Just Go

A page one story in today’s New York Times pronounces “Mr. Clinton’s acquittal all but assured.” There are some details to work out on censure (Chatterbox likes Dianne Feinstein’s wording), and it’s possible things will drag on a bit if Sen. Phil Gramm filibusters. Basically, though, Flytrap is over. CNN has reported that after he is acquitted Clinton plans to make some public statement of contrition. Chatterbox has a better idea: After he is acquitted, Clinton should resign.

What? Quit just when you’ve whupped your political enemies? Chatterbox thinks there’s no better moment to do so.

A major anti-resignation argument Clinton supporters have been making over the past year is that for Clinton to quit under threat of impeachment would muck up the delicate separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch. Chatterbox (an out-of-the-closet parliamentarian) never bought this argument. But in any event, it will no longer apply once Congress has cleared Clinton of all formal charges (which anything short of a two-thirds vote to convict will, practically speaking, achieve). Clinton would not be resigning because his enemies were forcing him to; he would be resigning because it’s the decent thing to do. Senate acquittal will not change the facts that Clinton 1.) Had an affair with an underling, which (as Lars Erik-Nelson of the Daily News and other Clinton defenders noted long ago) is sufficient reason for him to go; 2.) Lied about it under oath, in civil and grand jury proceedings-a fact that, even if it can’t be proved in a court of law or on the Senate floor, cannot be doubted; 3.) May have enlisted his White House secretary in obstruction of justice.

When you think about it, what earthly reason does Clinton have to serve out his term now? Congress seems certain not to allow Clinton to push through any significant legislation. There’s no chance he can burnish his image for the history books at this late hour. And if Clinton’s presumed aim for the next two years is to get Al Gore elected president, what better way than to let him run as an incumbent? Chatterbox has no objection to Gore granting Clinton a Nixon-style pardon on his way out the door. Gore could be spared the consequences visited on Gerry Ford by not being sneaky about it’s being part of the deal. My fellow Americans, Gore could say. Pardoning my friend Bill Clinton in order to get rid of him is a good deal for Clinton and a good deal for the country.

Way back when Flytrap began, Washington conventional wisdom was that the Republicans’ best interests would be served by having Flytrap persist as a low-grade fever through the presidential election in 2000. The conventional wisdom is now the opposite- Flytrap is good for the Democrats, because the Republicans have been so ham-handedly partisan-but Chatterbox thinks that the Washington punditocracy got it right the first time. A Clinton Hangover awaits the Democrats, and the country as a whole. Clinton can spare us that, and maybe even go down in history as a convincingly contrite figure, if he quits.

Timothy Noah