Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Impeachments

I had been planning to publish this as the Clinton era came to an end, but as that may not happen until September at best, and since Governor Eliot Shitzer (oops, I mean Spitzer) resigned yesterday in the face of threats of impeachment, I'll go ahead and share this obeservation.

Today I will talk about presidents who have been impeached. We have, in the 220 years since we first elected a president, only had two presidents impeached by the House of Representatives. They have both gone on to trials in the Senate. And with members of the Republican party voting against conviction, the two presidents, both Democrats, have survived and served out their term of office. Here however, is where the stories diverge.

The year was 1868, a period where Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. Standing against them was President Andrew Johnson, who had become President due to the assassination of President Lincoln. With his veto power nullified by overwhelming majorities, one of the laws put into effect was the Tenure of Office Act, which said, "...every person holding any civil office, to which he has been appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate ... shall be entitled to hold such office until a successor shall have been in like manner appointed and duly qualified." Johnson defied congress, broke this law, and was impeached. When it came time for the Senate to convict, it was Republicans, realizing that it was a purely political trial, voted against conviction, and Johnson was acquitted.

In 1887, the Tenure of Office Act was repealed. In 1926, in the case of Myers v. United States, the Supreme court ruled the Tenure of Office Act unconstitutional. Andrew Johnson, in fighting the Republicans, was proven right. And while history does not list Andrew Johnson as one of our better presidents, he did maintain the power of the executive branch in surviving his impeachment.

I'll be brief with the Clinton impeachment, as almost everybody that might be reading this lived through the tawdry affair. President Bill Clinton was impeached in December of 1998, charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. These charges stemmed from false testimony he gave under oath in a sexual harassment lawsuit, specifically about sexual behavior in the White House. In a highly partisan effort, Clinton was acquitted.

In the aftermath, Clinton settled his lawsuit, lost his law license for five years, and was found in contempt of court and fined. In addition, his behavior, both from the sex scandals and the impeachment proceedings made "moral character" and "honesty" a campaign issue, which, in part, led to the election of George W Bush in 2000.

The point is that politicians sometimes risk their careers when they know they're right, and often go down in history for doing the right thing. Others damage the office and lower public opinion of politicians in general. I hope it's clear which is which.

As I said, I was preparing this to celebrate the end of the Clinton era. The problem is that the list of politicians that believe themselves above the law and without consequences for their actions is probably longer than I want to think about. A liberal blogger I read regularly has been saying "it's time for a change." (Obama supporter, but I guess that's okay) When it comes to the politics of criminals, I can wholeheartedly agree.


Dee said...

"The problem is that the list of politicians that believe themselves above the law and without consequences for their actions is probably longer than I want to think about."

Unfortunately, it is probably longer than any of us want to think about.

Dee said...

Also, thanks for supporting the draft JC Watts effort ;-)).

Dave Miller said...

Well said Dee. And it crosses party lines.

I wasn't around for Jackson, but with Clinton, I was for his resignation as I felt he sullied the office, irrespective of his lies.

No matter how bad people feel Nixon was, he at least, and Ford too, had respect for the office.

As I believe I may be that liberal blogger you cited, I am an Obama man, thin though his resume may be. And yes, I do feel it is time for a change, which rules out Ms, Clinton in my book.

You can be sure that if we are not celebrating the demise of this family and their exit from politics real soon, I will be supporting McCain.

Mike's America said...

I wonder what Dave thinks about a candidate who has a lifelong personal relationship with a pastor who preaches from the pulpit: "God Damn America?"

Toad734 said...

Im just wondering why you haven't done a post on why the Democrat has to resign but David Vitter and Larry Craig are still in office?

Patrick M said...

Dee: It's time to clean house, including all the ones who are still there. David Vitter and Larry Craig for example.

Mike: I'll give Dave the opportunity to answer that on my Saturday post.

Dave: You're right on Clinton. But Mike has a point on Obama. Save it for my Saturday post.

Toad: I wasn't blogging when their scandals were big. But let it be said that I would like them gone too. As I just said so a few paragraphs ago.