By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photo by Ted Soqui|
Even the maximalists are minimizing the enormity of what the Republicans did last week. The redoubtable Pat Buchanan, calling upon the Senate to hang Bill Clinton from the highest yardarm, commends the House Republicans for having "bravely defied our political, academic, media and cultural elites." Buchanan is seldom given to understatement, but surely House Republicans were braver, and more reckless, than that. They also defied the American people — and almost every norm of political legitimacy that underpins a democratic government.
For Saturday, December 19, was not simply another bad day at the national office. It was the most awful day America has known since that June night, 30 years ago, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated — the last time the judgment of the American electorate was so entirely negated.
The impending trial, say Republican Senate leaders Trent Lott and Don Nickles (two more minimizers), can be conducted in a couple of weeks — unless the president’s attorneys want to drag it out by mounting a vigorous defense.
Every past precedent and current procedure of the Senate, however, suggests otherwise. The 1868 trial of Andrew Johnson took 73 days, though the Senate was smaller then and virtually no facts in the case were in dispute. (Johnson was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing his secretary of war.) Indeed, the Senate has conducted more than a dozen impeachment trials in its 209-year history, and the shortest one took 34 days.
And consider the process. Every one of the 100 senators will be able to question every witness. In a body where serial babbling is the norm, this hardly portends a speedy trial.
The past leaders of the Republican Party are warning the current capos not to push this case any further. Gerald Ford and Bob Dole have been commending the censure option to the GOP hotheads for some time now — but they are yesterday’s Republicans, immune to the call of holy war which has mysteriously swept through the party’s congressional delegation in general, and struck down Trent Lott in particular. Even in the context of last week’s surreality, Lott’s refusal to support the attack on Iraq stands out for its sundering of both governmental and Republican folkways — the foreign-policy analog of the Republican support for the governmental shutdown three years before. (Lott, we should remember, was Newt Gingrich’s mentor during their time together in the House in the early- and mid-’80s.)
The spectacle of Ford and Dole endeavoring to rein in the impeachment hawks calls to mind those Indian-camp scenes in classic Westerns where the old chiefs are shouted down at their counsel fires by young bucks painted for war. As best I can recall, what the old chiefs usually say is that the warriors can never defeat the white man; that accommodation is dictated by the simple fact that there are too many whites; that if the braves insist on fighting, they will lose. As best I can recall, the young bucks never listen and make straight for the warpath — if they didn’t, there’d be no movie. The Republicans have no comparable excuse.
Indeed, a considerable number of Republicans argue that the political consequences of their acts will be negligible. Dan Schnur, a former senior aide to Pete Wilson, contended in a Sacramento Bee column this week that the public isn’t all that up-in-arms over the impeachment. Like Buchanan, he insisted that genuine anger is confined to the elites: "With the exception of Alec Baldwin, Betty Friedan and Toni Morrison," he wrote, "the outrage never came."
Schnur and others also argue that the vote will carry no greater weight than, say, Congress’ 1993 vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which left many Democratic voters angry at many Dem ocratic members for supporting the measure, but resulted in no diminution of voter support when the next election rolled around. (Carnegie Mellon professor William Keech made this case in the L.A. Times on Tuesday.) But this is a ludicrous analysis, even putting aside the fact that Democratic turnout nose-dived in the ’94 elections partly in reaction to disappointment over the NAFTA vote.
For the outrage that Dan Schnur has failed to discern is driving some of the most remarkable shifts in public sentiment that American politics has ever known. Since Saturday’s impeachment vote, Bill Clinton’s favorability rating has risen in three network polls to above 70 percent. The congressional Republicans’ favorability rating, by contrast, has sunk to a historic low point of 31 percent in the new Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, while their unfavorability rating has soared to 57 percent. In the wake of the impeachment vote, the entire center and center-right of the political spectrum is in full flight from the congressional GOP. In the time between the Gallup poll of a week ago and the one that immediately followed the impeachment, Clinton’s favorability rose sharply among independents, Midwesterners (by 16 percent), Republicans and even conservatives (by 14 percent). We’re not talking Toni Morrison here.
Perhaps most tellingly, the public finds the Republicans guilty of the very charge they leveled against Clinton: abuse of power. In the post-impeachment Gallup Poll, 54 percent of respondents agreed that the congressional GOP had abused their constitutional power. That is the reason why the impeachment vote isn’t just another controversial vote. To the contrary, a vote to impeach the president on charges that an overwhelming majority of the public clearly believes do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses is a vote that negates the very basis of popular sovereignty.
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