lame-duck preliminaries before the January swearing in to avoid another impeachment vote. The GOP knows how much Americans have enjoyed the past months' respite from Monicamania. They'd have to be as stupid as they are obsessed not to have an inkling of the backlash they court if the Starr Chamber cranks up its act again. Barring shocking new revelations (Bloody glove fits Clinton's hand! Prez joins O.J. to search world golf courses!), most of Congress would just as soon pull a Bobby Ewing and write off the last year as a bad dream.

But real life is not Dallas, and there are still enough dittoheads out there who can't admit Clinton beat 'em, so impeachment will probably drag on through spring. Lately, they've taken to whipping up the peanut gallery by declaring that Clinton's behavior was worse than Nixon. Worse than Nixon. Truly an argument for historical amnesiacs.

But with enough weight for the 105th to lift verbatim the articles of impeachment used on Tricky Dick, change the names, and drop them on Slick Willie. O! Irony! If only ol' Tricky himself were here to give play-by-play at the hearings, so we could watch him try to contain his laughter!

Worse than Nixon? Richard Milhous Nixon presided over the losing-side slaughter of more than one million Vietnamese and 30,000 American troops. More Americans died in combat in a week under Nixon than in six years under Clinton.

Nixon launched an 18-month secret war in Cambodia that destroyed that country and led directly to the Pol Pot trauma, from which his victims are only beginning to recover. Clinton landed a platoon of Marines on a beach in Somalia for a photo op.

Nixon authorized a secret war at home, too, unleashing the FBI and CIA on anti-war protesters and civil rights activists, ordering break-ins, using the IRS against opponents. Clinton hired a flunky who called up a couple hundred old FBI files for bathroom reading.

Nixon's operatives systematically sabotaged Democrat candidates for the party's 1972 presidential nomination to assure the weakest would be his November punching bag. Clinton's GOP challengers offered up their weakest candidate in 1996 with nary an encouragement.

Nixon's vice president was driven from office for accepting cash bribes in brown paper bags. Clinton's vice president is being hounded for allegedly accepting campaign donations from monks who took a vow of poverty.

Nixon's secretary of defense was so scared of what his boss might do to avoid impeachment that he slept on a cot in his office and insisted military orders be cleared through him. Clinton can't keep Janet Reno from investigating his secretary of agriculture.

Nixon was and Clinton is the subject of impeachment hearings for violating the same statutes. But on the evidence so far, that's like comparing vehicular homicide with speeding because both are traffic violations. The difference is that one provokes outrage and a lust for vengeance, while the other elicits points against one's license and a proportional fine.

Clinton should resign, if not for us then for himself. Who wants to be followed the rest of his life by reporters and pundits who ask after every statement, Are you lying to us now? But like Nixon and syphilis, Clinton just keeps coming back. Whether his offenses (and they certainly are) in fact were crimes (which a sufficiently dedicated prosecution can certainly make them appear to be), Clinton will insist on being dragged kicking and screaming from the White House if he's not allowed to leave in peace two years from now. The question is, can Clinton's prosecutors manufacture the visceral loathing against him which Nixon inspired without assistance? Because if they can't, they will reap what they have sown.