- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

Thank you, David Kendall, for a moment of comic relief amid all the war news. Last week the Clinton Follies were back in Little Rock, and the former president's lawyer was the star.
The occasion was a seminar on the Clinton presidency, and Counselor Kendall could have just walked onto a television set some time in 1999. His spin hadn't changed a bit. Once again he was denouncing the case against his client as "constitutional vandalism" much ado about not very much.
The effect of the Clinton impeachment, he warned the students, would be to lower the standard for impeaching future presidents. After all, the charges were small potatoes: perjury and obstruction of justice.
It's one thing to argue that The Hon. William Jefferson Clinton wasn't guilty of those offenses, another to contend they were not serious accusations sufficiently serious to warrant removing a president from office.
But truth does matter, Mr. Kendall. Or else there would be no point in holding seminars. Or requiring witnesses to take an oath before they testify.
If truth didn't matter, what would be the point of David Kendall's presenting his views, or of my criticizing them? There would be no common ground, no shared truth by which to judge either opinion. All of us would live in our own fantasy world, able to pretend whatever we liked till the truth caught up with us. As it has a way of doing. Truth is a great self-corrective.
When poor Winston Smith was keeping his secret journal in George Orwell's "1984," one of his first crimes against the all-knowing state was to write down the subversive thought: Freedom is the freedom to say that 2 plus 2 make 4. Note that Winston didn't define freedom as the freedom to say that 2 plus 2 make 5, or 3, or anything but the truth.
The freedom to speak a lie, or not much care whether it is a lie or not, may be the essence of self-delusion, or of deconstruction, or even the adversary system. But it is not true freedom, which is dependent on truth.
The truth sets us free in more ways than one; it not only allows us to say what we think but allows the world to correct us. Because it furnishes us a standard outside ourselves by which we may be judged. Without it, we live on our own little imaginary planets, spinning out of control.
It is the lies, the evasions, the falsehoods, the purely adversarial arguments power is prone to use that undermine freedom and human discourse itself.
Mr. Kendall warns against lowering the standards for impeachment. But when falsehoods are accepted as the necessary price of power, and the truth becomes expendable, it is society's standards that are lowered.
Any system that tolerates perjury is chipping away at its own foundation in truth, and inviting its own collapse just as the Dreyfus Affair eroded the foundation of France's Third Republic. When truth becomes secondary to preserving the system, it is not truth that is ultimately endangered.
Perjury is a crime not just against the state or society, but against the self. Maybe it would be unrealistic to expect Mr. Kendall's presidential client, that perfect auto-empath, to view keeping his oath as the object of his testimony; he was out to beat the rap and merely made a miscalculation. Like a basketball player stepping out of bounds. To him it was all part of a legal game.
But it is disappointing to hear learned counsel dismiss a concern for truth and justice as disruptive to law when those should be its very object. Maybe David Kendall thought he was still part of the spin cycle, a k a the adversary system, rather than in a university setting. A graduate seminar used to have something to do with seeking truth and, in my more romantic moments, I'd like to believe it still does.
Hickman Ewing, who was with the Office of Independent Counsel during the late unpleasantness called impeachment, also addressed the seminar. "If I ever go bad," he said, "I hope they assign Mr. Kendall to my case."
I can understand why. David Kendall knows the law well. But if the law considers truth no great matter, and has no great concern for either justice or its obstruction, it becomes a pointless thing only a means without, in truth, an end.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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