SOLOMON: "Unimpeachable Offenses"

When major news outlets and political leaders in Washington keep telling us that the same question deserves our full attention, you can bet that something is seriously amiss.During the impeachment debates, the mantra became so familiar that close observers of the performances in the Capitol theater could recite it in their sleep: "Was the president guilty of an impeachable offense?"It is the media question of the week, month and year. Ever since late January, some version of it has reverberated through the echo chamber maintained by the Washington press corps.When a question is asked and repeated often enough, we're apt to become preoccupied with trying to answer it. And anything that sounds constitutionally profound is hard to pass up. With cable TV networks in the lead, the national media have followed every twist and turn of impeachment mania with the breathless explanation that it is "historic."In just about the only memorable public statement he ever made, Gerald Ford commented way back in 1970 that "an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." In other words -- rhetoric aside -- judgments about impeachment are ultimately subjective.If members of Congress are able to use whatever standards they choose in evaluating presidential deeds, then you and I are entitled to the same latitude.Although the media focus has been on "impeachable offenses," the offenses that most bother me are -- evidently -- unimpeachable. When journalists go on and on about putatively "impeachable offenses," they're distracting us from the unimpeachable ones.As a corollary to Ford's axiom, we could say that "unimpeachable offenses" are any dastardly presidential actions that Congress refuses to view as impeachable. And when it comes to figuring out what those are, we don't have to guess.Unlike the circumspect sages who routinely appear on such influential TV programs as the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," historian Howard Zinn provides blessed relief from the fables that pass for historical perspective. His classic book "A People's History of the United States" is a notable alternative to the texts that have long been part of schooling in America."I can think of at least 10 reasons to impeach Clinton," says Zinn. They include the president's deceptive rationales for the attack on the religious compound in Waco, Texas, that caused 81 deaths; the bombing of Iraq in the same year (1993) that took eight civilian lives; and the missile assaults on Afghanistan and Sudan last August, when the White House cited non-existent evidence that the bombed Sudanese pharmaceutical factory was producing nerve gas.On the domestic front, unimpeachable offenses include the "welfare reform" that Clinton pushed into law in 1996 -- shoving about 1 million children below the poverty line.No one on either side of the congressional aisle -- or in the press gallery -- is mentioning the "sexual McCarthyism" underway against low-income women. Gwendolyn Mink, a professor of politics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, points out that Clinton's welfare law "compels mothers to answer the government's questions about their sex lives."This reality is news to anyone who has relied on the news media for information. "Poor unmarried mothers must tell judges or welfare officials the names of the men they have slept with if the paternity of their child has not been established," Mink explains. "In judicial proceedings, they also have had to tell how often, where and when. If they refuse, they can be denied food stamps or Medicaid or welfare. But where are the defenders of their privacy? Don't their rights count?"The answer: Abusing thousands of poor women as a matter of policy is about as unimpeachable as any offense gets.Of course, those sorts of concerns are absolutely not ready for impeachment prime-time. And it's a good bet that such routine moral crimes by presidents -- usually committed in partnership with Congress -- will remain unimpeachable.Norman Solomon is co-author of "Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News" and author of "The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."


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