Worth a Drive to Chestertown: Senate Colloquy with Dale Bumpers and Birch Bayh


I’m moderating a four part Senate Colloquy series at the 1782 founded liberal arts college in Chestertown, Maryland on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay — Washington College. All four meetings feature former Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) who is a Senior Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
Tonight’s meeting is with the oratorically mesmerizing Dale Bumpers (D-AR), who gave one of the most memorable and stirring defenses of both the Constitution and President Bill Clinton during Senate impeachment hearings.
This is one worth the drive if folks in Washington, Philadelphia, Dover, Wilmington, Baltimore or Annapolis are available for. I do plan to ask Senator Bumpers tonight how he would compare the very real impeachment trial of Clinton vs. a hypothetical impeachment effort today against either the President or Vice President.
Read Bumpers’ speech given in Senate chambers in 1999. And when he poses the questions about the crime at hand, the seriousness of the vote, and the fear that Hamilton had that justice would be determined along party lines rather than on the merits of the case — think about the situation today.
I remain skeptical of impeachment because the Dems remain inchoate and unable to maintain discipline when fighting the big fights. Kyl-Lieberman and the Mukasey vote come to mind. I also think impeachment proceedings against Bush would fail, and while they might have more traction against Cheney, such action might move the White House to distract national attention by hatching another debilitating war.
But Dale Bumpers is the former national leader with whom to have this discussion — which Senator Bayh and I will do tonight at 5 pm EST.
If folks want to attend, here is a website that can help get you to the college and then to Hynson Lounge at Washington College’s Hodson Hall.
The first two sessions featured former Senators Gary Hart (D-CO) and Paul Laxalt (R-NV).
Next Monday, 12 November, I will be moderating a discussion between former Senator Bayh and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar.
— Steve Clemons


13 comments on “Worth a Drive to Chestertown: Senate Colloquy with Dale Bumpers and Birch Bayh

  1. rich says:

    Correction: Sameer, not Steve, authored the passage I quoted above.
    My mistake.
    Excellent series of posts, though. Thanks.


  2. rich says:

    Interesting, Steve, that you yourself inadvertently state a major flaw in the anti-impeachment position–in another post.
    You wrote: “The trouble with the first type of response is that it does not actually refute the merits of argument, it only ducks them with a neat ‘politics precludes’.”
    I have seen NO substantive argument put forth that “substantively refute[s] the merits of [the impeachment] argument”—just a “politics precludes” meme that ducks the substantively sound position that structural repair work is a clear imperative.
    A simpler observation, but one showing how barren the “political” and “impractical” memes really are.


  3. rich says:

