Impeachment Is About Statesmanship, Not Criminal Behavior
After three presidential impeachments, I’ve seen enough to conclude that one of the worst things about them is the lawyers. Even among some of my favorite legal commentators the problem is the same. They say something like: “Of course impeachment trials aren’t criminal proceedings. Impeachment is a political process.” And then, often in the next breath, they’ll say stuff like: “This wouldn’t work in court,” or, “The legal standard for incitement is a very high bar.”
This is a bipartisan phenomenon, manifesting itself among lawyers (and the politicians who defer to them) whether they favor or oppose impeachment. To a certain extent this is understandable. Impeachment involves a whole bunch of legalistic buzzwords: “high crimes and misdemeanors,” “due process,” “trial,” “conviction” and, of course, “constitutional”—i.e., lawyer talk.
If, somehow, impeachment involved terms like “fulcrum,” “gauge,” “cantilever” or “modulus of elasticity,” engineers would probably feel entitled to dominate the debate.
The problem is that all of this legalistic talk spills into and infects an inherently political process, turning a mechanism of self-government into an episode of Perry Mason.