17 DECEMBER 1998

Moral crusade, or Charge of the Light Brigade? That's the question vexing House Republicans as they face an historic vote to impeach President William Clinton - now postponed for a day or two by the president's desperate wag the camel attack on Baghdad.

A president who commits perjury in court, as Clinton did repeatedly, should be ousted, or resign. No matter how much Americans love charming Bill, Congress has a duty to enforce the law. Still, it's most unfortunate the only crime
investigators managed to pin on slippery, super-lawyer Clinton arose from Monica's loose lips.

Impeaching a president over a trivial sexual escapade - even if he did lie about it - sticks in the throats of Americans, who are royally fed up with the whole tawdry business. Republicans will pay dearly in the next election for this unpopular inquisition, pundits warn.

Clinton's counter-attack began last week. First came the smiling photo-ops of Clinton doing the statesman shtick in
Israel and Gaza. Meanwhile, in Washington, Democrats were loudly warning that if Clinton were impeached and - God forbid - tried by the Senate, there would be no one to run the world, not to mention the USA, and just when malefactors like Saddam Hussein were waiting to strike.

Next, bomb the usual Iraqis! The Clinton Administration ordered UN arms inspectors to raid Baath party headquarters in Baghdad, Saddam's political nerve center, an act guaranteed to provoke the Iraqis. Baghdad reacted right on cue, denying the intelligence agents called `inspectors' admission to these highly sensitive political offices.

Either Saddam was thoughtfully trying to help Bill Clinton out of the mother of all political jams, or else Clinton had
succeeded in provoking a major foreign crisis right when the House was about to pillory the philandering president.

Bombing Baghdad is always the tonic of choice for ailing presidents. However, the world's one billion Muslims are about to begin celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, and Christian Arabs the Christmas season. In the Mideast game, carpet bombing Muslims during Ramadan is considered a definite no- no. Still, Clinton seems to have decided infuriating the entire Muslim world against America is worth the boost blasting Iraq it will give his endangered presidency.

Mideast charades aside, are Democrats right when they claim the US cannot function if the president, Senate, and chief justice of the Supreme Court are tried up in a trial? Absolutely not. Such claims remind me of a friend who runs a big corporation. Every time he goes on a trip, his aged mother asks, `so who's watching the business?'

The US government is not a candy store. It can function very well for a while without the president or Congress. In
fact, their temporary inactivity is of benefit to the republic. America needs less government, not more activist intervention. New laws, regulations, and pork can wait. The nation will somehow survive a month without new Clinton photo-ops, or hugely expensive made-for-TV military demonstrations.

There's even a positive side to the whole impeachment mess. When many Americans actually believe they can't survive for a moment without the president, it's clear the imperial presidency has grown far too strong. Congress, not the president, is the prime branch of government, the voice of the people. The media promotes a false impression that the monarch-president makes the whole system function, and without him, it will collapse. The ex-gov of Arkansas is not Louis XIV.

When the president travels with a 1,200-man entourage worthy of a Ming Emperor, when the world breathlessly awaits White House pronouncements, it's time to return this office to modesty, as intended by the Founding Fathers. Clinton has repeatedly shown he feels himself above the law, scorning Congress and refusing to respond to its requests. Such cavalier arrogance convinced many wavering Republicans to vote for impeachment.

The presidency badly needs a diet of humble pie.

copyright eric marolis 1998