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Turkey, Cranberries, Impeachment Stuffing

November 22, 1998| The Times asked writers and commentators for their views of Thursday's opening of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings

The impeachment hearings were an ideal warmup for the holiday season. What else captures the spirit of family better than an assortment of vindictive windbags sitting around a table arguing for 12 hours. For me, it was exactly like being with my relatives. It made me nostalgic for our big family dinners where everybody ends up screaming about politics, airing petty jealousies and taking personal potshots at one another.

Listening to Ken Starr and the Republicans in particular gave me a perverse sense of comfort; finally, they were exhibiting family values I could identify with.

--Susan Jane Gilman is an editor for Hues, a young women's magazine.

We Are What We Accept

Was it my imagination, or did Starr make it through the entire marathon session Thursday without once resorting to such prevarications as "It all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is"? Of course, when you have the truth on your side, it isn't necessary to put on a tap-dancing exhibition.

In a recent interview, Jerry Springer was quoted as saying that his TV show is not an influence on the culture, it is the culture. President Clinton could say the same thing about his behavior. And it is at least partly because we live in a society where cheating, lying and playing fast and loose with the rules are the norm that a person like Starr is an object of scorn and ridicule. Regardless of the extent to which Clinton is a contributor to this condition, he is certainly a beneficiary of it.

--Doug Gamble is a speech writer for Republicans, including former Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Wet Kisses and Softballs

Even if impeachment is doomed politically, the Democratic silence on the president's conduct seems to suggest that the independent counsel has established a largely unchallenged record of presidential perjury, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. And even when Democrats did question Starr's evidence--in a general way, saying it has not been tested by cross-examination--they recoiled from suggestions that the committee actually investigate whether the president lied under oath.

But rather than emphasize their advantage on the facts, many Republicans instead chose to waste their time tossing wet kisses and embarrassing softballs to the independent counsel. Republicans had an opportunity to highlight their case before a national television audience. Instead, they asked questions that resembled queries Mademoiselle might ask the first lady. One can understand the Democrats' aversion to the evidence; the Republican position is harder to comprehend.

--Byron York is a reporter for American Spectator magazine, which broke the Paula Jones story in 1993.

Does It Matter?

Starr demonstrated in his first prolonged exposure to the American public that he is not a cartoon character. He showed that he is not a right-wing zealot, a blue-nosed televangelist or an obsessed, out-of-control prosecutor, but an experienced attorney methodically fulfilling the duties of the office of independent counsel by presenting evidence relating to the investigation he had been appointed to lead. The question, however, is whether anything that happened in the hearings will make any difference. And the answer is probably not.

--Dan Schnur is a Republican analyst and commentator.

Watching Starr Squirm

Starr sounded humorously like Clinton at times when his memory failed him to avoid tough questions. As a longtime critic of Starr's, I took pleasure in watching him squirm. I doubt that the hearing changed the public's outlook very much.

Starr made a pretty good case that Clinton did wrong, not that I needed convincing. The sad thing is, from his point of view, if he'd run a clean investigation, he might have achieved his result: impeachment and removal. But his investigation is so tainted by partisan politics and abuse of prosecutorial powers of discretion that he trumped himself. He made Clinton a sympathetic figure when the president didn't deserve any sympathy.

The other big thing was, he was long past due to announce what he announced, which was that the major reasons for his investigation have long been decided in the president's favor. In simple fairness, it seems that that should have been announced a long time ago.

--Max Brantley is editor of the Arkansas Times in Little Rock.

Starr Is No Sosa

Starr's base hits cannot overcome one glaring error: his decision to go after the president on charges of perjury related to a civil sex case and his assumption that perjury automatically means impeachment. His strategy is offensive to Americans because they reserve the right to judge each case on its merits and convey their feelings to Congress, and they want the government the hell out of people's sex lives, whether in bedrooms or the Oval Office.

--Richard Estrada is a syndicated columnist in Dallas.

Impeachment Cha-Cha

They appear to be engaging in a kind of dance. Instead of an inquiry, where we're trying to find something out, it's more like a presidential debate, where everybody just spews out their material and nobody's learning anything new. The Democrats are playing their role. The Republicans are leading.

Starr helped himself, but where is there to go when you're that low in the polls? Unless you show up with two heads, you're going to do well. But the media are going to have to tell us he did well, because I don't think people are paying attention.

--Danny M. Adkison is associate professor of constitutional law at Oklahoma State University.

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