Politics: Just Say No to the Urge to Impeach

Clinton Impeachment Trial -- 1999

The impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presiding. The House managers are seated beside the quarter-circular tables on the left and the president's personal counsel on the right, much in the fashion
The impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presiding. The House managers are seated beside the quarter-circular tables on the left and the president's personal counsel on the right, much in the fashion

Johnson Impeachment Trial 1868

Thaddeus Stevens closing the debate on impeachment in the House, 1868 CREDIT: Davis, Theodore R., artist. "The Last Speech on Impeachment--Thaddeus Stevens Closing the Debate in the House, March 2." Harper's Weekly, March 21, 1868.
Thaddeus Stevens closing the debate on impeachment in the House, 1868 CREDIT: Davis, Theodore R., artist. "The Last Speech on Impeachment--Thaddeus Stevens Closing the Debate in the House, March 2." Harper's Weekly, March 21, 1868.

President Clinton Impeached

President Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton

President Ford, 1974-77

President Gerald R. Ford Jr.
President Gerald R. Ford Jr.

President Ford is right: Impeachment is whatever Congress says it is!

Our founding fathers were uncommonly wise. They knew it would be folly to be too specific when outlining in Article II, Section 4, of the Constitution the grounds for impeachment of the president and others. They cited only "treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

These grounds were intentionally vague, signifying that removal would be considered only under the gravest of circumstances. They looked into their crystal ball and were confident that succeeding generations could determine "high crimes" for themselves.

Even if impeachment were to be brought against a president for something as absurd as failure to pay a traffic ticket, for example, impeachment would be successful if the House simply voted for it. And the president would be removed if the Senate were to vote for conviction. That's the way it works!

Powerful Backlash

The founders surmised that frivolous charges would create a powerful backlash, as it has done in President Clinton's case.

While Article II, Section I, limits the presidency to natural born citizens 35 or older and requires U.S. residency for 14 years, there's only one practical prerequisite for becoming president: You have to muster enough (electoral) votes.

As President Ford notes, if the House votes for impeachment -- whatever the grounds -- the president is impeached; it would work in a similar way if you wanted to become governor of a state, say Minnesota. If the people vote you in, you are the governor!

Even after the GOP election disaster and Newt Gingrich's withdrawal from the scene some diehards continue to say the impeachment "process" must be carried to its conclusion. Nonsense! There is no such requirement.

Frivolous Charges

Neither the Constitution nor common sense dictate that a frivolous attempt to bring impeachment charges against a president must be continued once started. The wiser move would be to vote it down in the House Judiciary Committee.

It wouldn't be easy, I imagine, for Republicans to concede that the charges against Clinton are frivolous and come nowhere near the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Conservatives are just looking for a way out -- to save their own skins and the election of 2000.

Inappropriate Censure

Rather than admit their mistakes and drop the matter, some will press for censure or some other inappropriate way to signal to the electorate that they were right all along.

Censure would only be appropriate if a president were derelict in his duties not in his personal behavior.

Some will maintain the anti-Clinton enthusiasts simply overextended themselves, or, worse, that they were right all along, but just couldn't come up with the evidence because of Clinton's evasive action.

For these conservatives, I offer this advice: Drop the impeachment effort now! And to the Judiciary Committee: Vote against any further proceedings and get on with the country's business.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Nov. 21, 1998. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

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Comments 4 comments

Curdman profile image

Curdman 8 years ago from Lawrence, KS

hey look, a sane mind from the actual time of the events!

I was living overseas when this was going down, and I was not particularly old, but even I know what a zoo looks like, especially with animals running around nipping at each other!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting, Curdman. There wasn't a lot of sanity around Washington back in the '90s, and there's not a lot today, either. I hope sanity prevails in November!


sschilke profile image

sschilke 8 years ago

William F. Torpey,

If you have to argue over what is an impeachable offence, then that offence probably doesn't pass the litmus test.

I don't think too many people will try it again, you burn to much political capital when you do.

Thanks for the retro hub on Clinton. I enjoyed it.

sschilke


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I appreciate your comment, sschilke, and I'm glad you enjoyed the column. Clinton's impeachment was 100 percent political, but I've since learned that sometimes impeachment isn't such a bad thing (when you look at the way George W. Bush has trashed our Constitution.) Thanks.

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