What’s in a Word?

I was in New York City this week and took the most reliable poll I know. I asked a cabbie whether President Clinton should be impeached. "Oh, no," he said. "Do you think he's guilty of lying under oath?" I asked. "Sure, he is," he replied. "Well, then why don't you want to see him impeached?" I asked. His answer tells us a great deal about why we're seeing such an extraordinary dichotomy regarding whether we ought to impeach the president. The answer that cabbie gave me was that he didn't want to see Clinton thrown out of office. "But shouldn't he be held accountable for lying?" I asked. "Darn right," he responded angrily. But how can you hold the president accountable without impeaching him? The cabbie revealed the same cognitive disconnect we've witnessed all across the country. On one hand, two-thirds of Americans say they don't want Clinton impeached. But in an ABC News poll conducted this week, a clear majority of the people say the president ought to be tried for perjury. Other polls show that a vast majority of Americans believe Clinton did lie and did perjure himself and that it's a serious offense. So how do you reconcile those views? I believe that many people are confused; they simply don't understand the constitutional process. If the House of Representatives, passes an impeachment resolution this coming week, it does notmean the president is going to be turned out of office. It simply means that the House has made a finding that there is credible evidence that the president has lied. And it then sends the matter to the Senate. The Senate's job will be to decide how to dispose of the matter: Do nothing, plea bargain, censure, or conduct the trial. In their wisdom, our Founding Fathers designed a way we could bring to trial the only man in America who cannot not be tried in the courts while he sits in office: the president of the United States. They intended no man to be above the law, a concept that reflects a major Christian contribution to the founding of our nation. The House action will not, I repeat, not, despite what the president's defenders claim this week, overturn the election results, throw him out of office for so-called "minor offenses," weaken our foreign policy, or unsettle the nation for months. Instead, the House will be making a simple determination based on the evidence, which in this case was exhaustively developed by the independent prosecutor. The impeachment vote is going to turn on several moderate Republicans who are caught up in the hysteria over what impeachment really means. But they know what it means—and no one who cares about the rule of law, no one who cares about protecting the moral standards of this country, no one who cares about seeing that justice is done, should have any difficulty in finding that the president perjured himself—something the White House itself acknowledged by its failure to refute the charges. After I explained to the cab driver how the Constitution worked, he said, "Of course we ought to impeach him." I'm convinced that if the American people understood what the word "impeach" means, the vast majority would be in favor of the House vote. People who are saying "censure instead of impeach" are missing the fact that impeachment IS the constitutional censure. If we believe in the rule of law, let the constitutional process proceed.


Chuck Colson



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