Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Real Deal on Clinton's Impeachment and Trial (1999)

Editor's Note: This article is dated January 26, 1999.

For only the second time in American history, a president is on trial in the U.S. Senate. Many people are shocked that the impeachment steamroller has gone this far, and sense that something bigger is at stake than a garden-variety bickering and jockeying between Republicans and Democrats. The proceedings against Clinton have resembled a 20th century version of the Salem witch trials -- a full blown inquisition. So what is at the bottom of this inquisition, and what is in the interest of Black, other oppressed, and progressive people in all of this? There is in fact a "vast right-wing conspiracy".

This may not surprise those who have followed the careers of some of the key players in the impeachment and trialBoth Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Bob Barr have connections to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens. Henry Hyde has an amendment named after him which wiped out abortion funding for poor women. Supreme Court judge Rehnquist backed the Jim Crow "separate but equal" doctrine, laws supporting wiretapping, surveillance without a court order, and preventive detention.

But most people are unaware of the real extent, strength and full agenda of the right wing network within the U.S. power structure. The impeachment inquisition was never simply about Bill Clinton. The extreme Right wants to force Clinton from office and push ahead with an aggressively repressive social and political agenda. It is a full scale campaign to reshape and unify U.S. society more solidly around the politics of cruelty -- poverty and punishment.

They want a society of "America right or wrong" jingoism, white supremacy, and women firmly under men's thumbs. The Christian Right who have risen to the top of the Republican Party, are leading a "culture war" to outlaw the anti- establishment culture and morality of the 1960s -- when millions felt righteous about fighting against the system, for justice and equality.

They want to get Clinton because they view him (though mistakenly) as a symbol of the rebellious '60s, and of "diversity" and "multiculturalism".

But why has this intense power struggle broken out at this time? There are in fact big changes since the '60s that pose real and potentially destablizing challenges to the cohesion of U.S. capitalist society todaygrowing minority population, cultural diversity, the changing role of women, and the erosion of traditional male-headed family. At the same time, global economic and social changes of the last decade demand a fiercer competitive system -- fewer constraints on big business, more cost cutting, downsizing, decline of unions -- generally more flexible and disposable labor force.

To stay on top of today's global market requires a more "lean and mean" and mobile capitalist machine. These and other changes have cut the ground from the New Deal/Great Society "glue" that held America together for the past 50 years. Social welfare programs are now considered major cost burdens. These factors are the backdrop for sharp debates in the power structure over how to maintain social control. The far Right believes traditional Christian morality must now be the cement binding U.S. society and maintaining its dominant position in the world.

From the moment Clinton took office, he has been a target of the Right whose answer to the new situation facing the system is a horrific program of poverty and punishment. But Clinton's own program has never strayed far from these politics. In fact, Clinton's specialty has been to combine the Right's politics of cruelty with the democratic rhetoric of inclusion. There is absolutely no question that the program and action of the Right must be decisively opposed, and urgently.

This inquisition has legitimized wide ranging precedents that mean very bad things for the peoplespying and prying into people's personal lives; imposing religious morality on political and legal matters; using the rule of law to entrap defendants; and dangerously expanding Grand Jury powers. The Christian fascist thrust of the inquisition has deliberately confused and combined (their versions of) "sin" with "crime" in this holy crusade where consensual sex outside marriage, or lying, will be a "sin" as well as "crime".

It has been said that Black people have a special stake in saving the Clinton presidency, that he at least shows "respect for Black people and Black culture". A lot of Black people voted last November as a means to oppose the inquisition, but it continues to bulldoze ahead, against the "will of the people". It shows that rallying behind Clinton and the Democrats is not the way to stop the right wing power move. Clinton is the most conservative Democratic President since Truman. He is the commander-in-chief who ordered repeated bombings of Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

He presided over the escalation of the war on immigrants with the stepped up militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. He has slashed welfare, and moved to dismantle public housing with the "one strike you're out" policy where people can be evicted from public housing if anyone in their household (or a guest) is accused (not even convicted) of "violent or drug related" crime. In the area of gutting civil liberties, Clinton has refused to be outdone by his conservative opponents.

He has signed laws expanding the use of wiretaps; endorsed and enforced racist policies such as increasing the use of the death penalty, the criminalization and incarceration of a generation of Black and Latino youth, and the crack sentencing (and mandatory minimum) laws. With a friend like that, who needs enemies? So how DO we get out of this bad situation? We should find ways to speak out and protest this ugly inquisition. All who are repulsed by the right wing agenda should join together and oppose it in all its aspects. We need to mobilize the broadest ranks of the people, and build up determined and mass resistance.

We need to unite people of different nationalities, from many different walks of life, to fight the entire reactionary and repressive agenda -- whether in opposing police brutality or the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We need to take matters in our own hands, rely on ourselves to take truly independent political action, breaking out of the bounds and terms set by the very establishment forces we oppose.

This might be harder than hoping that Clinton and the Democrats will save us from the rampage of the Christian Right, but it is far more realistic.