c. 1998 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ Christian Coalition leaders _ among Bill Clinton’s most bitter critics who hold great influence among congressional Republicans _ called Friday (Sept. 18) for the president’s impeachment rather than his resignation, saying justice demanded it.
Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster who founded the Coalition,lambasted Clinton for turning the White House into”the playpen for the sexual freedom of the poster child of the 1960s.”He said Clinton had”debauched, debased and defamed”the presidency by engaging in behavior that”if it were a movie would be triple X-rated.” His comments prompted sustained applause from some 3,000 Coalition members gathered here for the group’s annual”Road to Victory”convention.
Robertson said calls for Clinton to resign were”simplistic”as he invoked an Old Testament sense of justice even as he said Christians were obligated by their faith to forgive”Clinton the man.” While the president has said he would not resign, others have urged him to do so to spare the nation further political uncertainty stemming from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s report on Clinton’s relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
But Robertson and Randy Tate, the Coalition’s executive director, said Clinton’s resignation would not be enough and the House of Representatives should vote for impeachment.”We’ve heard a lot of discussion about repentance and forgiveness lately,”Robertson said, sending a ripple of derisive laughter through his audience.”But at the same time we recognize that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a God of law and justice … We know that the lamb of God is also the lion of Judah … His justice still remains firm.” Tate said”the question is not what’s good for politics, but what’s best for the nation. We must not be a nation of individuals and personalities, but a nation of laws.” Coalition supporters appeared, by and large, to agree with the organization’s leadership.
Lyrel Berdoll of Ocala, Fla., said Clinton had”let the nation down by his lying and perjury and violating other things Christians hold dear. And whenever you sin you must be prepared to suffer the consequences.” Dick Black, a retired Army prosecutor and current member of the Virginia House of Delegates, said a Clinton resignation would be”letting him off the hook.”Black said,”I believe he has perjured himself and obstructed justice in this case, and … his actions cannot be dismissed easily.” But Robert Gates of Worcester, Mass., a 74-year-old retiree, said the impeachment process should only proceed if Clinton fails to resign.”If he steps down, that’s punishment enough. That should be the end of it,”said Gates.
Christian Coalition critics were quick to respond.
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said that as Robertson and Tate”filled the hall with divisive rhetoric, it was apparent that hardball partisan politics, pure and simple, drive the coalition.” The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said coalition leaders favored impeachment only to drag out the president’s”public humiliation as long as possible”to impact the November election. Lynn also noted that Tate earlier this week had urged Clinton to resign.
One measure of the Coalition’s influence among Republicans is its ability to draw top congressional Republicans and prospective GOP presidential candidates to its conventions. This year, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas were among the congressional members on hand. All blasted Clinton, but were more circumscribed in their comments than were Robertson and Tate.
Every major Republican mentioned as the party’s possible candidate for president in 2000 also was scheduled to address the convention, except for Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Volunteers handed out fliers for receptions hosted by the candidates and sported buttons advertising their choice.
One possible candidate, Gary Bauer, disagreed with Robertson’s and Tate’s take-no-political-prisoners approach.
Bauer said Clinton should resign, terming it”the noble thing to do.”Only if Clinton does not step down should the impeachment process proceed, he continued.”But I still believe that whatever desire we have to punish the president, we should not punish the nation,”added Bauer, who heads the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition’s chief competitor on the religious right.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle also said Clinton should resign. But he said Clinton’s policies were more offensive than his conduct in the Lewinsky case.”Americans are right to be offended by what the president has done, but the president’s policies have been a far greater offense,”Quayle said. He cited as an example Clinton’s veto of the so-called”partial-birth abortion”ban, which on Friday the Senate again failed to override.
The Washington Times reported Friday that a presidential straw poll planned for the convention has been cancelled because Coalition leaders feared Bauer and magazine publisher Steve Forbes would be favored over their own choices, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri and Bush.
Bauer said he heard that was the case, but could not prove it. Tate said the poll had been scuttled because of the immediacy of the Starr report.”It is in the best interest of our organization to focus our time and energies in Washington on the current events and issues that could impact voter turnout in the November congressional elections. The fall of 1999 will provide a more appropriate time to turn our attention to presidential politics,”said Tate, who predicted that this year’s election will be”a national referendum”on”the question of values.”
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