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Can anyone, other than Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, seriously think that impeaching former President Clinton is a productive proposal?

Specter's idea, so far, hasn't met with much enthusiasm in the latest version of a Congress that was bloodied and split during an impeachment process that actually meant something. Resurrecting that idea for a second time when it's essentially meaningless can only appeal to particularly rabid Republicans still fighting a presidency that no longer exists.

To his credit, even President Bush wants no part of this. "I think it's time to move on," Bush said. He's right.

Bury this idea, for the good of the country. We've been down this path, and it's not pretty. Why would we want to try, now, to determine that Clinton is unfit to hold an office he no longer holds?

By raising the impeachment flag, of course, Specter is venting understandable anger at the former president's shameful departure from office, and in particular at the outrageous flood of pardons he granted on his way out the door. But that's the key fact: The door has now swung shut behind him. It's hard to kick a man out when he's already in the street.

If Congress really wants to punish Clinton, they ought to look at a spending cap on his post-presidential office rentals and staff salaries. At least those would be less harmful to the country than a post-presidential impeachment process. Some legal scholars, in fact, aren't sure the Constitution would even allow such action.

What Clinton really has forfeited in his graceless exit - which involved taking furniture from the White House in addition to his final spate of pardons, including the highly questionable one granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich - is respect. Not even the Democrats have defended the 140 pardons he issued just hours before leaving office. For a man seemingly consumed with the idea of a presidential legacy, Clinton seems inexplicably bent on issuing reminders of a flawed character.

But opponents would do well to attack the pardons without dragging the pardoner back onto center stage. As Charlie Brown could tell GOP lawmakers, when you kick at something that's no longer there, the result is a pratfall.

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