links for 2007-07-20
The Past Week in "Egregious Moderation": July 20, 2007

The Highest Broderism of Them All: A Historical Document

A correspondent wonders what David Broder thought of impeachment back in mid-1974. The answer is that he hoped it would fail--and that Richard M. Nixon would have his revenge.

Let's roll the tape:

David S. Broder (1974), "If Congress Refuses to Impeach..." Washington Post (July 10), p. A 30:

With the oral arguments before the Supreme Court completed and the parade of witnesses before the House Judicary Committee coming to an end, the case of Richard Nixon is moving inexorably toward its first real climax: the House vote on impeachment.

No one knows what the outcome of that vote will be, for it depends on the weight of the evidence the committee has still to assemble in coherent fashion. But the political ramifications of the pending decision are beginning to come into clear focus.

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.

Instead of Republican candidates trying to escape the drag of Watergate and Richard Nixon, Democratic candidates would find themselves on the defensive about a 93rd Congress which did little but posture on impeachment for two year and then proved by its own votes that there was no need for the nation to have been subjected to that ordeal.

Resurgent Republicans, rallying around the vindicated President, would almost certainly regain the offensive, exploiting the predictable public reaction against the press and the Democratic Congress which had burdened the country with the Watergate-impeachment fiasco.

The big political story of the fall would not be a replay of the spring and summer saga of the demoralization of the Republican campaign organization. It would be the story of activist Democratic worker and contributors asking bitterly, "What's the use of controlling Congress when things like this happen?"

But not all Republican congressmen would be enjoying the turnabout. Those few dozen who had broken ranks to vote for impeachment would find themselves pariahs in the party of Richard Nixon.

If they managed to escape repudiation by the voters this year, they would be guaranteed strong pro-Nixon primary opponents in 1976. Many of them would undoubtedly wonder whether there was any way to remain in public office as Republicans.

Meanwhile, the anger of liberal Democrats against those conservatives in their party's ranks whose votes had given Mr. Nixon his vindication would surpass in bitterness the old Democratic divisions over civil rights and Vietnam.

Talk of disciplining or expelling the dissidents in both parties would mount. Political scientists would dust off their articles on realignment--asking whether the friends and foes of President Nixon would not constitute themselves into separate parties, obliterating past affiliations.

All this is well within the realm of possibility. All that has to happen is for the House to exonerate the President by voting no bill of impeachment.

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