What The Dickens Should Clinton Do?

By Arianna Huffington

December 24, 1998

Senators who spend their weekends reading the Constitution and not the opinion polls, believe that they have no option but to begin a trial of President Clinton. But in this season of goodwill toward men with high job approval ratings, can that argument win the day?

If they cannot stop a trial, Clinton's supporters hope it will be more O.J. Simpson and less Oliver Wendell Holmes. They want the trial to be open, with the television cameras broadcasting to the nation the sexual questioning of Monica Lewinsky about the sexual details of her sexual relationship with the president of the United States -- sparking an inevitable backlash from voters.

It is no wonder that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, wants the questioning of "the more infamous witnesses" to be closed: "There's no prohibition under the Senate rules from hearing those witnesses in closed sessions. This will not be a spectacle. It will not demean the Senate."

At least a handful of the president's detractors finally understand what the president's supporters understood long ago: Every day the president's impeachment is perceived to be about sex, his approval ratings go up. They are now at 72 percent, rivaling Mother Teresa's favorability ratings when she died. And a Senate trial in which Monica Lewinsky testifies under oath may actually lead to the hitherto unthinkable moment in our history when an impeached president is more popular than a acknowledged saint.

Alas, there is only one person in America who can wrap this up in time for Christmas and give the nation the gift of a Monica-free 1999 -- and that's the president of the United States. I know. I know. As Vice President Al Gore said on Wednesday: "He is not going to resign. You can rule this out as a possibility." So the conventional wisdom is that whoever pleads resignation is just wasting their breath -- or, in my case, bandwidth, since I started www.resignation.com.

But this is the season of miracles. What if someone or something appealed to the better angels of the president's nature? (Yes, Congressman Barr, he does have them.) What if the president would decide to resign not because he has to -- he doesn't -- but because there is no greater blessing he can bequeath his country than an end to this national cancer that looks to metastasize into 1999?

If Scrooge, the essence of miserliness, can be transformed into a generous man, why can't we imagine Bill Clinton, the archetypal narcissist, transformed into a selfless man, placing the national interest ahead of his own? Helping Clinton's transformation could be the ghosts of infamy past -- the newspapers and politicians who have called on the president to resign, some in August, some after he was impeached, and some twice with feeling.

"I believe he would have to resign," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said when asked what should happen if the president is impeached. "His usefulness would be lost in dealing with other nations." Another Democrat, Rep. Bill Lipinski from Illinois, echoed her sentiment: "It would be best for the country." Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), a Democrat turned Republican in 1995, also called on the president to resign: "In reflecting on what this country is being dragged through, I think that is the only way to get out of all this cannibalism and bloodletting."

Those chain-rattling words will obviously not spook Clinton, but what about the ghost of infamy present -- the public opinion polls by which this White House has lived? A CNN/USA Today poll this week found that 59 percent of Americans believe Clinton's effectiveness has been harmed by the impeachment. And a CNN/Time poll found that the number of people believing that "things are going well in the country" shrank from 78 percent to 60 percent in the past two months.

There are some in the pro-impeachment forces who believe that all will be well again as soon as this president goes -- as if he were all that stands between our current chaos and a healthy body politic. They are completely wrong. True, if Clinton were to do the right thing and resign, it would mark the beginning of the cleaning up of the Augean stables -- but only the beginning. There's a lot more manure in our political system than just the dung heap generated by Clinton. We voters have a lot of shoveling to do.

And here's where the ghost of infamy future comes in. "Guess what?" said Gov.-elect Jesse Ventura earlier this week. "Keep this up and you are going to see a lot more Jesse Venturas elected around the country." Indeed, Minnesota's governor-elect is for our self-serving political leaders the scariest ghost of all.

And for what it's worth, he said last week that if he were Clinton, he would resign.

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