A Credible Look At Presidential Impeachment
During Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, Gerald R. Ford was asked: “what is an impeachable offense?” His response was essentially: “It’s whatever the Congress thinks it is at any given moment in history.”
This response was not from the 38th president of the US, or the constitutionally appointed person to succeed Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon’s Vice-President in the first application of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in 1973. Mr. Ford responded as a member of the House of Representatives, Republican Majority Leader for 8 years, and who was first elected as the Rep. from Michigan’s Fifth Congressional District in 1948. Rep. Ford certainly had the credentials to be considered an expert to interpret the constitutional meaning of impeachment, from a legislative perspective at the very least.
He was also a major player in the second presidential impeachment proceedings in the United States’ history. He ascended to leadership as a result of those proceedings. This gave him, until his death last December, credibility and legitimacy, as a “living” example of how this constitutional crisis played out.
If any president deserved to be convicted of impeachment, it would have been Richard Nixon. What really happened during the Watergate Crisis has slowly, over time, led historians to conclude that had he not resigned, the Articles of Impeachment, voted by the House Judiciary Committee, would have lead to his impeachment. Mr. Nixon was convinced, by both Republican and Democratic leaders, that resignation was his only course of action to avoid conviction by the full senate. There was already a two-thirds majority in the senate to have convicted him before the Articles of Impeachment were sent to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
There has been a lot of talk about impeaching George W. Bush and his Vice President, Dick Cheney. The question is not whether they deserve expulsion. Public opinion is moving to support impeachment. However it’s still unclear whether the country has the will or the patience to endure another lengthy constitutional crisis that will consume public attention afforded by the mass media. This would divert the country’s focus away from important issues, like Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, health care and social security, proliferation of nuclear weapons, the economy, immigration, and all other vital concerns in today’s geo -political reality. This was precisely the reason Mr. Ford gave to the country when he bestowed a full and unconditional pardon to Mr. Nixon for all offenses against the United States while he served as President. In all likelihood, it cost Mr. Ford the Presidency to Jimmy Carter.
If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were kind people (which they aren’t), perhaps they would “smell the roses”, spare the country a national nightmare, and resign simultaneously. However, it’s clear that both would not go gently into the night, but would have to be forced, kicking and screaming, as they are dragged by their feet into presidential obscurity. If they did leave, the next president of the United States would be Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker of the House of Representatives.