    Just so our narrative-impaired readers are clear, my tone above isn’t shrieky.
    It is essential to note that the ‘impeachment is impractical’ gambit is patently untenable–even brittle–in a political context featuring the clanging contradiction between Clinton’s ‘provocation’ & Bush’s extraConstitutional policies.
    The clash between the Repub blood-in-the-water abuse of power and the Democrat do-nothingism-in-the-face-of-tyranny really puts the lie to the surreal notion that Democrats are acting in good faith now OR that Repubs were acting in good faith then. (That doesn’t let either party off the hook.)
    The hypocrisy is too great a contradiction to sustain the idea that impeachment is somehow costly or impractical.
    America hated the abuse-of-power wielded in impeaching Bill Clinton—NOT impeachment as a tool per se. That can’t be news to pundits and pols. So it seems a naked pretense to say impeachment is “political” or “impractical.” And it errs in blaming the tool for its misuse. It’s akin to blaming the hammer for carpentry. Bad carpentry.
    You just do not crucify and impeach an American President for personal matters–esp when Gingrich, Livingston, Cunningham, Foley, Vitter, and Craig all were equally guilty of the same pecadillos and professional stretching/risk-taking. Clinton lied b/c he was being hounded, and he wanted to protect himself and his family. Any American would do the same. I mean, Hawthorne didn’t write The Scarlet Letter as an instruction manual. Even Alan Simpson openly acknowledged “the whole thing was political.”
    THAT’s why Dale Bumpers’ speech was so important. It identified that abuse of power, and asked point-blank: ‘who here among us could withstand such scrutiny? such judgmentalism?’ AND ‘do we not as Americans judge our professional performance on the quality of our actual, on-the-job work?’ ‘Do we not impeach, in America, on grounds having only to do with reasons of state, that go straight to our core principles?’
    Bumpers’ speech rang the bell; it brought people to their senses.
    Impeachment is ONLY political when Reps and Senators don’t do their job. When they perform their assigned roles, it’s nothing of the sort.
    Impeachment as a tool wielded only to right the ship of state, responsibly, is inherently practical. It is THE designated tool, when warranted, to reign in an outlaw, unaccountable, and abusive Executive. And there is not nearly enough impeachment, for there is much gain to be had for the nation, for its security, and for the country as a coherent whole.
    Hearings at worst prompt debate, but at best lay out the grounds for a legitimate impeachment that a) restores the rule of law, b) reaffirms inviolable facets of law & structure of governance, c) heals the body politic, d) and e) restores a legitimate executive.
    Some would continue to give all that up. Some would rather let the wound fester. To continue the damage. Which isn’t a responsible approach or serious position. The question arises:
    Some say impeachment is “costly,” “political,” “impractical”—but, oddly, they never mention the political GAIN. I mean the political gain by the American People, by health of the American Nation as a COHERENT whole, and by America-in-the-World. On the other hand, the continuing cost of the American status quo is a total loss in national spirit (on the record) and national substance (legally, structurally).
    Democrat political gain is doubtful, just as impeachment will not automatically cost the Republicans. I’d cheer any Republican who stands up for the Constitution, so they may even gain.
    Even though Repubs set the impeachment standard at rock-bottom, many Washington Establishment figures oddly are reluctant to be hoist on their own petard. They think we’ll forget those tortuous DC follies and the Ken Starr affair. In the face of Bush’s near-treasonous anti-Constitutional policies, that’s utterly impossible.
    So they push the wrong lesson, not unconsciously. Though it is true there’s a political cost–to those of both parties and the status quo unwilling to fulfill their obligations to the American people, to the country, to the Constitution, and to the law. Wanting it both ways is just trying to have your cake and eat it too. It outsources the cost of their own expedience and rot.
    The political gain to be had, though, is unbelievably vast and far outweighs any losses. And that gain is our birthright.
    NOTE that Mukasey stained the Senate with his refusal to define waterboarding—it’s an open evasion of his obligation.
    Mukasey was not being asked to evaluate Bush policy–just to relate the known quantity of controlled drowning (& other torture methods) to the known quantity of our core values and central legal principles.
    That’s not the kind of upright behavior or standards of transparency and accountability we need. Mukasey is demonstrably unfit. When Sen. Herb Kohl sees straight through the bullshit, you know the compromisers and rationalizers don’t have a prayer. And when Kohl knows it in his bones, and takes a stand, then Schumer looks to like a very, very small man.


  4. Chuck Dupree says:

    The thing about impeachment is not whether it works, it’s whether the Congress is required by the Constitution to impeach. The Constitution, as far as I can tell, does not say that success in impeachment must be a foregone conclusion.
    We as a nation have only one hope, it seems to me, for reclaiming some subset of our reputation as a law-abiding country, and that is to repudiate, not simply vote out, the traitors that hold high office now. If the Constitution requires, as I think it does, that Congress impeach the President and the Vice President for high crimes (of which there are so many we needn’t worry about the misdemeanors), then those leaders of Congress, particularly including my Representative who happens to be Speaker of the House, are complicit in those high crimes if they refuse to do their Constitutional duty.
    Impeach ’em all, God will know his own.


  5. Ben Rosengart says:

    I agree with those who say that impeachment is the only right thing. Unfortunately, I also agree with those who say it may be impractical. Our institutions — the press and the legislature — are corrupt and not competent to defend our interests. It may not be possible to hold Bush/Cheney accountable before these institutions have been firmed up.


