In May of 1972, when then-President Richard Nixon was riding as high as he ever would politically, anti-war activists attempted to place an advertisement in The New York Times urging his impeachment for illegal war making in southeast Asia.
The two-page ad, headlined “A Resolution to Impeach Richard M. Nixon,” called on the newspaper’s readers to support House Resolution 976, which had been proposed several weeks earlier by Michigan Congressman John Conyers and several other liberal representatives.
Nixon and his aides went ballistic. The same political operation that was busy orchestrating the Watergate crimes celebrated a brief attempt by pressmen at the Times to block the printing of the paper including the ad. When the censorship failed, Nixon’s political henchmen made sure that Times executives were inundated with letters condemning the very mention of presidential accountability as “traitorous.” A Nixon aide showed up to thank the pressman for trying to prevent publication of the ad. Attorney General John Mitchell and a top Republican in the House, Gerald Ford, explicitly attacked the authors of the impeachment resolution and its supporters. And the group that placed the ad was hauled into court and accused of violating federal campaign finance laws because they had encouraged the election of House members who would pursue impeachment.
Condemnation and ridicule of those who would impeach a president in a time of war is obviously nothing new. And there will be always be political and media players who are at the ready to tell the sincere proponents of the rule of law that it is not the right time to mention impeachment. They will declare that the Constitutionally-defined process is “off the table.” They will even warn, ominously, that the Republic — or, at the very least, the prospects of the proponent’s own party in a coming presidential election — will be harmed by the exercise of patriotic duty.
That’s the message Congressman Dennis Kucinich got Tuesday when the Ohio Democrat attempted to force the House to consider the articles of impeachment he has brought against Vice President Cheney. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, moved to table Kucinich’s privileged resolution seeking to open a debate on the issue. So, today, it is not just a Republican White House but the leaders of a Democratic-led House who are resisting the pull of the Constitution.