It would be trite to say that the opening session of the House Judiciary Committee wasn’t jurisprudence; it was theater. Banality would be the observation that Kenneth Starr isn’t a truly independent prosecutor, he just plays one on TV. The next commentator who comments that most Americans would rather watch Jerry Springer than the unfolding of a constitutional crisis should be sentenced to 30 days of watching Jerry Springer.
Actually, the Springer angle isn’t half bad. These proceedings have all the spontaneity of one of his cheeseball cat fights. Pull some hair, throw a chair, express righteous indignation. Above all, stick to the script.
Republicans know just how far they can go. Even the slow learners figured it out after Nov. 3. Their fuming about sex, lies, high crimes and misdemeanors will be carefully balanced with their awareness of opinion polls and the approach of Election Day 2000. If Republicans were truly serious about impeachment, they would not have as chairman of the committee a man who broke up another man’s marriage with a self-described “youthful indiscretion” at the tender age of 41 and was outted by his hometown newspaper some 30 years later. Call it the straight-face test. They certainly would not have given Starr a standing ovation at the conclusion of his testimony. In the real world, judges do not high-five the district attorney in open court.
Democrats have their role well polished. They have to condemn the president’s behavior as they demand it be put in perspective. Their position, in short: The nation knew it was electing an obfuscating lawyer trapped in the body an oversexed hillbilly back in ’94. Nothing’s changed.
Of course, there are serious questions afloat. If Judge Starr did overstep his role as investigator to become an advocate for impeachment, should the independent counsel law be revised? At what point does personal misconduct and lying about it, become the public’s business and an impeachable offense? Alas, these serious questions are far too serious for this little comedy.
As in all matters theatrical, this one is driven by the box office, the ratings, the polls. Mr. Clinton is untouchable because his job-approval numbers are high because the economy continues to chug merrily along. Anyone who fervently hopes for his removal from office first must hope for recession. What a cheery thought.
As long as the White House gets credit for the bread, all the Judiciary Committee, the full House or, if it gets that far, the Senate, can do is provide the circus. Enjoy the show, folks.