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The Democrats' Last Don't-Ditch-Him Effort

Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) with Republican Counsel David Schippers and committee aides during impeachment proceedings Dec. 11.

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  • By Kevin Merida
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, December 12, 1998; Page B01

    "Foolish" . . . "reprehensible" . . . "reckless" . . . "lying" . . . "disregard for his obligations as a law-abiding American" . . . "a bum."

    And that's what the president's friends are saying about him.

    There's something surreal about watching a defense that is seething with condemnation for the defendant. But that's where we are in the Case to Save Bill Clinton's Hide.

    The case is being made by Democrats who are trotting out all their best adjectives and metaphors, hoping to denigrate their president's behavior all the way to censure heaven. Censure is nirvana compared with the guillotine the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee set out for Clinton yesterday when it voted to recommend impeachment.

    The rest of the House will get its turn at judgment next week, but for now Democrats are playing the rhetorical game of "how many ways to damn a louse without booting him from office."

    "He has diminished his personal dignity and that of the office of the presidency. He has brought the presidency into disrepute and impaired the image of the president as a role model for younger Americans."

    So says Rick Boucher, the Democratic congressman from Abingdon, Va., and a leading presidential rescue worker.

    But . . .

    "A resolution of censure passed by both houses of Congress, requiring the signature of the president as an acknowledgment of the public's rebuke of his tawdry conduct, is the preferable alternative."

    Boucher was kind of rough. But the bottom line: no impeachment.

    Some Democrats are more comfortable with the fairy-tale approach.

    "There is something Alice in Wonderland-like in watching someone so smart and so skilled, so admired by the American people for his intellect and his talents, digging himself deeper and deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole, and us along with him – and allowing him to escape accountability."

    So says Howard Berman, a Democratic congressman from Sherman Oaks, Calif., and another presidential paramedic.

    But . . .

    "As regards the basic concept of what constitutes an impeachable offense, for me, the logic applies: I know it when I see it."

    And?

    "This isn't it."

    Talk about an odd support group. Democrats are not saying, "Don't fine the nation's chief executive hundreds of thousands of dollars he doesn't have." They're not arguing against criminal prosecution once he leaves office. They're not pleading that he be spared a jail cell when the sun sets on his reign in Washington.

    Just don't impeach.

    And so to make the anti-impeachment sale, they must ratchet up the vitriol for Clinton's "despicable" . . . "shameful" . . . "unacceptable" deportment.

    "The pejorative has been used frequently in terms of his behavior," explains Rep. William Delahunt, a Judiciary Committee Democrat from Massachusetts. "Obviously, it's ironic."

    But . . .

    "At the same time, I recognize that there are many sinners in the world."

    Word choices are important in this march to censure. In his latest contrition speech yesterday, Clinton quoted Omar Khayyam's "The Rubaiyat," translated from the Persian by Edward FitzGerald.

    Others prefer the slang of their neighborhood.

    "You may choose to believe that the president was disingenuous, that he was not particularly helpful to Paula Jones's lawyers when they asked him intentionally vague questions, or that he is a bum," argued committee Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York. "But that doesn't make him guilty of perjury."

    A bum?

    "That's an Upper West Side and Brooklyn image," explained Joel Finkelstein, Nadler's spokesman. "His point is you can call anyone a bum, but it doesn't have bearing on whether or not the president should be impeached."

    Finkelstein figured this should be explained further. "He talks like that. Like 'Throw the bums out.' "

    Apparently, just not the bum who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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