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Just Say No to the Urge to Impeach
Andrew Johnson Impeachment Trial 1868
Clinton Impeachment Trial -- 1999
President Clinton Impeached
President Ford, 1974-77
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!
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.
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.
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.