- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

The press has put the president on a couch this week with a pair of stories that reveal what appears to be how to say this delicately? a rather agitated state of mind. Mr. Clinton is "especially angry and dispirited," writes the New York Times, citing anonymous presidential pals. He is "deeply troubled," experiencing "pointed unhappiness." He is also, in the words of a nicely vivid quotation, "livid, off-the-wall angry."

Before any Good Samaritans dial 911, consider the main source of the psychodrama. The president, having been buoyed by consistently high poll numbers to rise above every scandal, just might might get his wings clipped, and in a place where it hurts. Since the Arkansas bar committee recommended last May that Mr. Clinton be disbarred, it now seems possible that a televised disbarment trial may take place as early as the fall in the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas. (As "friends" very helpfully pointed out to the newspaper, Arkansas is Mr. Clinton's home state, "making it even more hurtful.") It is the specter of disbarment that is giving the 42nd president of the United States the willies.

The Washington Post this week explored the president's outlook in a more broadly framed story about his role in the upcoming elections, reporting on, for example, Mr. Clinton's current feelings for Al Gore. These are, by the way, not exactly what you call sanguine. In just one short span, the Clintonian emotion-meter ranged from "anger at Gore's attempts to distance himself from Clinton's scandals," to being "baffled by Gore's deficiencies in the theater of politics." (Ouch.) Getting back to the dread subject of Mr. Clinton's possible disbarment, The Post reported, "These days, the prospect of being stripped of his law license horrifies him."

"Horrifies him." These are strong words. Of course, the press has uncovered some strong reactions. The president would be "in a terrific mood," a Clinton pal told the New York Times, until the subject of disbarment came up. "Then, the friend said. 'His mood immediately darkens.' " The newspaper went on to explain, "Disbarment would be both a lifetime stigma and a definitive verdict for history. It would also be the result of a proceeding difficult to portray as a groundless and partisan vendetta." In other words, disbarment would throw a titanium-tough monkey wrench into the Clinton spin machine, effectively disabling its mincemeat-making capacity that was so successfully deployed against the Starr investigation and the House effort to bring Mr. Clinton to book.

But there's more to it than that. According to the same talkative friend, Mr. Clinton is "especially concerned that if he is disbarred, he will go down in history as the first president in American history to lose his law license while in office, a punishment that was not even visited upon Richard M. Nixon, who surrendered his law license after he left the White House."

There goes the legacy. Of course, next time the president wakes up in the dark of night, he would do well to remember that Mr. Nixon had the grace to resign from office, sparing both himself and the nation this continuing period of unhealed rift and lasting unease. Friends tell the press Mr. Clinton thought his Senate acquittal would end all his problems, an expectation that reveals a surprising naivet. There's no doubt that Mr. Clinton triumphed politically (read David Schippers' shocking, behind-the-scenes explanation of this triumph in "Sellout"). It remains to be seen whether his actions will have legal consequences. The judicial system, after all, is supposed to be impervious to politics. And that, in the end, is Bill Clinton's biggest nightmare.

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