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Prophets without honor

WHAT THE HOUSE IMPEACHMENT MANAGERS experienced in their compelling presentation of the facts in the trial of William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, recalls the words of that good old boy in the film, "Cool Hand Luke.'' What they had there -- as they pleaded with many moderate and liberal senators and with the public -- was a failure to communicate to a generation unfamiliar with law, reason, history and an unchanging moral code.

It was a case of the philosophy of the elders handed down from previous generations versus that of the "youngers,'' who largely make theirs up as they go along.

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) repeatedly appealed to such things as "sacred honor'' to hold accountable a president who is interested only in saving his skin. Hyde invoked the example of all of the brave soldiers who died -- from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm. But a president who evaded the draft and who manipulated the system is not about to be brought to his knees in contrition or accountability.

Hyde spoke of a "covenant'' of truth between a president and the people. Clinton used the word "covenant'' in his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention. Mutual trust comes out of a covenant, said Hyde. Polls show a large majority don't trust this president, even while they approve of the job he is doing. But isn't trust the currency of a good leader?

The president's behavior, said Hyde, is about "the rule of law vs. the rule of raw power.'' But Clinton is a man for whom the law is just another obstacle he will surmount to get his way, even with an intern, or to compromise the integrity of others. "We are the heirs of 3,000 years of human history,'' said Hyde to a TV generation for whom history is the instant replay.

It was amusing to hear some Democrats express concern that witnesses might be brought to speak words never spoken before on the Senate floor about certain sexual practices. It would sully the Senate, suggested one. Such witnesses are necessary because of what was done on the Oval Office floor as the president of the United States "debased the presidency,'' in Hyde's words.

The letter from that young boy in Chicago asked a question that none of the president's apologists can answer. Why, wondered William Preston Summers, is he punished for lying and the president is not? Summers wouldn't understand, but it's because Democrats fear that removing Clinton from office would give Republicans a chance to grab the White House again and that the next president might reduce abortions, cut taxes, shrink government, slow the gay-rights juggernaut and challenge public schools by offering freedom of choice to parents. For Democrats, that is what this trial is about.

Still, laws, morals and honor are foreign concepts to many who burned their flag and their bras in the '60s and who believed that a marriage license was merely ink stains upon some line. A lot of them declared God dead and their own "liberation'' to create designer morals for this new generation, to be modified at will as circumstances dictate.

This is the gulf the elders must cross to reach the "youngers.'' We'll know they're making progress when Cosmopolitan magazine writes about something other than sex and Larry Flynt succumbs to the spiritual pleadings of Jerry Falwell and is converted. Meanwhile, men like Henry Hyde and his House impeachment managers are prophets without honor among most Democrats and, if the polls are to be believed, a substantial number of their fellow citizens as well.

Hawk Talk