On this date – January 7th – in 1999, the Clinton Impeachment begins
Whatever elected Republican representatives did or refused to do last week (on gun control, for instance) might be their new most shameful act. And it probably replaced – in the historical Hall of Shame – whatever GOP Senators and Congresspeople did or didn’t do the week before that. It’s hard to stay current with the outrages of a political party that has lost its love of country, its concern for the well-being of that country’s men and women and especially children, its feelings of responsibility and of duty, its common decency, and (to complete the circle) all sense of shame.
It’s difficult to say – exactly – when the Republican strategy of distraction, obstruction, and destruction will end. Presumably when the GOP achieves its goals of eliminating the American middle class, dismantling federal and state governments in general and their social programs in particular – including public schools and social security – and restoring the United States to its oligarchic Gilded Age glory.
In that new/old United States, we will all work for the One Percent, the Walton family and the Koch brothers and the others. The Republicans already do. And GOP Senators and Congresspeople get paid far better by them than the One Percent will ever pay us. The best that the rest of us can probably hope for is two or three part-time jobs at minimum wage.
As hard as it is to know – exactly – when the GOP’s good work will be done, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint the beginning: the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. Congress had practiced obstruction in the past, most notably when Southern Democrats used the filibuster to block or delay civil rights legislation. But the Clinton Impeachment was something new. It was a tactic. A tantrum. The first time to my knowledge that one of the two major political parties in the modern era decided, basically, to prevent governance from proceeding – shut it down – by manufacturing a false crisis. To take its ball and throw it over the fence. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had held the budget hostage for a trial-run tantrum in 1995, but that one had backfired, it was over with quick. The Clinton Impeachment process was the real deal, however. It dragged on and on.
I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, on business in the 1980s and, this one night, I was talking to some locals on Center Street – across from the governor’s mansion – when a limo pulled up. A tall man in a suit got out of the limo accompanied by a woman with big hair in a red dress and spiked heels. I asked the locals who it was. “That’s our governor, Bill Clinton, and his, er, date for the night.” Another man chuckled – in that way men do in the presence of other men on the subject of sex – and said, “He’d be President some day if he could keep it in his pants.”
Bill Clinton couldn’t keep it in his pants and became President of the United States anyway. We voted on that and, for a moment, we decided as a nation that the qualifications for President listed in the Constitution should not include “has not and does not have extramarital relations.” That was a good decision by the Founding Fathers, several of whom had issues in the extramarital department and whose services this country would have been denied had they included a sexual “morals clause.”
You will note – in their infinite wisdom – that Republicans have never suggested some sort of fidelity test for Congressional or Senatorial service. A good thing, too, since – with the exception of Anthony Weiner and his stupid sexting – I can’t think of a national political sex scandal in recent years that hasn’t involved someone from the Grand Old Party.
And there was plenty of hypocrisy to feast upon during the Clinton impeachment period as well. Republican Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde, for instance, was revealed to have been a regular little homewrecker in his reckless youth … actually he was 41 when he began a three-year affair with a married woman. And House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a bad habit of sleeping with his next wife before he was divorced from his last wife … and cheating on them both. It wasn’t sexual improprieties that cost Newt the Speakership, however. The stated reason was ethics violations on a book deal ; the real reason was the GOP’s poor showing in the midterm elections. Republicans can forgive their colleagues almost anything except losing House and Senate seats.
A little more than a month later – on February 12, 1999 – the Senate failed to convict Clinton on either charge. But the Impeachment was not a failure. Not for the Republicans. President Clinton’s effectiveness as a leader was over from the moment that a trial became a possibility and was not restored by acquittal. And the Republicans learned a valuable lesson. That even when they lose, they win. They win by preventing governance and stopping anything good from getting done. They win by further impoverishing the American middle class and deflecting its attention away from the real reasons behind its hardships. They win by hurting the nation they profess to love. A few individual Republicans also got hurt in the process. But, hey, sometimes, you gotta take one for the team. And the GOP playbook then – of distraction, obstruction, and destruction – is their playbook now. It works just fine for them – and for their One Percent constituents – so don’t look for the plays to change anytime soon.