Impeachment

The Man Who Would Be King

There are few times as deeply etched in my memory as July 24, 1974, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Richard Nixon had to surrender the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor. Those tapes offered indisputable proof that Nixon had played a key role in covering up the Watergate break-in and other illegal activities.

I remember thinking, What would Nixon do? Surrendering the tapes would mean political ruin and personal disgrace. Would he obey the court or call out the National Guard? Mercifully, eight hours after the court decision, the White House announced it would comply.

I felt that same chill down my spine listening to President George W. Bush on Dec. 17, 2005, as he attempted to explain the revelations in The New York Times concerning him ordering the National Security Agency to engage in extensive eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without the court order required by the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. Not even mentioning FISA, the president stated proudly, “I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.”

By what authority did Bush ignore the FISA requirement? Bush claimed he was using “...authority vested in me by Congress, including the Joint Authorization for Use of Military Force...[and] constitutional authority vested in me as commander-in-chief.” Most legal scholars agree that these arguments are quite a stretch. A group of distinguished lawyers, several of whom worked in senior positions in administrations of both parties, sent members of Congress an extensive legal analysis of Bush’s domestic spying, concluding, “The program appears on its face to violate existing law.”

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March 2006
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Paging Stuart Smalley

Twenty-five years ago, I was a 19-year-old college kid joyously wallowing in Watergate. The previous fall I'd volunteered for the McGovern campaign, in Mississippi, where we got about 20 percent of the vote. It was character-building to experience such crushing defeat at such a tender age. And it made the vengeance of Watergate that much sweeter.

As this is written, the Senate trial of President Clinton is beginning. Even at this late date, not many people are wallowing in Clinton's perjury and obstruction problems the way we did with the unraveling of Nixon's police-state ambitions. It all seems like a bad soap opera, and, like most Americans, I've tried mightily to avoid knowing too much about it.

Then, when the House debated impeachment in December, I happened to be spending seven hours in a car. Thanks to National Public Radio, I heard about as much of the debate as any reasonable person could endure. Now I'm following the story, at last, and experiencing some pop cultural flashbacks in the process, but not from the Watergate '70s.

In a 1965 song called "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," Bob Dylan wrote the famous words "Sometimes even the President of the United States must have to stand naked." The president then was Lyndon Johnson. LBJ once pulled up his shirt to display a fresh surgical scar to the White House press corps and was known to hold conversations with aides while seated on the toilet. But Dylan seemed to have emotional and spiritual nakedness on his mind—the nudity that is every human's state before God.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Clinton's Repentance--And Ours

Many of those present for Bill Clinton’s prayer breakfast repentance were moved. Unlike his August 17 address to the nation, this speech was contrite enough to convince. Of course, many of his spiritual advisers have been counseling Clinton for many months to tell the truth for the sake of his own soul, his family, and the nation. To admit "sin" now, after having been caught by a relentless prosecutor, cornered by a grand jury, and run out of delaying and obfuscating tactics clearly has not persuaded everyone of the sincerity of the president’s repentance. My religious mother (who voted for Clinton) put it this way: "He didn’t really repent, he just got caught."

But even "foxhole conversions" can be genuine. In the wave of ever-stronger reactions, even from his own party members, to the president’s "immoral" and "disgraceful" behavior, Clinton is becoming increasingly sorry, but he still wants the nation to forgive him and to "move on."

By anyone’s definitions, Bill Clinton has much to repent of. But, maybe, so do the rest of us. Much has been said about Clinton being the first "baby boomer" president. And to be honest, the now terribly public revelations of the president’s behavior are embarrassing to many of our generation. While Bill Clinton may be characteristically excessive, are there ways that his behavioral style is all too representative of an America led by our generation?

WHILE CLINTON’S moral failures are astounding, are they also archetypal, and do they give us all reason for reflection? Perhaps there is more to repent of here than just his betrayal of his family and the public trust.

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Abandonment of Trust

President Clinton’s sordid behavior in the Lewinsky scandal has left many Christians in a quandary about the relevance of forgiveness in the political arena. We have been assured by Donald Shriver, author of An Ethic for our Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics, that the country should now be willing to forgive the president. J. Philip Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church where the Clintons attend and a distinguished authority in Christian ethics, contends that talk of political penalties is unbiblical: "King David did something that was much worse than anything that President Clinton is alleged to have done. And King David, if I read my Bible correctly, was not impeached."

So what ever happened to honor? This term belongs to an important complex of biblical ideas concerning public respect and recognition. Honor is achieved through the maintenance of integrity (Proverbs 8:1-21), speaking the truth without dissimulation: "Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matthew 5:37). Honorable persons defend the dignity of the weak (2 Corinthians 11:28-29), overlooking personal advantage for the sake of the larger community (Judges 5). The honorable are recognized as righteous as well as wise (Proverbs 5-6); they respect the community’s sense of decency (Philippians 4:8-9). When the community sets its trust in a leader who conforms to these standards, that person is said to be "honorable." There is a particular stress throughout the Bible on honoring parents, marital partners, and political leaders, with frequent advice about how such figures should behave so as to warrant being honored. The admonition in Romans 13:7 concerning respect for the government is particularly clear on the matter of warrant: Believers are to give "honor to whom honor is due."

Read the Full Article

Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Subscribe