Impeachment as Pure Politics According to David Broder the Younger

There have been two impeachments of the President – both by radical Republican Congresses. In both cases, the 1868 impeachment of Andrew Johnson and the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton – the Senate failed to sustain the allegations. And for good reason – both instances represented brazen partisan politics.

There have been two Presidents whose behavior was so outrageous that they should have been impeached. One is the current President who will likely run out the clock. Besides, some in the press including David Broder strike me as carrying the water for this Machiavellian disaster we somehow elected twice. The other, of course, was Richard Nixon who had to resign in 1974 because of what we now call the Watergate scandal. Brad DeLong reminds us of what David Broder wrote way back then. An excerpt:

If the House votes to impeach Mr. Nixon, there would be little need to revise the widespread predictions of significant Democratic gains in the November election. In truth, those predictions are premised on an unfavorable verdict against the President. But suppose the House goes the other way? Suppose there are few Republican defections and that enough Democrats cross the line to exonerate Mr. Nixon of every charge leveled against him by the Judiciary Committee in its expected bill of impeachment? Legally, that would be the end of the matter. The cloud over Mr. Nixon’s future would disappear and he could go back to being a full-time President. Congress could go back to legislating. Messrs. Doar, Jenner, and St. Clair could return to their firms. But politically, the fireworks would just be starting, for anyone can see that a drama as great as Watergate itself would begin no more than 24 hours after the House refused to vote impeachment. The first reaction would probably be a wave of recriminations within the House itself – with the anti-impeachment majority lashing out against the Judiciary Committee members for spending $1.5 million and uncounted thousands of manhours to produde an indictment so weak that the House itself would not sustain it. But that reaction would be a passing ripple compared to the tidal wave of public sentiment that would sweep over the Congress if the House voted against impeachment. Mr. Nixon’s spokesmen have already made the accusation that the impeachment investigation ordered by the Democratic leadership last October is nothing but a partisan assault on the integrity of the presidential office. If the Judiciary Committee were repudiated by a majority of the 248 Democrats and 187 Republicans in the House – no matter in what proportions – the White House charge would surely have been proven to the public’s satisfaction. The President’s supporters in the country would cry vengeance against a Congress which spent the better part of two years not dealing with energy or inflation but harassing the President for no purpose. The President’s critics would no doubt take a vote against impeachment as a final proof of the craven cowardice of congressmen.

Of course, Tricky Dick’s men tried to claim Watergate was just a political stunt. But by July 10, 1974 – only those who were truly deaf, dumb, and blind had any doubt that Nixon was presiding over his own Machiavellian regime and was personally involved with the Watergate cover-up. Was a young David Broder really this stupid? Or was he another one of the Nixon water carriers? Brad’s point is well taken:

David Broder: He came to Washington. He trashed the place. And it wasn’t his place. It was never his place.

Maybe – but the David Broders of the press seemed to have multiplied over the past 30 plus years.