A Nation in Search of its Business
By Robert Ross



I open this morning's newspaper and see a political cartoon by S. Kelly, of the San Diego Union-Tribune. In the cartoon, Bill Clinton is talking to the Pope. Mr. Clinton asks the Pope "A guy like me can still get into heaven right?" The Pope responds "That depends on your definition of heaven."

As I write this column in late January, the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton continues. I write, knowing that by the time the March/April issue of Awareness Magazine hits the streets, chances are . . . the trial will be over. But now, in late January, there are witnesses to be called and depositions to be taken. One side says it's interested in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The other side wants to dismiss the proceedings hoping that with the dismissal, the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice will fade away.

Radio and TV talk shows spend their days and evenings focusing on terms like censure. Others commentators talk of impeachment with the caveat that allows Mr. Clinton to stay in office. And then there are those who see the proceedings as a waste of time, after all they say, the President needs to get back to the nation's business.

Just what is the nation's business anyway, saving social security, tax cuts, HMO reform? Ask any American and you'll get an answer ‹ answers as unique as there are individuals. "We need to do this, we need to do that, we need to save this, we need to save that, that's our nation's business!" But is there an underlying business to our business? Is there a bottom line? Is there anything on which we can all agree is . . . our business?

When the U.S. Constitution was first designed and written, the framers deliberated long and hard. They were looking for an agreement that would allow for the freedoms we all enjoy today. They wanted a government that would take care of some collective needs without intruding on the individual's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One document that inspired the structure of our constitution was the Mayflower Compact. This was a charter that seemed to give authority to the people to govern themselves. But when our constitution was being drafted, a debate raged as to whether or not charters like the Mayflower Compact would truly protect individual freedom or would our citizens still be at the mercy and whim of political leaders. To prevent this potential for abuse, our framers designed the Constitution in a way that placed it above legislative power‹indeed, above all governmental powers. The Constitution, particularly the Supremacy Clause of Article VI, established the "Rule of Law," the idea that the government itself, including the president and Congress, must abide by the law. We would all, president and pauper, be treated equally under the Constitution.

Even the most ardent supporters of the president will readily acknowledge that under oath, Bill Clinton was, shall we say, less then honest. In legal terms, it's called perjury. Perjury . . . the Constitution . . . the Rule of Law. Some would have us believe that this is and was about some crude and embarrassing private acts committed in the oval office. But the charges facing the president make no mention of crude and embarrassing acts. The charges are perjury and obstruction of justice. Perjury, obstruction of justice . . . the Constitution . . . the Rule of Law. Upholding the Constitution, upholding the idea that presidents and paupers would be treated equally . . . this is our nation's business.

It is the last Sunday in January; the deadline for this column is only hours away. I do a last-minute surf of the news channels on TV, the same faces appear, the same manicured look, and the same calls for a dismissal or censure. "We need to put this behind us, we need to move on with the nation's business" is heard on channel after channel. We need to move on with the nation's business? By the time this column is published we will probably know . . . did we honor the Constitution, did we honor the Rule of Law, did we honor . . . our nation's highest business?

Robert Ross can be reached at   

Copyright 1999 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

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