  6. Linda says:

    I am as outraged as anyone about what this administration has done to this country. And one of the things that should be included above is looking at what does constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is up to Congress to write laws implementing the Constitution, and they certainly can and should write some laws about that.
    I deplored how inappropriately Bill Clinton acted in office, but the Lewinsky affair was not an impeachable offense nor was lying to a grand jury in a civil matter about something that happened before he was President. If I were Hillary, I would not have forgiven him, but that is a personal matter.
    What I do want to see is a full investigation that clearly identifies all those who should be held accountable (Sorry, Steve, but that might mean Colin Powell) including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Bolton, Khalilzad, Rice such that none of them can ever serve in any Administration again and preferably so shamed that they will go off like McNamara into a “fog of war.” Maybe something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


  7. Frank says:

    We deserve the likes of Bush/Cheney when the meme of “impeachment is off the table” permeates our discussions of what is right or wrong in the workings of our government. It is the epitome of herniated talk.
    Come on Steve…Your take on impeachment for this world class criminal in the white house gives new meaning to the “crime” of consensual blow jobs in the oval office.


  8. rich says:

    I’d hightail it to see Dale Bumpers speak in a heartbeat. (Unfortunately, I’m up here in Newark, so I’ll work on the proximity if you work on the lead-time.)
    Watch that video of Bumpers’ speech. Sen. Bumpers is a real-live hero/ VoiceofReason/ Minuteman, and came through for America at pivotal moment in history. A Thermopylae, Gettysburg, Signing of the Declaration of Independence type of moment. Riveting–and damning at the same time. Without Bumpers, the damage to the body politic would be limitless.
    Steve, PLEASE ask him to compare the grounds for impeachment of Bill Clinton to the grounds for impeachment of George Bush. Our nation needs Bumpers’ voice now as well.
    The will to impeach may not be there–but that’s not an adequate rationale for failing to initiate actions required by this historic, critical moment. The Repubs set the bar very, very low and grounded it on shifting, unstable foundations. They should have to live with that.
    The foundations for impeaching Bush, by contrast, are extremely stable–unshakeable really, and as strong as the Constitution itself.
    Setting a precedent that impeachment under these circumstances is a choice–it’ll do incalculable damage to the Republic. After that, it’s anything goes, as long as you can get away with it.
    That damage will far outweigh any increase in power accruing to the Exec by virtue of an impeachment process that falls short.
    Further, if you don’t impeach for THIS, then under what possible circumstances DO you impeach? If Bush’s actions don’t warrant impeachment, what possible scenario does?
    Ultimately, the first order of business–the primary responsibility–of the Legislative Branch, is impeachment. Under every administration, safekeeping the Republic by safeguarding its Consitutional responsibilities–that’s the point of having a Legislature, and the purpose to swearing an oath to uphold your office. ‘T’aint optional. It’s not like Marie and courtiers choosing cherry tart or apple, while the peasants lack for habeas corpus.
    The precedent cannot be set. The next Prznt may not feel as restrained as George Bush. But then, Bush has already illegally usurped Powers from the other branches and assigned himself absolute powers strictly and explicitly Verboten by the very definition and founding of America.
    Impeachment is meant to be used. Often. It designed to put an end, in practice, to just the kind of betrayal of country and perversion of law as is now perpetrated by George Bush.
    To fail in that, is to fail to uphold the principles we profess–and the country we profess to love.
    Would the cost be high? Not nearly so high as to countenance–to assist and be complicit in–what can never, ever be tolerated.
    I don’t blame Republicans. It is this vein of thought, that our principles are lifeless and not worth fighting for, as if they were expensive and obsolete relics, that is contemptible. (forgive me, but, hey) Think about it: is the way we are now going really better? Does it serve us well? Does the status quo actually offer advantages over the practice of a living Constitution, upheld and defended?
    To me, the answer’s plain. Sorry to say critical thinking’s fallen into a ditch.
    The most important thing we could do is make our case. Go on record. Impeachment will educate. Impeachment will lay out the facts. In the process, it may yield victory. If not, the process will serve notice that yes, there is a price to be paid for attempting to screw over the rule of law and presume to act, in plain sight, “The Decider.”


