E Pluribus Unum

Reflecting on the mess our Congress is in trying to decide what to do with this president, who seems to feel the rules should apply to everyone except himself, a couple of unpleasant thoughts come to mind. The first concerns America's national motto, "E pluribus unum." Loosely translated, that Latin phrase means, "From many, one,"or the more familiar, "United We Stand." The second is my belief that the United States has a heritage of being a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, and its corollary, no-one is above the law.

Our legal system bases its judgments and renders its decisions on testimony given under oath. We attempt to determine the truth by carefully weighing this sworn testimony, and we believe every accused man and woman is entitled to a fair trial with this body of truth as the boundary conditions for obtaining justice. Under our English system of jurisprudence, which has long been the envy of many nations of the world, men are expected to provide the truth under oath, and severe penalties are levied on people who are found to lie while giving sworn testimony. America's mythical image of justice, derived from Greek mythology, is that of a blindfolded maiden with an ancient balance, a measuring scale, in her hand. The goddess Justice appears this way to show she is impartial, without any bias whatever, totally non-partisan, and plays no favorites in deciding the merits of each case.

The impeachment inquiry Congress will conduct on President Clinton is in danger of violating both of the above listed precepts. Congress, the jury in this case, is clearly partisan, as Democrats point out. Republicans reply that Democrats simply want to exempt Mr. Clinton from the burden of telling the truth. I will admit that compelling arguments can be made to justify all sides of the vexing situation. Somehow, it seems wrong to label a lie about one's sex life as perjury. Conversely, the political parties do not stand united in any way to fairly try Mr. Clinton on charges that may include perjury, subornation of witnesses, and obstruction of justice. The whole moral climate of my existence tells me we can't just blow off these accusations, they are serious, and we denigrate our system of laws if we make light of them.

The real problem lies in our being unable to separate justice from the politics of the matter. Mr. Clinton's approval ratings are high, people believe he has done a good job as president, and they want what they perceive as his minor flaws to be overlooked. That is politics, opinion, if you will. For the moment, people consider the man more important than the system he is supposed to head. They want to forget he has broken a fundamental and important law, not something trivial such as violating a campaign pledge or telling a politically expedient lie. He has knowingly, under oath, committed perjury.

I have wrestled with both the simple human and the involved legal aspects at length, and can reach no other conclusion than the system has to be more important than any man, including this one. Justice is not an arbitrary and trivial matter. It is a shame that a man of such talent, capable of absorbing complex issues and yet retaining a common touch, should find himself in these tragic circumstances. The incredible combination of unlikely events that put him there, beginning with the Supreme Court's bizarre decision that a sitting president should face a civil lawsuit while in office, Mr. Clinton's peculiar trouble with Paula Jones, the fact that Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, and Kathleen Willey were required to provide depositions in the Jones case, the fact that the president's lawyer, Mr. Bennett, labeled Ms. Tripp a liar on a statement she made about Mrs. Willey who was reputedly groped by Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office, Ms. Tripp's subsequent taping of conversations between herself and Ms. Lewinsky, the fact that presidential semen was found on Ms. Lewinsky's dress, and in spite of that his own insistence he did not have sexual relations with her, is preposterous. The odds that all these unusual events should happen in serial fashion to hoist Mr. Clinton on the meathook from which he now dangles are astonishingly small. A series of small, insignificant events has resulted in his lying through his teeth under oath. Had Mr. Clinton last January just told the world, "Yes, I had sexual relations with this woman, and it is nobody's damn business but my own. That is the last word I will say about it," he would have closed the matter. But truth is not Mr. Clinton's modus operandi, and perhaps he would not be president if it were. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Sexual adventures are not grounds for impeachment, and I can easily dismiss them. Perjury, which the man-in-the-street believes Mr. Clinton committed, and possible obstruction of justice and subornation of witnesses, are. It is difficult to believe the president would be so great a fool as to commit perjury. The only other explanation is that his hubris and arrogance were such that he felt he could get away with it, or that his careful parsing of legal language would get him through. It indicates to me he thought too highly of his own intellect and belittled that of everyone else. It was a grievous error.

Most Americans, including myself, do not want to see Mr. Clinton impeached, but I do not believe our government can function with a president who is a public liar. Moral suasion is important in leading the country and constructing world policy, and he has lost his. For all the fine-sounding testaments from our Congressmen that they will back him in the event it comes to war over Kosovo, or with Iraq's Saddam Hussein's, I do not believe them. If I were a young man in the military, I would not follow him myself. That sentiment would get me thrown in the brig, but I would go. People can and do forfeit positions of command by their own actions, and it not only seems to me, it is clearly apparent to me, that Mr. Clinton has done just that. Respect must be earned by performance, and can be lost the same way.

Among the many reasons America has worked reasonably well for 222 years is the fact that society never gave bribery and lying tacit approval. Both were wrong. They were officially disapproved. Public lying was reviled, and liars were shamed. We did not grease palms as a matter of national policy. Bribery had to be, and it sometimes was, conducted privately, but offenders were taken to court. Those who used underlings to lie for or cover up for them were brought to trial. Whenever convicted, they were punished.

The power structure of this country was designed to change hands each few years. For that reason, our freely elected officials had finite terms put on their time in office, and our system was set up by the Founding Fathers to have strong checks and balances. Consequently, the rampant cronyism and nepotism we have recently observed in Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, and even Japan, have been minor factors in our government. Nothing is ever free, and the cost to America has been moral intolerance, but the reward of having a clean government capable of getting the peoples' work done has largely been worth it.

All of these principles are tied up in permitting a morally ambivalent president to continue in office, somewhat like catching the CEO of a bank with his hand in the till and looking the other way. If Mr. Clinton will not resign, I can't see any other way except proceeding with the impeachment inquiry and all its rotten partisanship and politics, to see if the votes can be mustered to throw him out of office. It is a sad day for our country, and it has been brought on by the president's reckless self-indulgence.

What may be even more important than the subject of Mr. Clinton's possible impeachment, as wrenching as that would be, is the number of irrational splinter groups taking one side or another. I had not recognized the degree of polarization that already exists in America. There are strident voices from the religious right, a solid voting battalion of blacks, a phalanx of gays, a hard core of women's rights groups, the shrill, selfish chorus from the elderly, and all of them seem to care only about their own agendas. No-one seems to realize our country's enormous strength came from the original concept of a solid, cohesive body of Americans, melted down and reformed in this vast ethnic, religiously varied, and racially different pot. Instead of idolizing diversity, we require unity and common purpose. America badly needs E Pluribus Unum. It is getting away from us. All of us had better work together, and not as separate racial, religious, and ethnic blocs, to emphasize our vast similarities and minimize our few differences. Otherwise, we are going to Balkanize this country, and that could be fatal.


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)