ISSUES IN FOCUS
Week of February 8, 1999
Is it a good idea to empower a single government official with unlimited power? Would such an officer of the state represent a threat to your life and well-being? It doesn’t take a genius to know the answer.
If a state official has unlimited power, he can do anything he wants with your life, money and property. There would be nothing to stop him if he possessed such power. What is supposed to provide a check on the power of state officials? The law. But if agents of the state are exempt from the law, if they are not required to follow it, then they have been presented with a blank check enabling them to do whatever they wish.
If the Senate votes to acquit Clinton of the impeachment charges, America will take yet another step—and a very large one at that—toward handing the presidency a blank check.
What message will an acquittal send to Clinton and his henchmen? That virtually nothing can touch them, that they can get away with almost anything, that they can openly and brazenly lie, spit on the law and never have to pay the price prescribed by law. Most understand the dangers of a rogue cop who flaunts the law or the threat of a dishonest judge. But most apparently are clueless about the enormous threat a rogue presidency poses to their lives, well-being and future.
In a free society, state officials may only do what is specifically permitted under the law and are required to rigorously observe it, while private individuals may do anything they wish that is not explicitly forbidden by law. A totalitarian society reverses this principle: private individuals may only do what is permitted by the state, while state officials are free to do anything they wish. They are not bound by the law but only by the maintenance of the political support for their regime.
Acquittal will not only openly establish a double standard—one set of rules for ordinary citizens and another set for the president—but it will be a major move in the direction of placing the presidency above the law. In principle, it will establish the precedent that the president is not bound by the law. The logic of this precedent will gradually spread and eventually bring us a presidency with no limitations on its powers.
Acquittal will breed a growing contempt for the law, for honesty and for the truth. It will bring about the runaway growth of cynicism, the belief that nothing is sacred, the belief that nothing is right or wrong, that only expediency matters. A society largely populated by cynics has never maintained, and never will, its status as a free society. The culture of cynicism always collapses into some form of totalitarianism.
Acquittal means that the person charged with wrongdoing is found not guilty, innocent of the charges. To acquit Clinton when virtually everyone, including his supporters, knows he is guilty as charged will be such a flagrant disregard of the law and the truth that it will have a devastating impact on the future. It will be an open embrace of the irrational, a contemptuous disregard for reason.
As I have stated previously, if America becomes dominated by individuals who have no respect for the truth, for reason and honesty, there will be no way for you to reach the minds of such individuals. You will have no way of persuading them of your views because they will not be open to persuasion; they will not care about such old-fashioned notions as facts, truth or reason.
If America ever reaches this point, that will be the day America will reach the point of no return. That will be the day when there will be no hope of turning America in the direction of expanding freedom. And if, in future years, this country reaches such a juncture, it will be able to point to the Senate’s verdict of acquittal as one of the major reasons for reaching such a terrible state of affairs.
Imagine the terror of living in a country in which you cannot deal with most by means of reason and persuasion. As more and more individuals abandon reason, there will only be one alternative method of dealing with others: force. Since most will find it distasteful to personally engage in the use of force against others, they will turn to the state to use that force for them, fueling the growth of statism and the march to the creation of the omnipotent state.
As Senators deliberate, let them consider what they will be sanctioning if they vote for acquittal. Let them also consider the wound they will render to the values of truth, honesty and reason. To undermine these values is to undermine our future as a free nation.
February 9, 1999
© Copyright 1999 Fulton Huxtable