Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Death of American Virtue

Janet Maslin in Monday's New York Times had a review of Professor Ken Gormely's book, The Death of American Virtue about the "legal mess," of Bill Clinton's presidency beginning with the Whitewater investigation through the Starr Report and Cinton's impeachment (and 5 year suspension from the parctice of law) for perjury. 

President Clinton is actually one of those people who give me hope that there is life after my personal and professional disasters.  Let's face it, the guns were out for the Clintons, and Bill Clinton had exposure, (no pun intended) through his own appetites (as the pundits like to claim) and through his ill-advised denials when the shit did hit the fan.  The larger question, and I think we know the answer, was any of this investigation, prosecution, suing of our sitting American president good for us?  Did the political warfare of that time usher in an era of poitical comity, cooperation, freedom and liberty?  No. 

The BSL (blonde super lawyer's) mother was a real character.  She and my father-in-law were rabid anti-Clintonites.  Long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal, my mother-in-law was certain Clinton was Satan.  I'm pretty sure the Secret Service had MaryAnn on their radar screen--I actually loved this lunatic rightwinger (for some reason for a centrist-lefty I have lot of right wing pals.)  MaryAnn had the White House switch board on speed dial to complain vehemently about this or that trampling of our liberties by the Clintons.  Unfortunately MaryAnn fell prematurely ill with pancreatic cancer, and I always thought how big a loss it was for her not to live through Clinton's impeachment.  I know that sounds pretty dark, but I'm pretty sure it would have been the highlight of her life. 

For me, it was a horror story.  I liked Bill Clinton, I hated Gingrich, et al., and I saw Kenneth Starr as this supercilious prig.  Let me be clear, Clinton's behavior hurt those of us who supported him philosophically, but the persecution and prosecution of Clinton by Kenneth Starr and the rightwing media was greenlighted in part in one of the worse decisions unanimous decisions of the US Supreme Court in the modern era, Clinton v. Jones.  The US Supremes held that the Constitution does not grant a sitting President immunity from civil litigation except under highly unusual circumstances. After noting the great respect and dignity owed to the Executive office, the Court held that neither separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level information can justify an unqualified Presidential immunity from judicial process. While the independence of our government's branches must be protected under the doctrine of separation of powers, the Court said, the Constitution does not prohibit these branches from exercising any control over one another. This, the Court added, is true despite the procedural burdens which Article III jurisdiction may impose on the time, attention, and resources of the Chief Executive.

So Paula Jones, and her hit-squad lawyers were able to take the President's deposition and in tortured testimony Clinton denied under oath, having "sex with that woman." Clinton's answer was not "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."  He got cute, and while in my opinion he should not have been subjected to this shit--he lied.  Did he perjure himself, probably not in any "legal sense," but what does it matter.  Clinton gave all of us Bad Lawyers a powerful example of how not testify in a civil or criminal matter. 

What is the other legacy of Bill Clinton?  That you can be a flawed man, a flawed leader, and somehow retain your dignity and survive and even thrive in the wake of a personal and professional disaster?   I suppose it helps that publishers and speaker's bureaus the world over are waiting to dumb boatloads of money on you--but, I think there's more to it than money. 

An interesting aspect to Professor Gormely's book is his thesis, that I think is absolutely true, maybe it's not more than a statement of the obvious, but--so much of how the Clinton/Starr scandals shook out was a product of happenstance.  If only this, then that; if only that, then this; one thing is for certain in American politics, which this blawg is not about--there is a level of animus that is frightful.  This animus, tea party stuff, people shouting at their represntatives, demagoguery--it poisons the justice system.  I plan to write soon, about the Supremes in Wisconsin.  An ugly, ugly campaign that unseated an admired Justice has had a toxic effect on that court, similar to Michigan's high court as revealed in the disciplinary action against Geoffrey Fieger that we explored here on Bad Lawyer, last year.

It seems to me that there is a painful lack of sensibility in what we do and say--in an effort to be victorious.  The BSL has always argued that our adversarial system breeds this over the top need to personally destroy one another professionally,  When we did it to our president over his "personal" failures, we took a step too far.


  1. Let me tip you to Fresh Air's interview with Professor Gormely, which I just heard via Sirius radio. Fresh Air runs on National Public Radio at various local times, and I believe you can catch it over the computer at the NPR website. Excellent discussion.

  2. let me see; hates starr hates gingrich loves clinton do we have a career dem here - oh don't touch a seated prez how about one never proven to be constitutionally qualified it was o.k. to chek out mc cain but god almighty not obubba oh but i guess in nixons case it was o.k. to attack a seated prez.----nixon had no part in watergate just the cover up ------was he trying to save americas integrity maybe whose was clinton trying to protect daaaaa times up
    imagine bill clinton giving hope how much law did he ever practice after all politics has become the imposing of laws on us -i find hope in recognizing the principles that are enduring the ones that have prevailed for over 200years now i find hope reflecting on those who sacrificed for usc not those always cashing in

    damn how about a prez without a law degree

    the pope

  3. Your Holiness!

    I knew I could draw a reasoned-dissent out of you! So tell me, what do you think of Kenneth Starr's assertion to Gormely that "it shouldn't have happened?"


  4. The kind of vitriol that has infected our political system has made this once-political animal into a refugee from the ideological (and sometimes completely crackpot) rantings emanating from both sides. I am as nauseated by left-wing rants as right-wing ones these days. A plague on both their houses.

  5. As someone who came of age during the Nixon presidency, I used to follow politics like other people followed soap operas. Things unfolded slowly and it took time to see who was real and who was false. Recent times have given us the politics of insta-hatred. My post of the Glenn Beck demand, that someone taken into custody be "shot in the head," speaks volumes about where we're at now. And I agree with you, all my hope is draining.