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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly
Investigating The President

Transcript: Byrd Senate floor remarks on Lewinsky matter

September 9, 1998

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Mr. President, we appear to be only days away from receiving the independent counsel's report on President Clinton. The pressure on the Congress is escalating. Talk of impeachment is in the air, along with suggestions of resolutions of reprimand and censure.

Some have even suggested that we ought to get on with impeachment and get this thing behind us.

There had to come a time sooner or later when the boil would be lanced. The problem is that with the lancing a hemorrhaging may be only one of those continuing symptoms of an even greater lancing, perhaps even an amputation, that still lurks in the shadows up ahead.

There is no question but that the president himself has sown the wind and he is reaping the whirlwind.

His televised speech of August 17th heaped hot coals upon himself -- coals causing wounds that continue inflame and burn ever more deeply.

Coming as the speech did so soon after the president's appearance before the grand jury, his words were ill-timed, ill-formed and ill- advised. Perhaps if he had only delayed his televised speech for 24 hours he may have, upon reflection, avoided some self-inflicted wounds that have since festered -- and continue to fester.

"The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line nor all thy tears wash out a word of this."

When the scribes and pharisees brought before Jesus a woman taken in adultery, saying that under Moses the law commended that she be stoned, and they sought to tempt Jesus that they might accuse Him, He said unto them: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

And that ancient admonition -- that he who is without sin should cast the first stone -- applies to every human being in this country today.

Someone else has said that no man's life will bear looking into.

These admonishments should give all of us pause and encourage reflection and self-examination.

This time, the president himself has by his own actions and his own words thrown the first stone at himself, and thus, made himself vulnerable to the stoning by others.

What a horrible (ph) spectacle.

To maintain that presidents have private lives is, of course, not to be denied. But the Oval Office of the White House is not a private office. It is where much of the business of the nation is conducted daily. It is the people's office, and the only real privacy that any president can realistically claim is in the third-floor living quarters of the White House with his family.

What the president had hoped to claim was nobody else's business has now become everybody else's business.

His speech was a lawyer-worded effort, as in the reference to "legally accurate" testimony. And the people have long since grown tired of having to pick and sift among artfully crafted words that have too often obscured the truth rather than revealed it.

The White House's apparent strategy over so many long months of delay and attack has only succeeded in stringing out a judgment day that is increasingly threatening and has only made bad matters worse.

Former President Nixon, in an earlier tragedy for the nation and for all of us who were here and lived through it, tried the same thing -- delay, delay, delay; and counterattack, attack, attack. And it failed in the end.

We seem to be living history all over again.

As the book of Ecclesiastes plainly tells us, there is no new thing under the sun. Time seems to be turning backwards in its flight. And many of the mistakes that President Nixon made are being made all over again.

We also must stop and remember that this is a sad time for the president and his family; a sad time for his friends and supporters throughout the country; a sad time for the devoted members of his staff, who have labored and sacrificed and given so much for a man in whom they implicitly believed.

It is a sad time for members of his Cabinet and heads of agencies who publicly defended him -- and who depended on his word.

But it is an even sadder time for the country.

As a school boy, I looked upon George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and Abraham Lincoln as my idols to be emulated.

I looked upon Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey and Charles Lindbergh and Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nathan Hale and Daniel Morgan and Nathaniel Greene and Stonewall Jackson as my heroes.

I was taught, as most of us were, to revere God. I was taught to believe the Bible and that a judgment day would surely come when we would all be punished for our sins or be saved by our faith and good works.

And the old couple who raised me taught me by their example and their word not to lie but to tell the truth, not to cheat but to be honest.

But what will parents tell their children? Can they tell them to plow a straight furrow and that honesty is still the best policy?

To whom can our young people look for inspiration?

I recently asked a question on this floor. Where have all the heroes gone? I asked that question again today. Where have all the heroes gone?

Fortunately, we do have a Mark McGwire and a Sammy Sosa, both of whom have captured the nation's admiration with their home runs. But where are the nation's leaders to whom the children can look and be inspired to work hard and live clean lives?

The political and social environment in which parents must today raise their children is unfortunately an environment in which anything goes. Politicians try to be all things to all people. Family values and religious values, which made us a great nation are looked upon as old-fashioned, unsophisticated, and the product of ignorance and rusticity.

Profanity and vulgarity, sex and violence are pervasive in television programming, in the movies and in much of today's books that attempt to pass for literature.

The nation is inexorably sinking toward the lowest common denominator in its standards and values. Haven't we had enough?

I think our country sinks beneath the oak; it weeps; it bleeds; and each new day, a gash is added to her wounds.

Yes, talk of impeachment and censure and resignation are in the air. Is it practically on everybody -- most -- almost everybody's minds with whom I have talked.

As we find ourselves being brought nearer and nearer, as it would seem, to a yawning abyss, I urge that we all step back, and give ourselves and the country a little pause in which to reflect and meditate before we cast ourselves head long over the precipice.

Being bold is one thing, Mr. President. To say we ought to get on with this impeachment and get this thing behind us is a bold thing to say. And it is one thing to say it and something to be desired in certain situations.

But boldness to the point of cavalierness can come back to haunt us.

I suggest that we senators should let the House do its work and wait to see what action that body takes. The Senate cannot vote on articles of impeachment. We all know that, until the House formulates such articles and presents them by its managers to the Senate, if it ever does.


Thursday September 10, 1998

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