by Rod D. Martin
January 8, 1999
Well, after four years in the majority, gentlemen, it appears you’ve finally learned how the game is played. It’s a shame that it took the November elections to wake you up, but very fortunate indeed that you figured it out in time for the trial of the century. Now you just have to carry it through.
For four long years, you’ve let the media obscure, distort, and generally frustrate your message. Not that we can blame you, really: they buy ink by the barrel, and you are the new kids in town. Even so, it’s been frustrating. Dan Rather used to tell their story each night exactly as they wanted; he’d even spruce it up a little. Not so for you.
The House showed you your way. After the election, everyone in America — myself certainly included — believed that impeachment was a dead letter. Gingrich and Hyde did nothing to dissuade us of this; in fact, they encouraged it. Increasingly angry at their apparent willingness to sell out, our outrage grew by the week, and we pummeled them with letters, emails, phone calls and faxes. The backbenchers were outraged too: no matter how squeamish the leadership was, the rank-and-file demanded justice be done.
And it was done.
Why? Because the House leadership’s hand had been “forced.” Because for all our talk of the “sell-outs” in the Republican Party, the fact is that most of the time your weakness is our fault: we don’t organize, we don’t rally, and above all, we don’t call your offices demanding action. We wonder why you have no courage, while we sit on the sidelines; meanwhile, the media, plus tens of thousands of vocal constituents, “demand” the Democrats “act”. No wonder they can be so bold.
But this time, the House leadership figured out how to make us do our job. By appearing weak, they made us make them strong. Outraged at them, we blundered into giving them the only currency Washington understands: constituent demands. And all of a sudden, the impossible became possible.
So far, you’ve imitated the House very well. For two weeks following impeachment, most of us thought the process had died again. All you talked about was censure, and the outrage began to flow again. You led us down the path, helping us help you proceed to trial, demand witnesses, even work out an astounding 100-0 agreement on trial procedure. The Democrats were willing to compromise with you — rather than the other way around — because they knew you had to act. Meanwhile, your House Judiciary brethren, their earlier part played out, were actively proceeding with a vigorous prosecution.
You truly surprised us all.
Now you just have to keep it up. No one believes you can get a conviction, but then, you may not have to. The magic day is January 21, the day on which, if he succeeds to the Presidency, Al Gore can be elected to two full terms of his own. As George Stephanopolis keeps telling us, Bill Clinton has no friends in the Senate; by contrast, Gore has plenty. Come the 21st, partisanship favors you: the Democrats gain more by demanding Clinton resign than by allowing him to stay. A relatively untainted Gore in the White House could give Democrats ten more years in power and control of the Supreme Court; it could also restore some integrity to the Democratic Party, something many Democrat Senators value very much. It is not Senator Byrd alone who tires of defending perjury and adultery; after the 21st, he doesn’t have to, if you keep up the pressure.
Force the Senate to confront Clinton’s criminality. Make them realize that whatever they do, a prosecution and prison term is inevitable after he leaves office, short of a pardon. Make clear that no Republican will pardon him come 2001: he needs to make Gore happy now. You will not have to point out that, even if he’s elected, Gore will owe Clinton nothing without a resignation. You will need to point out that, come the 21st, there is nothing more to be gained by protecting the destroyer-in-chief of the Democratic Party.
You’ve spent enough time being “gentle as doves”; you’re finally figuring out “sharp as serpents”. Keep it up. But just remember: you’re not here to defeat a Democrat; you’re here to fulfill your oaths. Stick to the high ground. All of you swore to defend the Constitution. All of you promised to do justice. If you fail in your duty, you will have established the precedent that a popular President is above the law. You will have reversed the American Revolution: you will have given us a sovereign, and an evil one at that. The fate of the Republic is truly in your hands.
Hang in there, gentlemen. So far, you’ve done us proud. See it through.