The Impeachment Vote

By voting last Friday not to convict the President—only the second time in American history such a trial has been conducted—the Senate brought the curtain down on a long and agonizing impeachment saga. But there are lessons to be learned. First, let's be honest: The rule of law has taken a hit. Many senators followed the lead of the much respected Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd, who said that Clinton was guilty—that this was an impeachable offense but that he would not vote to remove him. Senators simply looked the other way—or perhaps more correctly, looked at the polls reflecting two-thirds of Americans not wanting Clinton removed. So what do we now say to young people and what do I say in particular to prisoners? The chief cause of bitterness in prisons is sentence disparity, and there are many inmates who are sitting in cells today convicted of perjury who are wondering if what is etched over the entrance of the Supreme Court, "Equal justice under the law," is really true. Well, the only answer is that impeachment is uniquely of all criminal actions a political decision. We need to teach kids—and I will try to teach prisoners—that this case simply has no precedent—and it's no excuse for others to flout the law. We must not let it breed cynicism. The impeachment outcome also provides a wake up call. Religious conservatives flexed their political muscles after the 1994 revolution. But triumphalism among Christians can make us arrogant and delude us into believing that we can win the culture politically. Well, the 1996 elections, and now, the Senate's verdict, have humbled us. This is healthy if it teaches us that politics is nothing but an expression of culture. It is not enough to win elections, for political power alone can not change how people live or change their values. It is essential to change hearts and minds as well. And that starts, not in Washington, but with our neighbors. Finally, the healing process must begin. There are reports all over this city from Democrats who have been with Clinton in recent days who describe him as angry and vengeful toward his opponents. There are stories in print that he and his supporters will be out to defeat the House managers in the next election. Following the vote, the president repeated—and graciously so—a statement of repentance acknowledging he was responsible. But seeking revenge, if these accounts are accurate, is not a sign of a repentant attitude. The president needs to take responsibility for what has happened. The whole sorry episode, after all, began, not because of some vast right-wing conspiracy, as Mrs. Clinton charged, but because the president himself engaged in an illicit relationship with a White House intern, and then baldly lied to the American people. Remember, the polls which show the people do not want him removed also show 80 percent believe him guilty. What we all need right now—the president, his adversaries, and the people—is to put aside our personal feelings and do our best to reconcile a divided nation. And for all of us who are Christians, regardless of how we view this process, let us remind ourselves that we serve a God who rules over the affairs of men—whether they know it or not.


Chuck Colson



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