The Capitol Hill Mob 

By Bob Herbert
New York Times, Sunday, December 13, 1998

Forget about the will of the people, the democratic process and the good of the country. The extremists in the Republican Party are trying to bludgeon their way to an impeachment that hardly anybody wants and nobody needs.

If the Government and perhaps even the economy are thrown into a tailspin as a result -- well, so be it. The fanatics of the right are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, to hammer the man they hate above all others, Bill Clinton.

I'm no champion of the President, but I know a lynch mob when I see one.

Obsessed with the sins of Mr. Clinton, the right-wingers believe with their idol Barry Goldwater that "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." (Mr. Goldwater's views on fooling around in the workplace are, nevertheless, not helpful to his spiritual descendants. Laurence J. Peter, author of "The Peter Principle," quotes the late Senator as follows: "I think any man in business would be foolish to fool around with his secretary. If it's somebody else's secretary, fine!")

Most Americans thought the campaign to impeach Mr. Clinton had been derailed by the Democrats' strong showing in the November elections and Newt Gingrich's decision three days later to relinquish the Speakership and leave Congress. There was a general feeling that if the President hadn't been punished enough, the country certainly had. It was hoped that Monica-all-the-time would give way to Monica-every-now-and-then.

But somebody forgot to tell Tom DeLay. Mr. DeLay is the onetime exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., who has emerged as the Republicans' chief pro-impeachment fanatic. He's the Republican whip, the man who rounds up the votes in the House. Nothing short of impeachment will satisfy him. He is adamantly opposed to the House even considering a censure resolution.

If you want a sense of how extreme Mr. DeLay can be, consider his approach to the environment. He believes the Environmental Protection Agency is the "Gestapo of the Government." He believes that DDT is A-O.K. Not harmful. He is not bothered by threats to the ozone layer. When the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to the discoverers of the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion, he mocked the award as the "Nobel Appeasement Prize."

Another piece of work in this bizarre drama is Representative Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia who has long been recognized as an impeachment fanatic and was widely regarded as a crank. Nevertheless he is on the Judiciary Committee and voted on Friday for impeachment. That same day The Washington Post ran a story in which Mr. Barr acknowledged being a keynote speaker this year at a meeting of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that is worried blacks will exterminate whites by infiltrating their bedrooms.

Americans may wish to put the sordid Lewinsky saga behind them, but if the G.O.P. fanatics get their way and Mr. Clinton is actually impeached by the House, the very opposite will happen. The issue will become bigger than ever, overwhelming everything else in the Government for months and months to come.

A trial of Mr. Clinton in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and with star witnesses like Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp and Vernon Jordan, will make the O. J. Simpson story look like a warm-up act. It will seem like Monica-forever-and-ever.

Much of the Government would come to a halt. Any semblance of legislative bipartisanship would vanish. There would be no possibility of an agreement on Social Security, no patients' bill of rights, no serious Federal initiatives on education.

"It would poison every relationship," said a Capitol Hill veteran.

Said another: "You'd have to consider the legislative year over."

Wall Street executives fear the stock markets would be adversely affected and the long economic expansion could be undermined.

There is no doubt that Bill Clinton has demeaned the Presidency. There is no defense for his actions or his lies. But the voters have chosen him twice by substantial margins and they stand behind him still. It is not up to the hatchet men of the Republican Party to undo that.

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