[FOUNTAIN]3 presidents and the drive to impeachThe issue of President Roh Moo-hyun’s impeachment has created controversy because of its grounds. Clearly, the president is at fault. But the question is whether he deserves impeachment.
When the Monica Lewinsky scandal created a worldwide sensation, hardly anyone defended President Bill Clinton for his morality. Even the Democrats, who made Mr. Clinton president, criticized his unethical behavior in unison.
But the point of the Clinton impeachment case was whether his relationship with the White House intern was reason enough to replace the president. Then the case became a political one. While the scandal began as an ethical misdemeanor and legal matter, the process was political.
Mr. Clinton’s case was different from the Watergate scandal, which became grounds for attempting to impeach former President Richard Nixon. Political parties did not have any disagreements since Mr. Nixon’s case was a clear violation, both ethically and legally. When the president’s approval rating dropped to the 20 percent area, even the White House staff turned away from him. At last, he resigned before the impeachment bill was introduced.
When the House passed the impeachment bill against Mr. Clinton in late 1998, the Democratic Party insisted on the political nature of the impeachment drive. The White House emphasized the inadequacy of the bill by claiming that the grounds for impeachment of Mr. Clinton did not satisfy the level of crimes and misdemeanors defined by the constitution. Finally, the Senate saved Mr. Clinton at a judgment in January 1999.
The Republicans paid a hefty price, with their support rating falling to the 40 percent level, the lowest in 14 years. In fact, the biggest victim was the presidency itself. The dignity and authority of the U.S. president were compromised. The political authority of Congress was ridiculed. When the effect of the independent counsel investigating the Lewinsky matter was questioned, people grew skeptical of the justice system as well. All three pillars of the constitutional system were undermined.
Americans were divided in their views, and the internal clash of cultures left lasting pains. Mr. Roh’s approval rating might resemble Mr. Nixon’s, but the impeachment drive seems to share a lot with that of Mr. Clinton.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.