How Many Columns Does the President Have?

Chatterbox is, in another incarnation, a newspaper columnist. So he is reflecting class solidarity when he notes that newspaper opinion pages take on added significance in these days leading up to the House impeachment vote. For all the social prestige that comes with mouthing off on TV, old-fashioned newsprint columns are still the place where wavering House Republican moderates are apt to look for guidance as they decide whether to send Bill Clinton off to the lions in a Senate trial.

That’s why Chatterbox believes that the major political arena on Friday is not the House Judiciary Committee but the Op-Ed page of the Washington Post. At the bottom of the page, both Richard Cohen and E.J. Dionne weigh in with carefully wrought arguments that reflect the middle-ground consensus that impeachment is an extreme and dangerous step. Turning to the judicious David Broder, Chatterbox expected a sage analysis of the virtues of congressional censure. But in a development that should make White House vote-counters reach for the Maalox, Broder instead called upon Clinton to resign rather than “cling to office, disgraced and enfeebled.”

The moment Broder typed those fateful words, the political tote boards tilted toward impeachment. By single-handedly resurrecting the seemingly outmoded resignation option, the influential Broder gave moderate Republicans and right-wing Democrats a new rationale to justify a vote for impeachment. Now they could claim, citing Broder, that impeachment was less a legal finding than the most powerful weapon at their disposal to induce a stubbornly unrepentant Clinton to step down for the good of the country. Impeachment would, in effect, be the equivalent of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the president.

Chatterbox is personally opposed to resignation for four reasons: 1) it is a non-constitutional remedy; 2) it would weaken future presidents who dare to make unpopular decisions; 3) it would substitute elite opinion for the vote of the electorate; and 4). forcing Clinton to serve for two more years as a “disgraced and enfeebled” president is in itself a rather fitting punishment. Moreover, Clinton would never voluntarily leave office even if the entire press corps burned him in effigy on the White House lawn. But after reading Broder this morning, Chatterbox is willing to wager, albeit nervously, that Clinton will be impeached.

Walter Shapiro