Term Paper: President Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky Scandal

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[. . .] The report is released to the public and contains graphic detail of Clinton's alleged sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky.

Clinton's Impeachment

The House of Representatives recommended a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry in October 1998 on a 258-176 vote. After a two-day debate the House approved two articles of impeachment on December 19, 1998, charging President Clinton with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Clinton vowed to fill out his term and appealed for a bipartisan compromise in the Senate.

The perjury and obstruction of justice trial of President Bill Clinton began in the Senate on January 7, 1999. The trial lasted for over a month and on February 12, 1999, President Clinton is finally acquitted of the two articles of impeachment. The first charge of perjury was rejected with all 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voting "not guilty." On the charge of obstruction of justice, the Senate was split 50-50. A two-third majority, however, is required for the removal from office of an impeached U.S. President. Afterward, Clinton apologized to the Americans saying that he was "profoundly sorry" for the burden he imposed on the Congress and the American people.

Although the acquittal by the Senate should have been the end of the matter, but the reverberations of the scandal continued right up to the end of Clinton's term of office with speculations that he could be indicted after he left office for 'obstruction of justice' and perjury.

The Public Opinion

Throughout the long drawn out controversy that was played out in the full glare of the modern day media keeping the American public riveted to the ever-developing drama, polls showed that a large majority of Americans thought the president was doing a good job and that he should not be impeached or removed from office. The decision of the Senate to acquit Clinton is also thought to, at least in part, reflect the public opinion. There are, of course, two opinions about whether the "public opinion" should influence the decisions of the representatives and leaders or whether the leaders should mould the public opinion. The importance of the public opinion and the media has increased in the age of the 'information revolution' with no one being able to ignore the ubiquitous opinion polls. Hence, once the public opinion polls showed consistently high ratings for Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, the odds against his being removed from office were always very high.

Republicans vs. Democrats

It was quite evident during the crisis faced by Clinton that the Democratic Party rallied solidly behind the president, while the Republicans were equally vociferous in their opposition to him. This may, in part, be due to the increased polarization between the two parties I recent times even though the 'liberal' Clinton had embraced several of the economic ideas of the conservatives during his presidency. Hillary Clinton was livid with the campaign against her husband publicly calling it a 'right wing conspiracy'. The Republicans on the other hand tried to blatantly use the Lewinsky affair against the democrats through a series of TV ads during the 1998 mid-term elections that actually seemed to backfire. The voting in the House and the Senate on the guilt of the president were also divided mainly along the party lines. The support of his party was crucial to Clinton's ability to stay on in office which was in contrast to President Nixon's position during the 'Watergate' scandal when he was abandoned by his Party and had to relinquish office.

Morality Issue

While discussing the public opinion and the division of the views along the party lines we have to remember that the approval by the American public was not of Clinton's character but of his performance in office. At the same time the issue is also considered by some to have been a clash between "the values of the conservatives and that of the 1960s counterculture" (of which Clinton was a representative). (Robert Dallek quoted in "The State of the American Presidency") Clinton, who defied traditional morality by not serving in the military, smoking marijuana and indulging in extra-marital sex while in the White House, greatly incensed the conservatives in the Congress. The refusal of the Senate to endorse his impeachment and his undiminished approval in opinion polls can be considered a triumph of the 60s morality over the traditional morality of the conservatives.

Impact on the Office of Presidency

Although the Lewinsky affair did have its impact on the office, it was not in all probability, of a permanent nature. During the period of the controversy, Clinton was already in the 'lame duck' period of his presidency. The scandal, in the opinion of several commentators, had eroded the moral authority of the president to an extent that he was unable to govern effectively. (Gibbs, 1999). Subsequent events (such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11) have shown that the office of the U.S. President is still formidably powerful and the people look towards it for moral leadership in times of crisis.

Conclusion

Zhou Enlai, the first Prime Minister of Communist China, when asked about how the French Revolution affected history replied, "It is too early to tell." Hence it is hard to judge with certainty whether Bill Clinton's presidency would be defined in history by the Lewinsky affair that led to his impeachment or by his other achievements (or non-achievements) in office. There is no doubt, however, that the Clinton-Lewinsky affair dominated the latter half of Clinton's presidency and kindled a still unresolved debate about the standards of morality that the President of the United States ought to possess.

Works Cited

Bill Clinton. Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/clinton.htm

Chronology of Events." Investigating the President: the Trial. CNN.com / inside politics. 2003. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/resources/1998/lewinsky/

Dumas, Ernest C. "Bill Clinton." Article in Encarta Encyclopedia, CD-ROM Version, 2003

Gibbs, Nancy. "Nightmare's end." Time Magazine. February 15, 1999. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1999/02/15/nightmare.end.html

Hillary Rodham Clinton. Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/hillary.htm

Kenneth W. Starr. Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/starr.htm

Monica S. Lewinsky: Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/lewinsky.htm

Paula Jones. Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/jones.htm

The State of the American Presidency." A Panel Discussion. Encarta Yearbook, June 1999. Encarta Encyclopedia, CD-ROM Version, 2003

Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Key Player. Clinton Accused: Special Report. washingtonpost.com. Retrieved on April 2, 2003 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/players/jordan.htm

Adapted and summarized from "Timeline" CNN.com's inside politics: Investigating the President

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