• U.S.

The Republicans Were Right, But–

5 minute read
Garrison Keillor

Let us talk about civility for a moment. Or rather, let me talk about it, and you shut up. I am better qualified, since I am a Democrat who was fully in agreement with the Republican position on impeachment as I understood it.

The Republicans believed that dehorsing the President would serve as a caution to Democratic Presidents in the future, and about that they are right. And also that it would underline the sanctity of oaths.

For example, two months from now, I’ll sit in my tax guy’s office and sign a government form under a line that says, “Under penalty of perjury, I hereby attest that every statement herein, every jot and tittle and numerical figure and punctuation mark, is absolutely and utterly true and complete, otherwise God help me,” and even though I have no idea what statements are herein and the form may as well be written in Hittite, I will sign my name and so attest. My tax guy has other customers waiting. I look down at the word perjury, pen hovering, and imagine myself being led from the U.S. courthouse in St. Paul, Minn., a hat over my face, for the long bus ride to Leavenworth, and then I sign my name.

The word perjury should mean something so that it focuses a man’s mind. (The money you skimmed off your daughter’s Girl Scout cookie revenues, the 20s you palmed from the collection plate–Did you remember to declare them as income?) And of course your mind is going to focus better if now and then someone is shot by a firing squad for making false statements on a tax return.

Same with speeding. It helps rein us in if, on our way to work, we see flashing lights where other cars have been pulled over and the drivers have been hauled out and thrown to the ground and flogged and their right foot, the accelerator foot, has been cut off by a policeman with an ax. This is the Republican position on impeachment as I understand it. And I agree that watching miscreant drivers hopping around with blood dripping from their stumps would make me slow down, no doubt about it. It certainly seems to work in Singapore.

On the other hand, if I ever had the chance to vote the guy with the ax out of office, I would do so. There is a level of morality that is too high to be maintained in a democracy. The America that the Thirteen Angry House Managers envision is a rather bleak place where most of us would be in prison or within view of it.

After the Senate’s vote, you heard calls from the usual quarters to put bitter partisanship behind and enter an era of civility, which is a pleasant thought, but unlikely. Why should we imagine that the Easter bunny will come this year, after we’ve been disappointed so often in the past?

The best we can do is systematize the cruelty. The Republicans’ offense has run out of downs, and now they should turn over the ball and let the Democrats run with it.

Let’s give a Democratic prosecutor $50 million to see what he can come up with about Orrin Hatch. Senator Hatch is a fine Christian gentleman, but $50 million is a lot of money. You could find out a great deal about someone for that. Get copies of videotapes from security cameras in every store he ever shopped in, and if he ever scratched himself in public, we could watch it. Maybe he was undercharged for a pack of hair curlers once and neglected to tell the clerk about it. Interview everyone who has a grudge against him–old secretaries who had to correct his grammar on the letters they typed, the neighbor who had to deal with the leaves from the Hatch maple tree. Search his home. Maybe he has a secret fondness for donning embroidered platform shoes and elephant bells and lip synching to Barry Manilow. Why shouldn’t the nation know about this?

And then let the Republicans do Jimmy Carter. See if he really is hammering those nails in the Habitat for Humanity houses or if it’s only a photo op. Maybe when he teaches his adult Bible class in Plains, Ga., he steals ideas from Baptist magazines and uses them without proper attribution.

The sacrificial victim should be someone of unquestioned high reputation–no going after easy prey like Henry Hyde or Dan Burton. The time limit should be one year. Bring the charges to the House of Representatives, shame the guy, laugh him to scorn, let the newsboys chew on him, let him crawl and cringe and beg forgiveness and then hand the keys to the prosecutor’s office over to the other side.

This is as close to civility as we can come right now, to take turns whacking one another. If the American people want civility, they can elect a Congress that believes in it.

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