In December of 1998, the House of Representatives, through a bill authored by serial adulterer Henry Hyde, during a lame-duck session of Congress where Speaker and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich (who started up with a mistress while his wife was in the hospital with cancer
) had to hand over his gavel to Ray LaHood, during a floor debate marred by the resignation of potential House Speaker candidate and serial adulterer Bob Livingston, voted to impeach the President of the United States
for only the second time in American history. The count was 228-206 on the perjury charge, and 221-212 on obstruction of justice (two other counts failed). Being the anniversary week, C-SPAN decided to air large portions of the House debate.
I couldn't stop watching.
You actually can read the transcripts
here, but believe me when I tell you that the phony sanctimony from the Republicans is striking. I've never heard so many renderings of history, deep intoning about the Constitution and reverance for the rule of law come out in such a stream of pabulum in my life. Set against the background of the current Administration, which has lied us into war, spied on American citizens, tortured and indefinitely detained suspects without trial in secret sites all over the world, subverted the will of the people through deliberate deception, and brought this country to its knees, all in full view of many of these same lawmakers, the experience of watching them speak is almost otherworldly.
What the Republicans were actually doing is throwing a hissy fit
. They saw in the Lewinsky case an opportunity to whine and cry and get a media predisposed to hating Bill Clinton on their side. After all, he came in and trashed the place, and it wasn't his place. So they would use every rhetorical means at their disposal to make the impeachment about these abstract concepts of justice that they
regularly ignore these days, so that they could mask the fact that they were trying to remove a President over a blow job, and among those voting to sustain that were Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and the entire cast of sexual and moral deviants.
The media, not recognizing that the public largely didn't care about Clinton's infidelity as much as they cared about his policies, played the scandal to the hilt, using sensationalism for ratings glory, but also trying to cast a member out of their Village they prized so much, because the Clintons weren't part of their gang. The endless series of blonde female prosecutors filled the cable nets, pundits of the kind of Chris Matthews sat around looking grim, and the High Broderists moaned about the "crisis" in Washington, which was the only place in the country there was a crisis, of course.
The Democrats didn't actually look laudatory in this debate. Their greatest scorn was over the fact that they were denied a vote on censure, which they felt was the appropriate action (this was true of the nascent online progressive movement as well; MoveOn.org began as Censure and Move On in an attempt to get the Congress to do just that). If a critique of this stunning power grab from the Republicans were made, it was that they weren't allowing a different kind of condemnation. There was really only one speech that stood out from all the rest, at least among the few hours that I saw. It was made by Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
, then a two-term Representative from the Second District of Illinois. He still serves today and I wish he would engage with the online progressive community more. In this speech
, he essentially lays out the core strategy of Republicans that exists to this very day, their intention to hijack government and basically destroy it, creating an oligarchy where the politicians serve their rich masters and leave little more than crumbs for the bulk of society. I'm going to cite the text in full, because I think it's important enough that it ought to be seen:
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D-IL): Republican say the underlying issue is not about sex, it's about perjury. The Democrats say the underlying issue is about sex -- a private consensual relationship -- and the president lied about it, possibly committing perjury in the process. But since lying about sex is not an act involved using his official position against the state, as Nixon did, Democrats say Clinton's sins do not reach the constitutional standard for impeachment.
That is the essence of the arguments we've heard presented by members of Congress and the Judiciary Committee, but underlying the pending Clinton impeachment is neither sex nor lying nor perjury, but American history itself. Essentially the same economic and political forces that drove the presidential impeachment process against Andrew Johnson in 1868 are driving the impeachment process 130 years later.
There has been a role reversal. The Republicans of 1998 were the Democrats of 1868, but the underlying issue is essentially the same -- reconstruction. The first reconstruction was at issue in 1868. The second reconstruction is at issue in 1998.
It couldn't possibly be about the standard. Congress determined that Mr. Nixon's failure to pay taxes and his lying about failure to pay those taxes did not meet the constitutional standard, while felonious. Mr. Clinton's actions, while potentially felonious, does not reach the constitutional standard. So we look to history for the answer.
People keep asking me every time I step outside of this Congress, "Why does the African-American community keep sticking with Bill Clinton?" When legal slavery ended, this why: there were nine million people in the old Confederacy, which was led by the Democratic Party. Then the Democratic Party was defined in exclusive terms: slaveholders protected by states rights governments.
Four million people -- southerners -- were uneducated and untrained former slaves who wanted to be brought into the mainstream of America. That did include poor and working class whites who wanted to be brought in.
The identification of Lincoln and the Republican Party with ending slavery led Southern Democrats to refer to Lincoln as the "black president" and the Republican Party as the "black Republican Party." Former Democratic Confederates upheld and resisted the big, centralized Republican federal government and wanted to get the government off of their states' backs so they get all -- get right back to their old states rights ways.
Senator Andrew Johnson was a Tennessee Democrat who had refused to join his Southern Democratic confederates and stayed with the northern Unionists. Lincoln, concerned about preserving and reunifying the union, the nation, following the war, he led and appointed that Democrat to become vice president.
When Lincoln was killed, President Johnson focused on putting the Union back together, but not on building a more perfect union for all Americans, and unlike Lincoln and the Republicans, he was willing to preserve the union by leaving some Americans behind, sacrificing the rights and interests of the former slaves.
This is why, as a result, those northern angry Republicans investigated a vulnerable Johnson who, not unlike Bill Clinton, had personal foibles, to try to come up with an excuse to impeach him. It was a partisan attack by Republicans on a Democratic president in order to preserve undertaking the Republicans' first reconstructive economic program [...]
JACKSON: Today's conservative-based Republican target is not Bill Clinton, it's second reconstruction, especially the liberalism of Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson, but also ultimately including the big government economic programs of FDR.
Let us not be confused. Today Republicans are impeaching Social Security, they are impeaching affirmative action, they are impeaching women's right to choose, Medicare, Medicaid, Supreme Court justices who believe in equal protection under the law for all Americans.
Something deeper in history is happening than sex, lying about sex and perjury. In 1868, it was about reconstruction and in 1998, it's still about reconstruction.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Still today, Republicans are attempting the same goals with different instruments. They mean to filibuster, they mean to write into law through signing statements, they mean to write executive orders, they mean to impeach, in the sense of the term meaning discredit
, the New Deal, the women's right to choose, universal health care, equal protection and civil rights, meaningful steps to mitigate the effects of global warming, any effort to curtail runaway defense spending and endless war, strong public education, global trade standards with respect for labor, the environment and human rights, indeed any progress in society at any level except the very very top.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton was a catalyzing event for the progressive movement. It showed the power of the Republican noise machine to push their agenda to the most extreme lengths. It was never all that clear that they expected removal from office, but it smeared the Clinton name just enough to hurt Al Gore so their candidate could steal the 2000 Election. So in a sense everything springs from this one action, and all of the most rotten elements of the media, the Republican hypocrites and the desiccated Democratic response are on full display.
But as evidenced in Rep. Jackson's speech, there were a few honest men in that wilderness. And if we continue to build and grow the progressive movement there will be more honest men, as the rot is cut out of the Democratic Party, as the backbone to stand up to Republican thievery becomes firmer, as the media gets called to account by a relentless blogosphere. The consequences of passivity are great. The consequences of active participation in taking back the government are real. And this is what we must do.
Labels: Bill Clinton, impeachment, Jesse Jackson Jr., progressive movement, Republicans, traditional media