It's the rule of law, stupid. The fundamental principle that holds together our multiracial and multiethnic democracy seems to have gotten lost in the partisan din surrounding the impeachment drama in Washington.
African Americans, who are President Bill Clinton's staunchest supporters, should be especially vigilant in ensuring the primacy of the rule of law. It is we, after all, who were denied equal treatment under the law and historically victimized by a double standard of justice.
As the Senate impeachment trial gets underway, I am reminded that all great historic facts and persons appear twice: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. The subtext to the first impeachment trial of a president, Reconstruction and the rights of former slaves, was indeed tragic. By contrast, the subtext to the second impeachment trial of a president, quickie sex with a young government employee in the Oval Office, easily lends itself to farce.
Equally farcical were the notions advanced by the President's surrogates and allies in their efforts to trivialize Clinton's alleged misconduct. Their theories ranged from "a vast right-wing conspiracy" to the feminist lament that "men will be men." Once the impeachment process shifted into high gear, House Republicans were then told to "move on" and simply ignore credible evidence of criminal behavior because the polls showed ignoring it was the "will of the people."
Following the rule of constitutional law, however, House Republicans defied the pollsters and public opinion to perform their sworn duty. As a consequence of his public acts of lying under oath and obstructing justice in a civil rights lawsuit, President Clinton has been indelibly stained with the stamp of impeachment.
It is worth remembering that civil rights heroes like Georgia Democrat John Lewis (who voted against all four articles of impeachment) earned their place in history due to their steadfast pursuit of the rule of law, and their courage in resisting the then-prevailing will of the people supporting the continued infringement of black Americans' constitutional rights and protections.
While a seat in the Senate gallery may be the hottest ticket in Washington, the President's defenders want to bring down the curtain and short-circuit a solemn constitutional process. The hard-core Clinton loyalists have resorted to race-baiting to protect the President from being tripped up and thrown out of office at the end of a deliberative, albeit unpredictable, proceeding. They are fanning the flames of racial division to save the hide of the self-styled "healer of the breach." Their claim: those "evil" and "mean-spirited" Republicans are motivated by retribution for President Clinton's down-home relationship with black folks and his "commitment to racial reconciliation."
Never mind that the President's "commitment" is largely manifested by some appointments, a report of his Race Advisory Board that's already collecting dust, knowing all the lyrics to the black national anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and strategic group hugs with black folks when the heat is on in Washington. Hey, the argument goes, at least he shows up.
The President's defenders hope to exploit the congressional Republicans' high disapproval ratings and the GOP's vulnerability to charges that it is hostile to the interests of African Americans. The national GOP's image problem was exacerbated by news reports detailing the involvement of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Georgia Republican Bob Barr, one of the House managers, with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group. As troubling as those reports are, they have no relevance as to whether President Clinton violated his oath of office.
The true believers flashing the race card should cool it. Whitewashing
the President's allegedly criminal behavior undermines our cherished freedoms
and liberties. Without the rule of law, the liberal mantra that the criminal
justice system has too often been for "just us" minorities could
become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
(Faye M. Anderson is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network
and president of the Douglass Policy Institute. She can be reached at [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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