Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Harry Reid Flip-Flop? Comparing His Views on Bill Clinton and Rod Blagojevich

With all of the discourse about "taint" and governance flying around, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and examine the political drama during the failed Republican effort to remove Bill Clinton from office.

Democrats Are to Blagojevich as Republicans Were to Bill Clinton
Ironically, many Democrats are making arguments today with respect to Blagojevich that they rejected during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Republicans demanded that Clinton resign, and Special Prosecutor Ken Starr leaked information to the media in an effort to shame him out of office.

While Republicans claimed that the controversy surrounding Clinton made it impossible for him to govern effectively, Democrats argued that the partisan impeachment disrupted the country instead and that Clinton should remain in office. Today, however, many Democrats -- particularly Senate Democrats who oppose the seating of Roland Burris -- believe Blagojevich should resign; their arguments mirror the assertions of Republicans who pressured Clinton to leave office.

Harry Reid: Flip-Flopper?
Because Harry Reid is a central voice in the present controversy, I focus on his comments alone. Reid voted against removing Clinton from office. Contrary to his rigid (at least until recently) position on Burris and Blagojevich, Reid urges flexibility and compassion for Clinton because everyone is flawed:

Great dreams are dreamed by people with human flaws. Great policies and actions are sometimes set in motion by those with broken souls. Great deeds are not always done by good men. Recent history gives us many examples. . . . Each of us, each one of us in this Chamber, every human being, is flawed. Each of us needs all the forgiveness and forbearing we can be granted by the charity of others.
Reid did not believe that the allegations against Clinton, even if true, warranted removal from office, even though he said that Clinton violated the "public trust."

Reid also criticized Starr for trying to force Clinton out of office. After comparing Starr with McCarthy, Reid reflected on his own career as a trial lawyer as a way of advocating the need for fairness:
I tried criminal cases, lots of them . . . .I know something about the impact that a criminal charge has on any man or woman, about how they agonize over telling their children, how they struggle to face the community.

Every American is entitled to equal justice, no matter their rank in society; equal justice but not equally unfair justice. . . .

A fairminded prosecutor would not have leaked salacious details to the press in an effort to force the target to resign from office.

Skip forward to the present, and Reid takes a very different tone. He does not point out the inherent flaws of humanity. He also does not urge flexibility. Instead, he argues inflexibly that no one appointed by Blagojevich can escape "taint," and he uses the controversy surrounding the governor to pressure him out of office. Reid's response to the appointment of Burris illustrates the contrast between his differing approaches:

[Rejecting Blagojevich's appointments] is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus. . . .

We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat.

But Reid began demanding that Blagojevich resign immediately after he was arrested. The entire Democratic Senate Caucus signed Reid's letter to Blagojevich, which states that:

The arrest of and complaint against Gov. Blagojevich raises serious concerns about his ability to effectively represent the people of Illinois. The conduct alleged represents a disgraceful abuse of the public trust. In the interest of the people of Illinois and all Americans, he should resign immediately. If he does not, I hope the Illinois legislature will take action.
By contrast, during the Clinton impeachment effort, Reid urged flexibility, forgiveness and equal justice. Reid, however, has basically found Blagojevich guilty in advance of any factfinding. During an interview on Meet the Press, for example, Reid said that "Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual. I think that's pretty clear."

This does not sound like "equal justice." Instead, it sounds like "Kangaroo Justice." Do Democrats remember that Clinton continued to serve, spend governmental money, order military strikes, sign legislation and perform his presidential duties after he was charged by the House impeachment committee and even during his trial in the Senate? Here's a better question: Do Democrats realize that their positions have shifted dramatically?

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

Feinstein Smacks Down Reid and Fellow Democrats Regarding Burris

Joe Lieberman and Rick Warren In, Roland Burris Out: No "Place at the Table" for Senior, Loyal Democrat

On Day That Bill Richardson Announces Withdrawal Harry Reid Softens Rhetoric on Burris

Will Bill Richardson's Case Lead to a Softening of the Rhetoric of "Taint"?

Patrick Buchanan Shows Greater Commitment to Liberal Values Than Senate Democrats, Defends Roland Burris

So When Exactly Does "Change" Arrive? Senate Battle Over Burris and Blagojevich Offers "More of the Same"!

Do Nepotism, Wealth and Dynastic Power "Taint" Kennedy's Likely Senate Appointment? Taking Reid's Arguments Where He Wouldn't Want Them to Go

Some Media Outlets Begin "Palinizing" Roland Burris

On Day That Bill Richardson Announces Withdrawal Harry Reid Softens Rhetoric on Burris

Defiant Blagojevich Names Obama's Successor: Decision Raises Political and Constitutional Questions

Like It or Not, Democracy Prevails: Illinois Supreme Court Refuses to Declare Blagojevich Unfit to Serve

Blago Impeachment: What Would Lincoln Do?

Playing or Paying Politics: Blagojevich, Political DealMaking, and the Difficulty of Drawing Lines

Pick Me! Caroline Kennedy Officially on the Job Market


Anonymous said...

To be fair, there were plenty of Democrats pissing on Bill Clinton in the late nineties.

The actor in this soap opera who fascinates me is Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney who rushed to release audiotapes of Gov. Blagojevich's conversations, and made a show of arresting him, but now needs 3 or 4 months to make a case against him. Huh? Aren't you supposed to have a case before you make an arrest? Or is that the old-fashioned idea of how our justice system works?

I also note that the rules regarding "guilt by association" are being applied to Senator Burris, but former Senator Obama was completely exempt from them during this last election cycle. Obama's political career was launched in the living room of an unrepentant domestic terrorist, but no taint attaches to him for that. His state senate career was advanced by a cog in the corrupt Chicago political machine, but no taint attaches to him for that, either.

Is there anyone who believes that Governor Blagojevitch would be in this particular pickle if he had just appointed Obama's hand-selected successor? Is there anyone who believes that the "correct" appointee would be facing the treatment being accorded Senator Burris?

BTW, I am new here within the past week, and very glad I found you.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, TLE: your "fairness" point on some Democrats wanting Clinton to leave is well taken. I thought that too - but (honestly) was too lazy/tired to add that nuance. But certainly, Reid's tone is dramatically different.

I agree with your observation that the refusal to sit Burris is politically motivated -- but covered with a narrative of morality and integrity. Senate Democrats are simply using the arrest to get someone they prefer in the seat. End of story. Had he appointed a "friend" of Reid or Obama, the Senate would describe the appointee in glowing terms and say something like "we need to judge everyone on individual terms, and this candidate is an upstanding public servant....Welcome to the Senate!"

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