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Impeachment! (EP.198)
21st January 2020 • Take 10 with Will Luden • Will Luden
00:00:00 00:07:18

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In American history, 3 presidents have been impeached. What was the motivation?

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 


Andrew Johnson, Democrat, and the 17th President, was impeached in 1868. The vote to impeach was generally along party lines, with 122 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting Yea, and 2 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting Nay. The heavily Republican Senate almost succeeded in removing Johnson, voting 35-19 in favor of conviction–one vote shy of the 36 needed for a ⅔ majority. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 along party lines, and the vote in the Senate to not convict was also along party lines.

The third US President ever to be impeached is Donald Trump, whose impeachment vote also adhered to party doctrine even more strictly than either the Johnson or Clinton votes. 

The only President who was ever removed due to an impeachment process was Richard Nixon, who escaped sure impeachment and conviction by resigning. He escaped forced removal by removing himself.

The obvious question is whether impeaching a President is an honest, fact-finding procedure to determine guilt or innocence, or whether it is simply a political tool. The evidence seems clear; it is a political tool, used as a blunt instrument by both parties. It is impossible for me to believe that any fact-finding process, regardless of the century, 19th, 20th or 21st, and with very different articles of impeachment, aiming to mete out justice, would always, with every vote, be decided along party lines. I trust it is impossible for you to believe it, either.

Imagine for a moment that Democratic and Repulbican jurors in court trials had, over the decades and centuries, consistently voted for guilt or innocence along party lines in all sorts of cases; robbery, fraud, treason, and so on. Consistently, in all different crimes and in all different decades. Unimaginable; it would be a sad, illegal and continuing series of triumphs of politics over justice in our courts.

1t was 130 years between the first two impeachments; it was only 21 years until the third. I am predicting that it will be less than 20 years until we hear talk of a 4th. 

So, Will, if impeachments, at least as seen to date, are purely political, does that make them wrong? In a word, yes. Clearly. Impeachments are being used as political weapons to reverse a previous election, or influence a coming election. The delicious irony is that the consensus among political observers is that Clinton’s impeachment helped him greatly with his favorability ratings, as it seems it might with Trump. Seems there might be Karma even in politics.

Recalls are another often misused tool, misused in the sense that if some voters do not like the outcome of an election, they will use the recall to force an election do-over, in the same way that impeachment is most often used as an election do-over. The Nixon impeachment process, which never came to a vote in the House, and clearly not in the Senate, was an appropriate use of the impeachment process as provided for in the Constitution. The three actual impeachments were not. Impeachments and recalls are reserved for egregious offenses like “high crimes and misdemeanors”, in the case of impeachment, and similarly serious offenses, mortal sins, if you will, at lower levels of elected office. 

Try this on on for size. If you had a detested neighbor, someone who you simply couldn’t stand. He’s a loud person, is wrong about all of his political opinions with the lawn signs to prove it, and keeps complaining about your kids taking a shortcut across his lawn to and from the school bus stop. And his 90-lb dog likes to do his business on your lawn. Would you look around for some sort of crime to charge him with, a crime that would result in him being locked up, and out of your neighborhood? And then run around your area, recruiting people to be on your side? The end result would be that people who liked you would tell the cops your story, and the people who did not like you would not support your efforts. But you and I would not do any of that. We would look for appropriate and proportionate means to deal with the situation. And if those were unsuccessful, we’d just deal with it until either he or we moved. 

Today’s Key Point. Impeachments and recalls are not designed to rectify a previous election because a group thinks that the voters made the wrong decision. These tools are not designed to provide a remedy if that group or groups feel that all of the incumbent’s policies are terribly wrong and are certain to take that entity, city, state or nation, in entirely the wrong direction. That’s what elections are for. If your side lost the last election, do a better job and win the next one. Don’t try to rewrite the rules and have a do-over. 

Said in a more folksy way, don’t go fly hunting with an elephant gun.

If you love politics and feel that it is important, then work your butt off to get your candidate elected during the current election process. If you love where you live, support whoever is in office at the time in the hopes that they, and you and your neighbors, will be free to succeed and prosper. Even if you think that that incumbent is dead wrong every time he opens his mouth. Hey, would anyone think that working to subvert the pilot of a commercial plane wherein you and your family were passengers would be anything but suicidal–and homicidal? 


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.