Here's an event I remember, it's the twelfth anniversary of Bill Clinton's impeachment. To say the least, Clinton and Congress complicated the lives of Social Studies teachers everywhere.
So, how many presidents have been impeached?
Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.
I didn't think Bill Clinton was impeached.
He was, he just wasn't convicted. Same with Johnson.
I thought Nixon was impeached.
Well, technically he wasn't.
But he got kicked out of office?
Because he was about to be impeached?
The above dialogue, or something close to it, must get repeated every month in high schools across America. I guess this dialogue serves a purpose, not just to remind students of checks and balances and the nuances of the 25th Amendment but also as to the intent behind our political system.
Though intelligent people can disagree, it's clear that the episodes involving Johnson and Clinton represented significant watersheds in our understanding of presidential power and privilege. In each instance, America's elected officials made the judgment that what these men had done, though wrong, wasn't grave enough to rise to the level of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors." Probably a good thing in each case that the men were acquitted, for conviction (especially in the case of Johnson) would have shifted powers decisively in favor of Congress. I say a good thing because I ultimately think the shift in power toward the presidency over our time as a republic has been a good thing. As for the story of Nixon, he did have the grace and dignity to step down in the face of an imminent impeachment and conviction, thus preserving some element of dignity for the office of president in very trying times.
Our political system is designed to be deliberate, and it usually works to check great abuses to the system. Clinton, Nixon, Johnson . . . the system prevailed each time.
Ironically, today is also near the anniversary of the speech that catapulted Andrew Johnson to national prominence. I read this column in today's New York Times about that famous, but somewhat lost, speech by Johnson. Amazing speech. Just a shame it catalyzed the journey for America's worst-ever president to eventually become president.