Clinton and Gore 1998

On Oct. 8, 1998, the House triggered an open-ended impeachment inquiry against President Bill Clinton in a momentous 258-176 vote; 31 Democrats joined majority Republicans in opening the way for nationally televised impeachment hearings.

Editor's note: With an impeachment inquiry underway against President Donald Trump, there is renewed interest in President Bill Clinton's impeachment. This editorial appeared in The Dispatch on Feb. 13, 1999 after Clinton's acquittal by the Senate.

Bill Clinton has always been blessed with uncanny political timing. He would no doubt deem it appropriate that his political escape from impeachment came on the birthday of one of our greatest presidents: Abraham Lincoln.

Of course, the fact that there was a trial at all seems to preclude the celebration of a similar day for this president anywhere down the path of history. And make no mistake: What happened before the Senate Friday was an escape, not a vindication. Let us pray Mr. Clinton shows some rare restraint and remembers the pledge of his press aide who declared the White House a "gloat-free zone" because, in truth, he has nothing to gloat about.

Poll after poll has shown that the public has no stomach for impeachment. If Bill Clinton looked no further he would be a happy man. But those same polls also show that most of those same Americans believe he lied to them. Many believe he perjured himself. And most roundly condemn his extramarital affair with a young intern while in the Oval Office of the people's house.

Still, it's hard to condemn senators for declining to convict. The zealous House managers certainly attacked the case with vigor, too bad they didn't follow it up with enough facts to convince the requisite supermajority to go along with them. The president is not innocent, the case was, in the words of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., "Not proved."

Small wonder that some members of the Grand Old Party despise Mr. Clinton with such intensity. It is, after all, his reckless, ridiculous and reprehensible behavior that opened up this mess in the first place. And now that it is all over, the only politically dead bodies are Republican ones.

First there is ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich who was forced to fall on his own knife when his party lost six seats. Then there are those who lost their jobs in November, including ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York, and Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina, two rabid Clinton foes.

And there was Speaker-designate Robert Livingston who resigned the speakership, and his seat, after reports about his own adulterous activities. Even U.S. House manager Henry Hyde, whose DuPage County district is a GOP stronghold, has heard rumblings from the folks back home about this unpopular trial.

Now Congress must move on. The notion of censure has waxed and waned throughout the proceedings. But we agree with the host of scholars and historians who say that impeachment is the only presidential punishment spelled out in the Constitution. Lawmakers can do nothing else.

We understand the outrage of those who worry that the president is going unpunished. But make no mistake: He will remain in office, but he has gotten away with nothing.

A man who has spent most of his presidency obsessed with carving out a place has in history has achieved that place, just not the one he so clearly coveted.

Rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, he will be forever linked, bowed head to bowed head, with Richard Nixon, who spent the two decades after Watergate trying to clean up the blot on his presidency. It is still there.

It will not be easy, but Congressional opponents must resist the urge to continue trying to make the president pay at the expense of the nation. All sides in this must swallow hard and remember that the business of America must go on no matter who is in the White House.

When Mr. Lincoln said, "A House divided against itself cannot stand,'' he was referring to a nation torn apart by the scourge of slavery. But it is equally true of a nation torn apart by partisanship, bitterness and distrust.

As for Mr. Clinton, he would do well to remember another famous Lincoln statement, "If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all the time."

History, too, is not easily fooled.