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Western Press Review: Clinton Probably Acquitted But Forever Stained

By Don Hill/Aurora Gallego/Dora Slaba

Prague, 12 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the United States continues to dissect, examine and analyze President Bill Clinton's impeachment saga, even as the matter appears to be winding down. In Europe, the U.S. tragi-comedy draws a few giggles but mostly yawns. Today's press review finds minimal commentary on the topic in the British and French press and virtual silence elsewhere.

WASHINGTON POST: The president should not be allowed to continue to serve uncensured

The influential Washington Post calls today for censure of the president, once the U.S. Senate completes the expected vote to acquit him of the House of Representatives' accusations of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Under the headline "Yes to Censure," The Post says in an editorial: "The Senate Republican leadership will destroy what up to now has been a creditable crossing of difficult terrain if it permits the proceedings against the president to end today without a vote to censure." The editorial continues: "We agree that the election result (that is President Clinton's re-election) should not be overturned, but the president should not be allowed to continue to serve uncensured."

The newspaper says: "The House leaders refused to allow such a judgment for fear it would cost them the votes to impeach. They had the luxury of a fallback in the form of the Senate. They could accuse; the Senate would judge. The Senate has no such luxury. If it declines to judge, save to leave the president in office, there will be no official judgment. A country that has been put through a convulsive, divisive procedure such as this deserves better."

WASHINGTON TIMES: The president behaved disgracefully

The rival Washington Times carries a commentary by Tod Lindberg, editor of the U.S. magazine Policy Review. Lindberg says Clinton is guilty of disgraceful behavior, lying, and using others to spread lies. Even so, Lindberg says, the expected acquittal is unsurprising. He writes: "The president behaved disgracefully and irresponsibly with Monica Lewinsky and his reputation will suffer for it in perpetuity."

The commentator adds: "Then he swore to tell the truth and lied about it, having coordinated the lie with Miss Lewinsky. He propagated the lie nationwide and sent others out to propagate it."

Lindberg asks: "(Are there) good reasons to remove him (from office and) good reasons to keep him? "I am not surprised that Republicans tend to answer the question one way and Democrats the other."

NEW YORK TIMES: Ours is indeed a government of, by and for the people

Harvard constitutional Law professor and author Laurence H. Tribe writing today in The New York Times, says that in the end the people of the United States understood an important distinction better than their leaders did. He writes:

"Among the most basic of the constitutional inferences this impeachment process will have reinforced is that consensual private intimacies, even when they have secondary public dimensions, fall uneasily ... within the government's powers to investigate or to punish.

The Times says the constitutionally special status of the private sphere of relations -- despite the cover-up -- has been reinforced by this impeachment process. The newspaper says Clinton's affair and alleged attempt to obstruct the judicial process was a very different thing than the cover-up of, for example, a break-in aimed at the president's political opponents -- a reference to the Watergate scandal that drove President Richard Nixon out of office to avoid impeachment.

The Times adds: "And that it was the people rather than our elected representatives who grasped that distinction earliest and held onto it most tenaciously has been a crucial reaffirmation of the constitutional truth proclaimed at Gettysburg -- that ours is indeed a government of, by and for the people."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Brits hold their own politicians to a higher standard of behavior

The Wall Street Journal Europe's editorial page editor Therese Raphael discusses British reaction to the Clinton travails. She writes: "Nowhere outside the United States, perhaps, has the trial of Bill Clinton been subjected to as much political microscopy as in Britain." She says: "Brits, on the whole, are ambivalent about Mr. Clinton. But certainly they hold their own politicians to a higher standard of behavior. That hasn't prevented sleaze from entering the body politic, (but) it has left British politics looking not more honorable, but perhaps more dignified."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Journalistic kerosene kept the story burning long after it should have died down

One analysis in the British press today criticizes the U.S. press for carelessly making a bad situation worse. From Washington, Deborah McGregor writes in The Financial Times: "Ben Bradlee calls it the 'kerosene effect.' " She writes: "To Mr. Bradlee, the famous former editor of The Washington Post, (journalistic) kerosene kept the story burning long after it should have died down."

TIMES: Britons are suffering an accountability famine

Commentator Simon Jenkins, writing in The Times, London, isn't so sure Britain has it any better. He asks: "Has the impeachment of President Clinton, scheduled to end today, been an American joke?" His answer: "That is one way in which Americans hold the president to account. The result may be messy. It may have led to a surfeit of executive accountability." He adds: "Britons cannot scoff. They are suffering an accountability famine."

LA CROIX: A new chapter in America's history will be opened

Two French commentaries suggest that the French aren't so much amused as bemused. La Croix, Paris, says in an editorial: "Following a year-long bombardment of the media which was as deadly intensive as the punishing bombardment of Iraq, the Lewinsky story is reaching its epilogue." Le Croix says: "A new chapter in America's history will be opened and moving from the bizarre White House bedroom stories we will now get a glimpse of the true state of the country. It impels one to shout: Curtain down!"

LIBERATTION: The United States should take four lessons from "Monicagate"

Washington correspondent Patrick Sabatier comments in Liberation that the United States should take four lessons from "Monicagate." They are that:

-- "The presidency is weakened (by a process that) that took away all the prestige and the mystery from the White House."

-- Public hostility toward this process signals the end of the special prosecutor.

-- Public unconcern demonstrates an American political apathy, saying, in effect, "What happens in Washington is not important; neither is what the president does."

-- The case signals the end of Puritanism in U.S. culture. "Contested by the morals revolution of the sixties and the seventies, brought back by crusades of the Christian rightists in the eighties and 90s, the Puritan tradition seems to pertain now to a minority, even if it is still powerful in politics as it dictates its rules to the Republican party."