On the menu today: wondering if Democrats have thought through what they want to achieve with impeachment, with removal always being an extraordinarily remote possibility; why at least a little hypocrisy in politics and life is probably inevitable, and how to minimize its consequences; and Hillary Clinton unloads on Bernie Sanders in surprisingly personal terms.
What Do Democrats Want to Achieve in This Impeachment?
Many Democrats would like to remove the president from office. The votes aren’t there to do that in the Senate, and it is unlikely the votes were ever there. It may very well be that the votes would never be there under any circumstances, short of President Trump actually shooting people on Fifth Avenue, and even then, before they voted to remove, some Republican senators might want to know who he shot and how badly.
Democrats no doubt believe that this is a great injustice, that their Republican colleagues are being close-minded, and that they are excusing unacceptable actions from an American president.
With the removal of the president not a realistic possibility, what do Democrats want to do? With their primary goal unachievable, what is their secondary goal? Some would say they want to put together the most complete and detailed case together for history, so that future historians will look back and say, “Indeed, Donald Trump should have been impeached, and only the loyalty of his party’s senators saved him.”
The “judgment of history” can twist and turn in some surprising ways. Almost everyone who was in office in 1998 has switched positions on impeachment, with past GOP House impeachment managers now warning about a rush to judgment. Publications such as Vox and Democratic party figures such as Kirsten Gillibrand now conclude that Bill Clinton should have resigned from office over his actions. With the Clintons now much less influential in the party, it’s safer for Democrats to declare his actions unacceptable. Meanwhile Republicans can look back and wonder whether a bipartisan resolution of censure would have proven a more effective and appropriate rebuke than the impeachment they pursued.
Shortly after Bill Clinton left office, it became painfully clear that the worst act of his presidency was not his decision to commit and suborn perjury in the fallout of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Far more consequential was his lack of attention to al-Qaeda as a deadly threat to Americans as the terrorist organization grew over an eight-year period. (Recall that the first World Trade Center bombing, financed by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, occurred about a month into Clinton’s presidency.) And if you don’t believe that members of the Clinton administration themselves believed that they made some epically bad decisions that would be harshly judged by history, recall that Clinton’s national-security adviser, Sandy Berger, “illegally took confidential documents from the National Archives on more than one occasion. He folded documents in his clothes, snuck them out of the Archives building, and stashed them under a construction trailer nearby until he could return, retrieve them, and later cut them up. After he was caught, he lied to the investigators and tried to shift blame to Archive employees.” Looking back, Republicans should not have impeached Clinton over matters relating to Lewinsky; they should have impeached him for being asleep at the wheel as a terrorist group hell-bent on killing Americans grew more and more dangerous.
Beyond the judgment of history, Democrats probably want the impeachment process to make Trump’s reelection less likely. I think it is safe to say that so far they have not achieved that goal, as most polling indicates that Democrats will have to work to beat Trump, and impeachment is unlikely to be a major factor in voters’ minds in November. Public support for impeachment has barely moved since October. I also think the argument from Republicans that the impeachment effort is making Trump more popular is similarly unpersuasive. Trump’s numbers are pretty much where they’ve been for most of his presidency.
It appears Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would prefer to get this trial done as quickly as possible. He introduced a proposal for the rules that is likely to make Senate Democrats set their hair on fire:
The Democratic impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers would be given 24 hours each to present their cases. Under these rules, each side’s presentations must take place over two working days in the Senate — meaning that presentations could go late into the night.
Following the presentations, senators are allowed to question both sides for a period of 16 hours, though it does not place a restriction on the number of days for the question period.
Votes on calling witnesses or documents will not be allowed until after the question phase of the trial. Senators will be given four hours to debate witnesses and documents.
If the Senate decides to go with four twelve-hour questioning shifts, those Democratic senators who are running for president can scrap those plans to go back to Iowa for some late-night campaigning and flying back overnight. But as the New York Times notes, “In the fastest possible scenario, the Senate could vote to convict or acquit by the end of January.” The Iowa Caucus is February 3. Maybe Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar wouldn’t mind that outcome so much.
