I saw the following article by Jo Becker in the New York Times. There’s something about it that doesn’t seem right at all! I’ll explain after first providing an excerpt:
From a political standpoint, it should have been an easy decision. The calls flooding Fred D. Thompson’s Senate office in the winter of 1999 showed that his Tennessee constituents overwhelmingly favored removing President Bill Clinton from office. But as the historic impeachment trial neared, records show, Mr. Thompson agonized . . . he pored over legal tomes on precedent. He ordered up lengthy staff memorandums on what the founding fathers intended when they said a president could be removed for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” scribbling his thoughts on a yellow legal pad. . . . when his convictions and his party’s interests diverged, Mr. Thompson brought a lawyer’s sensibility to his deliberations, rather than that of a rote partisan plotting a path to Pennsylvania Avenue. He veered from party orthodoxy often enough that his staff once proudly compiled a long list of votes titled “Breaking With the Republican Pack.” . . .
Mr. Thompson’s Tennessee field office reported that it “was getting a lot of people asking why Senator Thompson is not out front publicly supporting impeachment.”
“Politically it was a no-brainer — you know, guilty all the way,” Mr. Thompson recalled. . . . On Feb. 12, 1999, Mr. Thompson voted to find Mr. Clinton guilty of obstructing justice. But he joined just 10 other Republicans, many of them moderates from more liberal states, in voting to acquit on the perjury charge, reasoning that while the president’s conduct on that front was “sordid,” it did not justify removing him from office.
His Senate office phone lines immediately lit up with angry calls from Republican constituents. But Fred Ansell, one of his former senior aides, said Mr. Thompson shrugged off the potential political fallout by quoting the 18th century Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
OK. The thing I don’t buy is the claim that “his Tennessee constituents overwhelmingly favored removing President Bill Clinton from office . . . “Politically it was a no-brainer — you know, guilty all the way.” It would be interesting to look at the state-by-state breakdowns, but from this 1999 poll, when asked “What would you want your senators to do in the trial of President Clinton?”, 61% of respondents said to vote against convicting, compared to only 36% who said to vote in favor of convicting. Tennessee is a somewhat conservative state, but based on these data I’d be very surprised if his constituents “overwhelmingly favored removing Bill Clinton from office.” Actually, I’d think it would go the other way: Clinton’s impeachment was an excellent place for Thompson to display his moderation, since most Americans–and, I suspect, most Tennesseeans–didn’t want to convict.
P.S. I’m not intending this as a criticism of Thompson. There’s nothing wrong with doing what most of the voters in your state want, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with a lawyer/senator poring over legal tomes on precedent, etc. And I can’t blame a politician for spinning to a newspaper reporter–that’s what he’s supposed to do, to present himself in the best possible light. I am surprised, though, that the reporter didn’t recall that Americans generally supported Clinton during the impeachment proceedings. Even if many of the people who made phone calls to Thompson’s office favored conviction, it was hardly an unpopular position to vote the other way.