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The Starr Report: How to Impeach a President (Part II)

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During the investigation, evidence surfaced that Kenneth Starr's Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) had been working behind the scenes to feed the 24-hour news cycle a steady diet of salacious tidbits about President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Starr had become a darling of the corporate media whose appetite for new sexual innuendo, fact or fiction, against Clinton could never be satiated.

Maureen Dowd even won a Pulitzer Prize for her sassy, prurient commentary in The New York Times on the Clinton-Starr showdown. Dowd's pieces on the subject sound a like a Catholic schoolgirl who just discovered that boys like sex. It was stunning that she won a Pulitzer for offering zero "analysis" of the impeachment except that Clinton had been reckless and Starr was a prude, and they both were equally to blame. Time magazine chose Starr for the honor of being 1998 "Person of the Year" along with his nemesis, President Clinton. The political TV talk shows owed their bottom lines to Starr's ferreting out every steamy detail of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship.

Like the later furor over a glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple during the Super Bowl halftime show, America revealed its unflattering puritanical side by denouncing the President's extramarital affair, while at the same time salivating over the descriptions of the sex acts themselves.

Starr's office worked hand-in-glove with right-wing radio hosts who stoked the fires daily about the latest Clinton calumny after receiving that morning's talking points from the Republican National Committee. The right-wing blogosphere was in its infancy but grew up fast by chronicling Clinton's sex life; Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Christopher Hitchens, and dozens of imitators cut their teeth as mainstream pundits on the Clinton sex scandal. At a time when the Internet was still seen as "new" and National Public Radio commentators waxed eloquent about how this revolutionary technology was going to cure all of our social ills, the web was abuzz with every kind of unproven charge against Clinton that only the parameters of one's own imagination could limit.

In 1996, Rupert Murdoch and the right-wing media had benefited greatly from Clinton's signing of the terribly regressive "Telecommunications Act." In February of that year, when Clinton signed this odious Republican-written deregulation bill, he naively thought it would win him some favor with the corporate media going into his 1996 reelection campaign. But Murdoch's media mouthpieces, along with the rest of the commercial media, generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new advertising revenue by mercilessly exploiting every piece of bad press, fact or fiction, that could be thrown Clinton's way. The media attacks on the Democratic President had begun long before Monica became a household name.

With the help of the corporate media, the Starr Report worked far better for the Republican Party in damaging President Clinton than did the impeachment. Impeaching Clinton backfired after it became apparent that the Republicans had overreached (as they always do). The American people turned against them. The Republicans even lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections. The U.S. Senate had no stomach for removing a president on such flimsy grounds relating to his private sexual conduct; and Clinton's approval rating hovered at around 67 percent during the entire episode.

On February 12, 1999, Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the Senate voted. On Article I, perjury, the President was acquitted, 55 to 45. On Article II, obstruction of justice, the President was acquitted, 50 to 50. The President was acquitted on all charges. (The Republicans needed 67 votes to remove Clinton from office.)

But in 2000, Vice-President Al Gore distanced himself from Clinton, in part, because Gore's people believed that Starr and his media allies had succeeded in making Clinton damaged goods, especially in the conservative parts of the country like the South. Gore then chose Senator Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate, in part, because no other national Democrat had denounced Clinton's moral lapses more vociferously (and superciliously) than Lieberman. Choosing the highly "moral" Lieberman, Gore thought, would play well with voters who might be outraged by what they had heard in the Starr Report.

So, in a sense, the Starr Report probably did more to get George W. Bush elected (or selected) in 2000 than most other factors. Given Clinton's record of peace and prosperity, Gore would have been wiser if he had been joined at the hip with Clinton on the campaign trail. Instead, he refused to appear with the former two-term President thinking he was politically toxic. The Starr Report had succeeded in weakening the Democratic Party's 2000 ticket.

But that is all history now. Here are two more excerpts from the Starr Report to remind taxpayers what they got for their $60 million:

". . . Ms. Lewinsky testified that she and the President had a sexual encounter during this visit. They kissed, and the President touched Ms. Lewinsky's bare breasts with his hands and mouth. At some point, Ms. Currie approached the door leading to the hallway, which was ajar, and said that the President had a telephone call. Ms. Lewinsky recalled that the caller was a Member of Congress with a nickname. While the President was on the telephone, according to Ms. Lewinsky, 'he unzipped his pants and exposed himself,' and she performed oral sex. Again, he stopped her before he ejaculated." (p. 63).

". . . In the hallway by the study, the President and Ms. Lewinsky kissed. On this occasion, according to Ms. Lewinsky, 'he focused on me pretty exclusively,' kissing her bare breasts and fondling her genitals. At one point, the President inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky's vagina, then put the cigar in his mouth and said: 'It tastes good.' After they finished, Ms. Lewinsky left the Oval Office and walked through the Rose Garden." (p. 72).

None of these sexual details have anything to do with the articles of impeachment that were brought against the President. If a President can be impeached based on this kind of pornographic testimony, written poorly and often without purpose, shouldn't we be considering impeaching a President for documented abuses of power relating to the illegal surveillance of citizens, sanctioning torture and secret prisons, and lying about the causes that brought the nation into a catastrophic war? I wonder how Starr would have responded if President Clinton fought his inquest by citing the "unitary executive."

The Starr Report was nothing more than a partisan attack job of the first order designed to cripple Clinton's presidency and so weaken the Democratic Party that it would lose big in the 1998 midterm elections, and possibly lose the White House in 2000. The venerable Judge Starr tipped his hand. He revealed himself to be a political hack willing to shred the Constitution and drag the nation into the mud as long as it furthered the hard Right's agenda. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the rest of our current rulers are clearly adherents to this same extremist ideology.

Before George W. Bush causes more damage to the world by escalating the war in Iraq, or bombing Iran, or unleashing Israel in another short-sighted attack on one of its neighbors, we must impeach him and remove him from office. There has never been a man so undeserving of power who has been given so much of it. Bush might even hold messianic fantasies about the all-powerful post that happenstance has given him; hence, he sleepwalks through history. We are now entering the most dangerous time of the Bush presidency. He has nothing to lose. His "legacy," as Eric Foner recently noted, is that he is the worst president in American history. The world is too perilous, and the technology too lethal to allow George Walker Bush to remain the President. We must impeach him and remove him from office before it is too late.