Hypocrisy: If It’s Part of the Human Condition, Can It Be Managed?
If you write about politics, you usually end up encountering hypocrisy and writing about it. And then if you wrote about one person being a hypocrite but didn’t write about another . . . you get accused of hypocrisy.
Almost everyone judges other people by a somewhat inconsistent or flexible standard. Let’s contemplate an example far from politics. Hopefully you don’t have enemies, but perhaps you have someone whom you genuinely strongly dislike, and the feeling is mutual. Imagine that one day, your least-favorite person parks with one wheel up on the curb, goes into a restaurant, snaps at a waitress, spills a drink, has crumbs all over him when he’s done eating, tips the minimum, and gruffly brushes past someone on the way out.
You would probably look at your nemesis and scoff that he’s an idiot behind the wheel, that he’s rude to people, that he’s a klutz and a slob, a cheapskate who doesn’t appreciate the hard work of other people, and an all-around jerk who doesn’t have any respect for anyone else.
Now imagine that in a remarkable coincidence, the next day, your best friend does all of the same things in the same restaurant. Well, your best friend’s clearly having a bad day. He’s been going through a rough time lately. He’s always been a terrible parallel parker, and he’s so bad at it you find it funny. He shouldn’t have said that to the waitress, but you remember that the last time he was here she spilled soup in his lap. Spilling the drink could happen to everybody, and it was cleaned up quickly, so no harm, no foul. You also find it hilarious that a guy who’s so skilled at his job that he could have been a surgeon somehow can’t eat a sandwich without covering himself in crumbs. As for the tip, he’s always been a tightwad, and you sometimes tease him that he still has the first nickel he ever owned. And you’re certain he just didn’t see the guy who he bumped into on the way out.
In other words, we almost always see the actions of our friends, family, and people we like through a much more sympathetic lens. Because we’re all human and we all make mistakes, we’re probably thankful that we have people in our lives who see the full picture of us, who forgive us for our bad days and intemperate moments and bad decisions. For the people we know, we recognize that they are more than their worst traits and habits.
The flip side is that when we dislike someone, we can often find reasons to doubt his best traits. He seems hard-working, but that’s just because he’s consumed by ambition. Yes, he seems charitable, but he’s just doing that because he wants praise. He’s talented, but he’s an insufferable show-off who is driven by a narcissistic need to be the center of attention. Sure, he’s smart but he’s an unbearably smug know-it-all. He’s charismatic, but it mostly reflects how he’s perfected his skills of charming and manipulating people.
In other words, some hypocrisy is probably inevitable in politics; people are always going to be at least a bit more sympathetic and lenient to one of their ideological allies. As usual, on both sides, the antidote is a bit of empathy, asking “how does this appear to someone who isn’t me?”
Hillary on Bernie: ‘Nobody Likes Him, Nobody Wants to Work with Him, He Got Nothing Done.’
Maybe that new Hillary Clinton documentary will be interesting after all. In it, Clinton assesses Bernie Sanders and holds nothing back: “He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
Sanders fans will dismiss this as sour grapes, and note, accurately, it is not the least bit surprising that Clinton would have a low opinion of him. But Democratic primary voters who are wavering on Sanders might wonder why so many other elected Democrats — including the past two Vermont Democratic governors — seem to genuinely disdain him. The Bernie Bros can tell themselves that it amounts to Sanders threatening their cushy status quo or envying his principled stands, but . . . what if Bernie Sanders has almost no ability to persuade his colleagues, even when they’re predisposed to agree with him?
ADDENDA: A delightful comment, out of the blue, in the comments section of yesterday’s Jolt: “I really appreciate Jim Geraghty’s writing for NR. But I appreciate that he writes books that have nothing much to do with the dreary state of politics in America today for a side hustle. I started Between Two Scorpions last night. It is immediately engaging and the chapters are really short. I only got to chapter 6, page 12, I think (there’s actually a single-page chapter, I love that. Feels like I’m accomplishing something!) and I’m looking forward to getting back at it. Probably can knock out another six chapters before dinner.”