AN AFFAIR OF STATE by Richard A. Posner


The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton
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Federal judge, professor (Univ. of Chicago Law School), and prolific author (The Economics of Justice, 1981, etc.) Posner presents an investigation into l’affaire Lewinsky that is both scholarly and approachable. His findings? We may have made both too much and too little of the whole sordid mess, and the majority of those involved proved themselves to often be fools, knaves, and even cowards. Upon reviewing the president’s actions after his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, Posner argues that Clinton did indeed commit crimes, including perjury and obstruction of justice. Yet the complexity of Clinton’s impeachment revolves around whether criminality per se reaches the level of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” for which constitutionally a president may be removed. The issues get further muddied when one considers the —exemplary moral duties— of the presidency: did Clinton violate his duties as moral leader of the country? Probably, says Posner, but pragmatically speaking—and Posner is above all else a pragmatist, concerned with the practical over legal and moral abstraction—the union seems to have remained intact. Such are the issues with which Posner deals, but his stronger concerns are with the institutional weaknesses the impeachment process revealed: an independent counsel office that seemed driven by a need to harass public officials, a Congress that could not conduct an impeachment that appeared procedurally fair, public intellectuals and political pundits dragged into an irrational Manichaean debate over the morality of Clinton that did little to help anyone understand the intricacies of impeachment. In the end, the most lasting effect of Clinton’s impeachment ordeal may be the demystifying of elites. They are, after all, at time banal blunderers, just like the rest of us. Yet American democracy is strong enough to accept its leaders as peers, not paragons. Ironically, then, the very foolishness of political and intellectual elites may be their saving grace. Heavy going at times, but an invaluable and subtle judgment not only of Clinton, but of our society and those who rule us.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-00080-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1999


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