Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Great Moment of Political Drama

Basking in the coolness of the new C-SPAN Video Library, I watched some of the Clinton impeachment hearings and came across a striking moment of political drama that I had totally forgotten about.

The two sides in the debate were having their turns giving members one minute speeches either in favor of, or opposed to impeaching the president. The first speech was pro-impeachment and laid out a pretty rational case. The second speech was anti-impeachment and was a massive non sequitor where the congresswoman rambled on about abortion and Medicare and everything except the charges against the president.

The back and forth continued for a couple more speakers. Then, the Republicans bring up their next speaker, Bob Livingstone. However, instead of getting recognized for one minute, he is recognized for two minutes. When he walks up to the podium, he turns to the chair and says something I couldn't hear. (Usually, it is the asking for unanimous consent to revise and extend their remarks in the official record.)

As he started speaking, I didn't remember who he was. Then I realized that he was the Speaker of the House-Elect, set to assume those responsibilities in a few weeks time. He spoke at length, way more than two minutes, laying out the case for impeachment. He builds up to a climax where he tells the president that he can end all this agony right now. A hiss emits from the Democrats in the chamber. Livingston presses forward. He calls on the president to resign.

Immediately, the Democrats start shouting, "No! No! No!" and then the dominant voices in the chorus of dissent are shouting, "You resign! You resign!" You see, Livingston had recent admitted to his own extra-marital affair and the Democrats thought it was high hypocrisy (if not a high crime and misdemeanor) for one philanderer to call for the resignation of another philanderer.

After a moment, the chamber quieted enough for Livingston to continue. He seemed to steel himself for the moments to come. And then he announced that he had been unfaithful to his wife and that he would lead by example. He would not take a role as the Speaker of the House, and he would resign his seat in 6 months time when there could be a special election to replace him. He then called on the president to follow his example and resign.

The whole chamber erupted in applause. It looks like even the Democrats gave him a standing ovation. Probably different motives for the applause on the two sides of the aisle, but still an impressive display. It must have been somewhat unexpected for him to make the move and the chamber was all abuzz and the next speaker had a hard time getting started again.

What an interesting moment of political drama, and a moment of political courage as well. I wish more politicians had the courage to admit failure and step aside when appropriate. Instead, many of them cling to power and frequently, though inexplicably, retain enough votes to stay in place.

If you want to watch the video, you can find it here at about 18 minutes in.