Trial's Over, But Don't Cheer

By Stanley Crouch
New York Daily News, Sunday, February 14, 1999

No one should be overly thrilled that the end of the impeachment trial has arrived and Mr. Bill remains President.

The public was treated to more than a year of raw political sewage. But the American people — who are always either overly praised or contemptuously condescended to from the right, the middle and the left — could smell the whole thing early on.

The teeming mass understood exactly what was going on and never failed to say so. But it became quite obvious that the House Republicans turned a deaf ear to the public out of their ideological desire to run Mr. Bill out of Washington in a barrel. If they now pay for it, they well deserve to pay.

But we should not be smug about all these things. Mr. Bill's great crime was, quite surely, extremely bad taste. Bad taste is not a high crime or misdemeanor, but in this case it amounted to more than simply a trivial wrong.

Still, in our time, the American public is far more sophisticated than the House Republicans counted on. That public, which was brought face to face with true high crimes and misdemeanors by Richard Nixon, is looking for "flawed heroes," as historian Stephen Ambrose observed. One could go further and say that the American public now accepts the reality of human flaws, sometimes deep ones, and weighs those flaws against overall performance.

That is something all Americans have to do if they are to assess this nation with anything approaching a sense of human reality as it interplays with the shaping of policy. Flawed leaders — racists, sexists, anti-Semites and so on — have been central to the development of this nation, as often for the good as for the bad. Whining about what kinds of individuals those who made great contributions should have been is less important than looking at what they actually achieved.

Of course, this is a basic problem of American double standards. Those who rant and rave about Thomas Jefferson being a slave owner and fathering children by the slave concubine Sally Hemings sneer at his greatness. Then they rant and rave about the puritanical attitudes toward Mr. Bill's Oval Office erotic hoedowns. That's us, I guess.

These weird standards are exhibited by those critics of Mr. Bill's defense team who accused the White House of playing the gender card when a woman was put on the team and playing the race card when a black person was chosen. Hmm. Only white men need apply before we can be sure you're serious — like the 13 House impeachment managers?

It is far from over, however. The media, if I have anything to say about it, will be panting for another powerful politician to profile in scandal. I refer, of course, to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who has worked with and endorsed a pro-white organization and is already under strong criticism from courageous Republicans such as writer Peggy Noonan and commentator Armstrong Williams.

Kenneth Starr, the man who came to dinner and ended up eating the house, the lawn and the landscape, will be scrutinized closely for his handling of Monica Lewinsky and for the unconstitutional act of inserting himself into the impeachment trial as a 14th manager. This will be decried by Republicans as "Clinton's revenge" until the facts become clear. Then, Starr, who earned a million a year defending Big Tobacco and never met a tobacco leaf he didn't like, will have the covers pulled off him and could, if justice is cruel and sweet enough, find himself in dress-prison blue.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and others may well find their heads on the chopping block as the nation lets them know it can remember clearly when its will has not been done.

So this entire event will work out for the national good because those who need to go will be gone, and those who understand the context of this entire matter will see that, once again, the American public has proven its ability to grow up faster than some of its political representatives.