Constitution Day is observed every September 17, so I thought this would be a good time to demonstrate some optimism as to our ability to survive our present situation. With the renegade co-presidency of Bush and Cheney, we have experienced numerous efforts that have made us question the security and future of our constitutional system. During my lifetime, we have made it through several other threats from within, such as the McCarthy Era and the Watergate and Iran-Contra Scandals. There was also the relentless hounding of Bill Clinton to drive him from office, which remains one of the most incredible constitutional crises in American history. We did survive it, and that should give us hope.
The obsession to destroy the presidency of Mr. Clinton has often been called “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” I personally always referred to President Clinton’s persecutors as “the Republican Party – News Media Coalition.” They both wanted to get him out of office or to prevent him from being able to function, so they went after anything and anyone in search of a crime that might allow them to indict him.
At the time Clinton entered office, I feared that every president for the next fifty years would have to deal with the debt intentionally created by 12 years of Reaganomics. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong. Without getting a single Republican vote, in 1993 Pres. Clinton was able to pass a tax increase on the few in the upper 1.5% income bracket and begin to turn everything around. Remember, at the time he left office, we were projecting continued revenue surpluses. Sadly, from the moment of that vote, the Republicans seemed to decide they had to destroy Clinton’s presidency any way they could. After Newt Gingrich “Khan” and Tom “the Hammer” Delay led the hard-right Republican takeover of Congress in the Elections of 1994, they got really mean and nasty. (Note: Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush to office, the two primary Republican obsessions have been to increase tax cuts for the very wealthy and to deliberately increase the federal debt again.)
The reason the few remnants of the so-called liberal press joined the majority conservative-owned press in their anti-Clinton agenda is harder to understand. For The New York Times, Jeff Gerth and others reintroduced the Whitewater Scandal while wittingly withholding information that showed there was no wrongdoing by Clinton. David Broder of The Washington Post became a virtual Republican Party spokesman for over seven years. His anti-Clinton columns appeared regularly in our statewide Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Only after Clinton left office did Broder write a column that indicated he actually understood everything that the Republicans had been up to. A strong supporter of the Republican Party, the Democrat-Gazette quickly discontinued his columns.
The Times and The Post may have been guilty of elitism. Clinton was not wealthy, and he was from Arkansas. They may have sincerely believed that he wasn’t entitled to be in the White House. They may have also agreed with Ross Perot, who said that being governor of a state like Arkansas was irrelevant.
Many reporters were afraid to say or write anything positive about Clinton because of the likelihood that they would be branded as “Clinton apologists.” Ironically, for the last 5 ½ years, most reporters have been afraid to say or write anything but praise about George W. Bush for fear of being labeled “Bush bashers.” Sad, but fascinating!
What infuriated so many inside the Clinton Administration, and his other supporters, was that he let his guard down for a momentary pleasure. He knew that the Republican Party and the news media were out to get him, so he should have known better! He presumed his tryst with Monica Lewinsky was so private that no one else could ever learn about it. But the highly partisan Republican special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, understood his job: having conspicuously failed to find any misconduct to prevent Clinton’s reelection in ’96, he was expected to ruthlessly pursue any lead that might entrap him before the Elections of 2000.
Seventy million of our tax dollars was spent on a never-ceasing Republican witch-hunt to incriminate a political opponent. We like to believe that certain things could never happen here. After all, we are not in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, or Saddam’s Iraq. Nevertheless, this took place right here in the good ole U.S.A., and hardly anyone seemed to care! The Constitution was never in jeopardy from Bill Clinton’s lying under oath about cheating on his wife. But it was in danger from his persecutors, who were abusing the special prosecutor statute and the impeachment clause to overthrow an elected President of the United States.
There was also a cheerful eagerness to impeach Mr. Clinton. We didn’t see any of the reluctance and dismay that we saw when the Democratic majority was faced with the gravity of the case against Richard Nixon over Watergate. (This was also true during the Iran-Contra hearings of the Reagan Era.) The enormity of the prospect of a Senate trial that would probably lead to the removal of a President was absolutely agonizing for the Democrats. And we could see it in the demeanor and on the face of every one on the House Judiciary Committee.
Not true when it came to Clinton. Finally finding an opportunity to avenge Nixon (and Reagan), most of the Republican majority seemed to be rejoicing when they voted for impeachment. However, without public support or a legitimate case, they knew there was no way they could get a conviction. Since Clinton refused to resign and let them succeed, the worst they could do to him and to the nation was to seriously embarrass him so as to limit his effectiveness as a leader. Astonishingly, no one questioned the Republicans’ patriotism, which was conspicuously nonexistent!
Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for governor of Arkansas who lost in 2006 but finally won in 2014, was one of those in the House who voted for impeachment! He became an even greater accomplice in this subversion of the Constitution when he agreed to be one of the House prosecutors for the trial in the Senate. Asa’s brother Tim was in the Senate and, since they were also roommates, there was some question as to whether Tim should recuse himself. As it turned out, they apparently never discussed the trial because Tim didn’t seem to understand why he was there. During the televised trial, he objected to senators being referred to as “jurors.” Justice Rehnquist quickly overruled his absurd objection, but not before we Arkansans were embarrassed by a network’s identification on screen of him and our state of Arkansas.
Only five House Republicans voted against impeachment: Christopher Shays (CT), Constance Morella (MD), Mark Souder (IN), and Peter King and Amo Houghton (NY). Also, only five Republicans in the Senate voted against conviction: John Chaffee (RI), Jim Jeffords (VT), Arlen Specter (PA), and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (ME). As long as they, or others like them, continue to place the Constitution above their loyalty to the Republican Party, there is always hope. On this Constitution Day, let’s remember that.
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised and updated version (12/23/2014) of an essay that was published September 1, 2006, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.