Leave it to history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 December, 1998, 12:00am

A moderate Republican congressman has advanced a modest plan which, if adopted, would let Americans and everyone else - finally - put the tedious Clinton impeachment process behind them.

It comes from Amo Houghton of New York, who often looks for the practical solution. He notes that two-thirds of the 100 senators, the eventual jury in the case, will never choose to cast Mr Clinton from office. Therefore, he asks, why waste time sending impeachment for Senate trial in the first place? Instead, Mr Houghton wants Congress to issue a personal rebuke for 'conduct unbecoming' and thus 'end this sad chapter in our history'. Like most other Americans, he believes the Clinton actions were repugnant yet do not constitute a 'high crime' of the sort that the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they devised a way to remove a president from office.

It seems a sensible approach. Mr Clinton's actions may be unsavoury but he has not used state agencies such as the CIA or FBI for his own political purposes, as Richard Nixon did 25 years ago. He certainly stonewalled when truth was demanded, but inflicted injury on himself as much as anyone.

A censure motion would be a stern, official statement of disapproval. The political circus could then fold its tent, Mr Clinton could complete his term as most voters prefer him to do, and attention might turn to more pressing matters.

But this would be no whitewash. Final judgment would come in the history books, which Mr Clinton cares about deeply. On present form, history will not be kind.