Sunday, July 25, 2004

Should Clinton have resigned? NY Review of Books says "Yes." They're wrong.

Gary Wills has an excellent review of Bill Clinton's memoirs in this issue of the New York Review of Books and it's been made available online here:

But, I have to take issue with Wills' conclusion, which is that Clinton should have resigned after the Lewinskey scandal and the Paula Jones trial combined to trap him into the perjury that led to his impeachment. Wills has thought out his position rather well, so before I start disagreeing with him, here's his money shot, from the review:

"What would have happened had Clinton resigned? Gore would have been given a "honeymoon" in which he could have played with a stronger hand all the initiatives Clinton had begun, unashamed of them and able to bring them fresh energy. That is what happened when Lyndon Johnson succeeded John Kennedy. Clinton himself may have reaped a redeeming admiration for what he had sacrificed to recover his honor. Before him would have lain all the opportunities he has now, and more. Hillary Clinton's support of him in this act of real contrition would have looked nobler. Clinton's followers were claiming that it was all and only about sex. Clinton could have said, "Since that is what it is about, I'll step aside so more important things can be addressed." All the other phony issues Starr had raised would have fallen of their own insubstantiality."

I don't know a thing about political strategy so I can't really say Wills is wrong about how a Clinton resignation would have played out. But, I do know this: A lot of people voted for Clinton. Twice. The public didn't support the impeachment and our elective representatives knew it, which is one of the reasons why, though impeached, Clinton was not convicted. As a man elected in a Democracy, Clinton had a responsibility not to his legacy or to Al Gore, but to the people who put him in office. Had he resigned, rather than fight, he would allowed his opponents to nullify the will of millions of voters.

Which is exactly what his opponents did in 2000.

Our Democracy, fragile and flawed though it may be, needs defenders. By not resigning, Clinton defended it. That will be, I think, eventually recognized as part of his legacy.


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