Clinton Alternatives Also Flawed

Dec. 21, 2004

So you believe that President Clinton should resign or be impeached, either a) because you think he lied about an extramarital affair, or b) because you believe the nation's government is paralyzed by the whole sordid mess. Assuming Bill or Congress takes your advice and creates a vacancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, let's consider the alternatives, in order of constitutional succession: Vice President Al Gore: Once favored by Democrats and feared by Republicans as electoral heir to Clinton. Yet any Gore Presidency would likely be frustrated by investigations into campaign fund-raising issues potentially more partisan and serious than Clinton's sex, lies, and audiotapes. Since these inquiries -- regardless of outcome -- would return us to b) paralyzed government, let's consider our No. 2 candidate. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: Not currently under investigation, a big plus for any serious Presidential successor. Has, however, already admitted to offenses similar to those Clinton and Gore are only accused of (Gingrich admitted to providing misleading statements to the House ethics committee about questionable campaign finance practices, for which he was reprimanded and fined $300,000). Given that it seems unfair to replace a President suspected of untruthful testimony with someone who has confessed to it, let's interview candidate No. 3. President Pro Tem of the Senate Strom Thurmond: Some wags have suggested that Thurmond (R, S.C.) might be a perfect constitutional successor because, at age 95, he likely knew many of the Constitution's signers and could therefore interpret their intent in crafting the document. Yet while Thurmond's electoral endurance is legendary -- he has served in the Senate for 42 years, longer than anyone in history -- his legislative record is less than stellar. Thurmond ran for President in 1948 on a states' rights (i.e., segregationist) platform and once filibustered for more than 24 hours in an attempt to derail passage of a civil-rights bill. Though voters in his home state seem to have forgiven him, others might feel that years of fighting to deny equal treatment to millions of citizens would seem to disqualify someone from Presidential consideration. So let's move on to candidates No. 4 through 17. Various members of the Cabinet: Lots of talent, but all were appointed, not voted, into their current positions -- a serious handicap in mustering the kind of political clout that electoral mandates (such as those Clinton received in 1992 and 1996, despite widespread reservations about his character) confer on an elected President. Lack of such clout would likely return us once again to b) paralyzed government. Seventeen candidates and we end up where we started? It's enough to make you think that maybe the easiest way to unparalyze our government would be to reprimand our wayward President and then get on with business. After all, if Gingrich's experience with ethics and Thurmond's turnaround on civil rights show us anything, it's this: If you stick around in politics long enough, people will forgive almost anything. Maybe even lying about an extramarital affair. Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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