He Has To Go

Dec. 31 1998 3:30 AM

He Has To Go

Pep rallies and polls aside, Clinton is unfit to serve.

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The constitutional question remains. Does his behavior add up to grounds for removal from office? The words in the Constitution, "high crimes and misdemeanors," give us much latitude. If the framers had wanted to limit us more they could have been more specific. Essentially, they left the judgment to us--not to an opinion poll or even to our political representatives who are closest to the people but to our most senior political representatives, the Senate. My opinion is that not every perjury is a "high" crime, as grounds for removing a president from office. But I believe that Clinton's performance, before and after his perjuries, has universally generated such a response of disapproval, ranging from cynicism to disgust, as to degrade the ability of the presidency to serve its function. Clinton has said that it is his goal to degrade the ability of Saddam Hussein to threaten Iraq's neighbors. But Clinton has degraded the ability of the president of the United States to lead the nation and the world. That is a high crime.

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I am still concerned about the risk of setting a precedent for opposition majorities in Congress to remove presidents for purely political reasons. Future generations will have to deal with that. For now we have to set the precedent that presidents of the United States should so behave themselves as to merit the confidence of the world. This is a big country, and surely we can find men and women in it who are as capable of being president as Mr. Clinton is and who are also able to commit themselves to good behavior.

The Constitution requires a vote of at least two-thirds of the Senate to convict and expel a president. The Republicans will not have a two-thirds majority, and Clinton cannot be convicted on the votes of Republicans alone. That is a good thing. The precedent-setting risk would be greater if the president were convicted by a strictly party-line vote. The case against the president should be strong enough to justify some members of his own party voting against him. In the case of this president, it is.

Herbert Stein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He died in September 1999.

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