Democratic Questions

Democratic Questions

The end of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial was a signal to the nation’s varsity pundits—time to begin overall evaluations of l’affaire Monica. The award for “most lugubrious wrap-up” goes to David Gergen. Speaking on a panel aired by C-SPAN, Gergen explained oh-so-gravely that the American people remain “deeply troubled” by Bill Clinton’s lying; they crave “closure,” but the system failed to provide it. For Gergen, Watergate gets a higher rating for closure: Richard Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford pardoned him, people felt the system worked.

Gergen misses the mark on both the 1974 pardon (but let’s leave Watergate aside) and this year’s ordeal. We got grade-A closure as soon as William Rehnquist, presiding over the Senate trial, proclaimed the not-guilty verdict and banged the gavel. In fact, the one benefit of the protracted trial was a common sense of closure when it finally ended. Are the American people—that mythic whole—deeply troubled? No, two-thirds of them applauded the verdict; they continue to separate Clinton’s lying about a sexual liaison from his responsibilities as president. And the other one-third of Americans? Angry frustration, not profound angst, probably describes their feelings. Their representatives fought hard to get rid of Clinton and lost.

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