The Strongly Partisan View

      4 Comments on The Strongly Partisan View

A thing I noticed recently—During the administrations of the last four (at least) Presidents from the Other Party, I have said that impeachment proceedings should be started.

This one, well, obviously.

In May 2006, I said on this Tohu Bohu that an impeachment investigation into the warrantless wiretapping would be appropriate.

I am pretty sure I thought that that Presidents’ father should have been impeached on the grounds of—I don’t remember which grounds, but I was twenty-two years old, and I was sorely outraged. I didn’t have a blog at that point, thank goodness. Probably complicity in Reagan’s October Surprise, or perhaps Iran/Contra, or maybe the invasion of Kuwait and the associated violation of the War Powers Act.

And I thought that the fellow who was President from 1980-1988 should have been removed for the Iran/Contra business, and possibly on medical grounds as well—I don’t think I actually knew how unfit he had become in the last year or two, though.

The previous President from that Party left office when I was seven years old, and I don’t recall thinking he needed to be impeached before that time, although I might have. I think I remember, at the time, thinking that it was obvious that the pardon was a quid-pro-quo, but since I’m sure I didn’t use that term in 1976 I am probably not remembering my own contemporary reaction.

The one before that actually did have to resign.

Now some of that youthful righteousness—I no longer really agree with my younger self about either Bush. At least, I don’t think that the world would now be better had they been actually impeached by the House, whether they were convicted by the Senate or not. Neither was the sort of immediate danger to the country that Richard Nixon was, or that Our Only Present President is.

I also think that Jimmy Carter was a bad President, and while I don’t particularly think the evidence that Bill Clinton attempted to obstruct justice by suborning or intimidating potential witnesses is overwhelming, I am now appalled by how lightly I took his appalling mistreatment of women both before and during his Presidency. I don’t support impeachment for that (at least at the present time) but it definitely affects my sense of his time in office. Barack Obama is the only good President of my lifetime, I think. But I certainly didn’t support impeachment during any of their actual terms.

The obvious conclusion, then, is that I am a strong Partisan whose views on impeachment are determined entirely by Partisan rancor. And, I mean, I am a strong Partisan. I do think that my attitude toward a President or any politician are affected by the company they keep. I’m sure that strikes deeper than I understand, in many cases. I’m sure I am much more ready to believe in dangerous malice coming from the other Party, and sloppy peccadillos from mine.

But at least some of it, I really think, is that the Presidents and Presidential nominees of the Other Party for the last fifty years have been appalling, terrible, destructive politicians. And people. And as far as I can tell, no Presidents (of either Party) have been so dangerous to the rule of law as Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. I’m pretty sure that all the Presidents have chafed against the restrictions put on them by our system, but all except those two have accepted, however grudgingly, that the rest of the government (the Courts and the Congress, but also the bureaucracy and the agencies and the humans working there, as well as the press and the party structure) shares legitimacy and authority with them.

In that note thirteen years ago, I wrote:

[…] if you keep electing fascists to positions of power, eventually you will have fascism. Constitutional provisions are wonderful, and I yield to no-one in my admiration for James Madison and his collaborators, who have kept us out of fascism for two hundred years now, but a system that can withstand one or two fascist administrations may not be able to withstand three or four.


I think our liberal democracy is good for another two or three sets of fascists in the White House, myself. But, you know, if it does happen, if there is a tipping point where we have let just enough fascism into our government for the fascists to take over, it will appear to happen suddenly and without warning. The safe thing is to keep the pyromaniacs far away from the matches.

I feel absolutely terrible about concluding that we are at least one fewer fascist in the White House away from fascism. I feel incredibly cautious about concluding it, as a strong Partisan. I wish, in a way, that I wasn’t so strong a partisan to have supported, at the time, impeachment proceedings against the previous two or three or four Presidents of that Party. But that’s where I am.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “The Strongly Partisan View

  1. irilyth

    I haven’t studied this carefully, but my recollection is that libertarians like the folks at Reason have been railing against the expansion of executive power for years, and that the main difference between Democrats and liberals is that Democrats have mostly used it to try to massively expand the size and scope of government (to the detriment of important but admittedly abstract things like the economy and the Constitution), while Republicans have mostly used it to be horrifying bigots and/or enrich themselves. i don’t really mean this as both-sides-ism, because I kind of feel like “people in power tend to try to expand their power, confident that they’ll use their expanded power for good” is a pretty obvious truism, and that what you do with that power totally matters; but I also have a hard time not putting in a pitch for the idea that even the most benevolent of dictators is still a dictator, and that any move towards establishing a dictatorship is a bad one.

    Do you think the admirable Democratic Presidents who you admire have been a force away from authoritarianism, or towards it?

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      Well, and Presidents, just like real people, are a mix of good and bad, aren’t they? Consider, if you want to, FDR, who pretty much started the ‘imperial presidency’, and who seriously considered packing the Supreme Court (which is constitutionally allowed but extraordinarily dangerous) but who ultimately yielded to authorities and the norms of the other branches. Or consider Barack Obama, who accepted the co-authority of the Court and the Legislature, even as they gutted his major achievements, hobbled the ACA, and imperiled DACA, and who took the politically disastrous step of actually consulting Congress before wielding military force overseas, and who also authorized drone killings, allowed the FBI to run riot, and in the last months of his administration ruled by executive action.

      I’d draw an important distinction between the scope of the federal government, in all its separated branches and overlapping authorities, and the power of the Presidency. Under LBJ, f’r’ex, the power of the federal government was vastly expanded, but the specific powers of the Presidency weren’t so much—and then there’s the question of going to Congress to get a resolution on military action but lying to them about what’s going on. So complicated.

      Still and all, most Presidents have been able to accept, however grudgingly, that there are legitimate constraints on them. They have tried to make end-runs around them when they can, sure, but on the whole, they grow to understand how the system thwarts those end-runs and makes them counter-productive and learn to work within the limits of their power. Within that, I would say that Barack Obama tended against the autocratic trend, but with obvious exceptions.


      1. Jed

        I have no useful thoughts on the main point at hand, but wanted to mention in passing that no discussion of FDR as an “imperial president” is complete without mention of Executive Order 9066 (I’m linking there to the Korematsu v US article for its analysis of constitutionality and SCOTUS), which I would classify among the most horrifying things that a US president has done, and which many of us liberals tend to conveniently forget was done by FDR.

        1. Vardibidian Post author

          This is correct—not just the substance of what FDR did, but that it was remiss of me not to mention it in that context.



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