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Konrad Yakabuski (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Konrad Yakabuski

(Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Konrad Yakabuski

When impeachment meant something Add to ...

Last month, in the well-regarded Quinnipiac University National Poll, a plurality of Americans named Barack Obama as the worst president since the Second World War. With 33 per cent “support,” Mr. Obama finally outpolled his predecessor, George W. Bush, to claim this ignominious prize.

This has only fuelled talk among some excitable Republicans about launching impeachment proceedings against Mr. Obama. Nothing like a bit of red meat to get the rabid anti-Obama GOP base wound up for the fall mid-term elections, as Republicans aim to take control of the Senate.

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The impeachment talk works for Democrats, too. They’ve seen donations pour in as they flood supporters with e-mails beseeching them to fill the party’s war chest to protect the President from the GOP crazies. In today’s Washington, you see, impeachment is just a routine political marketing tool.

As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley notes in The Washington Post, however, “unpopularity is not an impeachable offence. And impeachment was not designed as relief for voter remorse.” Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution says presidents can be impeached and removed from office only for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”

Republicans may feign outrage about Mr. Obama exceeding his authority, by waiving politically unpopular provisions of his own health-care law until after the mid-term vote. And the U.S. Supreme Court may have unanimously ruled last month that the President made unlawful executive appointments while the Senate was in recess. But Mr. Obama is no crook.

Americans should be grateful, if not self-congratulatory, that their current President may just be the most honest and decent human being to ever occupy the Oval Office. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s biggest political “flaw” may be that he’s not mean enough.

The last (and only second) president to face impeachment, Bill Clinton, didn’t have to worry about such criticism. He was impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate, for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Though it haunts him nil.

Whether or not Mr. Clinton deserved to be removed from office, Americans have clearly forgiven him his sins. Bubba’s a rock star. Only Ronald Reagan outpolls him as the best postwar president. And his wife partly owes her own popularity to hubby’s aw-shucks and peccadilloes.

What’s astonishing is that the proven crook of the bunch – the one who declared “I am not a crook” – is considered the worst postwar president by only 13 per cent of Americans. No one did more than Richard Nixon to engender cynicism about politics. Yet, Tricky Dick gets off relatively easy in today’s political culture.

On the 40th anniversary of his Aug. 9, 1974 resignation, it seems most Americans are too young to remember, or old enough to have forgotten, how bad he was. Watergate, after all, was the original “gate” – the scandal that spawned a suffix that has since taken down countless dishonest politicians. Mr. Nixon resigned to escape certain impeachment.

His apologists hold up his foreign policy vision – the trip to China, détente with the Soviet Union – in attempts to rehabilitate him. Or his centrism. Compared to today’s Republicans, Mr. Nixon was a moderate. He created the Environmental Protection Agency and expanded welfare programs.

But none of that can compensate for his complicity in the break-in (and subsequent cover-up) of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate office complex. The crime and its motivations were sinister enough. But Mr. Nixon’s legacy will always be defined by his own Oval Office recordings and the study in paranoia they provide.

In The Nixon Defense, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who briefly went to prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up, offers new insight into just how bad it was. His 746-page book is based on a painstaking transcription of some 600 previously unexplored White House conversations between Mr. Nixon and assorted aides.

“The new tapes depict a White House full of lies, chaos, distrust, speculation, self-protection, manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre, with a crookedness that makes Netflix’s House of Cards look unsophisticated,” offers Bob Woodward, one half of the famous Washington Post duo that broke the Watergate scandal, in his review of Mr. Dean’s book.

“I knew, though I must say, I didn’t know,” Mr. Nixon says on tape, appearing to backtrack on an earlier full-throated admission he was aware of the Watergate break-in in real time.

All I know is that Mr. Obama is whole lot better than this.

Follow on Twitter: @konradyakabuski

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