  9. Steve Clemons says:



  10. Linda says:

    I will catch your typo in the above before POA does and a little more gently. You talked about the Senate’s “pursuing principal” when you meant to say “pursuing principle.” Of course, your mistake also happens to be correct.
    I surely would like to see both Bush and Cheney impeached, but it would be too little and too late in this administration. It really is not a practical option, and it never was a good idea because it would be too disruptive and too political at a time when, regardless of how they got there, we have our young men risking their lives for this fiasco.
    I do think the next Administration is obligated to appoint a special prosecutor, investigate and expose everything, apologize to the world, and develop legislation to ensure that something like this never happens again.
    I will add that Obama may be the best candidate to do this since Gregory Craig is one of his advisors and knows the Clinton experience very well. He’d make a great Attorney General.


  11. Steve Clemons says:

    John B. — given the systematic effort to usurp power from Congress and the Judiciary — I believe that there is a strong case. But what I believe should ideally happen and what can happen given the lack of resolve and focus in the Democratic Party’s leadership are two different things. And I feel that the failure to be decisive in such a legal challenge to the Presidency will result in a resurgence of power for the White House. And that’s a big problem. But against the Vice President, I think that there is a very strong case. Bush is more inscrutable. But clearly he’d have to be on any credible target list. I just don’t see Dems — as weak as they are in the Senate — pursing principle on this one. Even if they had four or five more seats, the lack of consensus in the leadership on Cheney and impeachment possibilities is disturbing given what happened to Clinton.
    — Steve Clemons


  12. erichwwk says:

    Steve writes:
    “I remain skeptical of impeachment because the Dems remain inchoate and unable to maintain discipline when fighting the big fights. Kyl-Lieberman and the Mukasey vote come to mind. I also think impeachment proceedings against Bush would fail, and while they might have more traction against Cheney, such action might move the White House to distract national attention by hatching another debilitating war.”
    Sadly I concur with this assessment, but must ask what alternative Steve sees as possible when our “so-called” representatives/agents refuse to represent our interests? Is it not clear that this process represents consolidated corporate interests, but offers little voice to those who see government as a counter veiling power to those interests?
    Is not failure to use impeachment when our President is called a WAR CRIMINAL by the head of the United Nations essentially rubber-stamping dictatorship, and denying the relevance of the Constitution and rule of law? What does it say about the impeachment process when the mechanism brings impeachment for lying about consensual sex, but not for committing war crimes?
    When even George Will writes that Presidential powers are unchecked by Congress, what hope is there for electoral politics as a way out of this nightmare? Do we save our minority assets for resistance completely outside of the political/electoral process?
    One idea being floated by A.N.S.W.E.R. is a work stoppage on March 19 (too late?). Or are the citizens as inchoate and undisciplined as the Dems?
    “Resistance is never futile, for it defines the terms of the next struggle.”
    –Natsu Taylor Saito
    “As long as you have a military class, it does not matter what form your government is: if you are to be armed to the teeth, you must obey the only men who can control the great machinery of war. Elections are of minor importance”
    — Woodrow Wilson
    “Naomi Klein’s expose [THE SHOCK DOCTRINE-THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM] of neoliberal economics is certain to be sensational. She rips away the ‘free trade’ and globalization ideologies that disguise a conspiracy to privatize war and disaster and grab public property for the few rich. Klein’s is a long-needed analysis of our headlong flight back of feudalism under the guise of social science and ‘freedom’
    — Chalmers Johnson


  13. John B. says:

    Steve, thanks for the comments and the heads up on this talk. Regarding the likely-ness of impeachment and wheter or not it would be sucessful, I understand your points and misgivings. But in the final analysis of this administrations many crimes and precedents being set don’t the Democrats have a duty to bring impeachment proceedings against the President and his Vice?


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