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September 14, 1998 [ Printer-friendly version ]

"Are you considering resignation, Mr. President?" NBC's Jim Miklaszewski asked Bill Clinton as he was leaving the White House last Thursday. The President's seething glare conveyed the answer. "Will the President ever consider resigning?" Tim Russert asked the President's lawyer Charles Ruff on Sunday. "Absolutely not. No way. Never," came the reply. "When everybody is snow-skiing in hell -- that's when the President will resign," said another source close to Clinton.

Clinton's former and current advisors, all agree: This President will never resign. But then no one expected Richard Milhous Nixon to resign. "I have never been a quitter," Nixon told the nation during his resignation speech on Aug. 8, 1974. "To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body." And to leave office before the new millennium is no doubt abhorrent to every instinct in Bill Clinton's body. But leave office he must.

As Nixon put it: "America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with the problems we face at home and abroad. To continue to fight through the months ahead for personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress."

If the Republican leadership has its way, it will be the 106th Congress that will carry out impeachment proceedings, not the 105th. The pollsters have told Republicans that a diminished and disgraced Bill Clinton in the White House is the best bet for GOP prospects in the November elections and beyond.

But prolonging this national nightmare is the worst possible thing for the nation. How we resolve the Clinton crisis will determine not merely this President's fate, but whether the people's trust in our political institutions can be redeemed and the integrity of the political process reasserted. When Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned over the Saturday Night Massacre, he talked of the "embezzlement of political trust." This has undoubt edly been the severest blow inflicted on the system by the current President.

"There is a special kind of shrug for a perjurer," writes Robert Bolt in "A Man For All Seasons." "We feel that the man has no self to commit, no guarantee to offer." And as the President is taking turns apologizing and offering laughably legalistic defenses, the suspicion is growing that he can no longer offer himself as a guarantee for anything whether promise or policy.

Back in 1945, Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes -- father of Clinton's former deputy Chief of Staff -- condemned President Truman's "lack of adherence to the strict truth" and resigned from the cabinet. "I don't care to stay in an administration," he said, "where I am expected to commit perjury for the sake of the party." The distance we've traveled between Harold Ickes pere and Harold Ickes fils shows how far down we have defined presidential deviancy.

If the President resigns, it will obviously not be in principled protest but in response to pressure. There will still be an element of volition, though, and therefore an element of sacrifice of the personal to the national interest. And only some act of sacrifice can begin to restore the image of the President that we are left with from the Starr report -- a man of staggering narcissism and self-indulgence, whom nobody dared gainsay, investing his energies first in gratifying his sexual greeds and then in using his staff, his friends and the Secret Service to cover up the truth.

The outrage around the country is growing. And the intersection between politics, protest and the Internet is being tested as never before. I'm doing my part. Today I'm launching, a website that will provide an up-to-the-minute catalogue of elected officials, public figures and newspapers (USA Today has just joined the list) calling for the President's resignation. It contains resignation speeches and letters throughout history, provides a forum for everyone who wants to explore whether the President should resign, and offers an opportunity to participate in contests for the best-written resignation speech and the one that most closely resembles the speech the President may end up giving.

The message of is clear: Take responsibility, Mr. President, for what you have done to your party, your office and your country, and continue your "journey" of "reconciliation and healing" in private. And let a full-time President and a full-time Congress -- in your oft-repeated phrase -- "get back to work for the American people."

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