Columnist Jim Cahillane: Gump-like writer witnesses three impeachments

  • In this March 15, 1973, file photo President Nixon tells a White House news conference that he will not allow his legal counsel, John Dean, to testify on Capitol Hill in the Watergate investigation and challenged the Senate to test him in the Supreme Court. AP

Published: 11/18/2019 7:00:13 PM

Time was that a citizen alive for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson would be long dead in the 106 years between he and Richard Nixon. Committed voters of a certain age are almost certain to observe three presidential impeachments in one lifetime.

Let’s begin with a list of charged presidents: Johnson (1868), Nixon (1974), Bill Clinton (1998) and Donald Trump (2019).

In its wisdom, the United States Senate voted no on Johnson, was in the process of impeaching Nixon before he resigned and, following a Senate trial, refused to convict Clinton.

Now comes Donald J. Trump: Madame Defarge is knitting away on the Capitol steps. The audience hears a sharp knell offstage.

Don’t look now, but one year from today voters will have picked a new president. Sixty years ago our voters’ choice was a good-looking inspiring speaker from Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

“Jack” Kennedy was a naval hero elected to the U.S. House in 1946 and the Senate in 1952 in a classic race against Boston Brahmin Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1958, Jack came to Northampton to campaign for reelection to the Senate. I recall the day, because my father dragged me away from work to meet his political friend, Jack Kennedy.

Mayor Jim did the honors, introducing Kennedy. As a delegate, he’d voted for Jack as vice president on a ticket with Adlai Stevenson. The 1956 Chicago Democratic Convention nominated Stevenson and Estes Kefauver. President Dwight D. Eisenhower won reelection with his Vice President Nixon.

Massachusetts’ pundits agreed that Jack sought a record Senate victory margin in 1958 to boost his candidacy for the 1960 Democratic nomination for president. He was our state’s Irish lad!

A dozen local Democratic leaders met Jack at Judge Welch’s house on Prospect Street. In what became a classic election contest, Jack narrowly defeated Vice President Nixon.

In November 1963, as the world knows, JFK was murdered in Dallas. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson succeeded Kennedy before winning the presidency over Republican Barry Goldwater in a 1964 landslide. In 1968, Nixon, “tanned and rested,” arrived back on the scene to be elected president on his promise of a “secret” plan to end the Vietnam War.

OK, Mr. C, your opening promises inside news on impeachments you have known — three out of four — in one lifetime. Get on with it.

Well, I was in Washington, D.C., the day of the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972. On that evening a shadow gang later nicknamed the “Plumbers” broke into Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate. The plumbers worked for The Committee to Reelect the President, with a perfect acronym, CREEP. Their mission was to get dirt on his election opponent from the DNC files, Sen. George McGovern, whom Nixon would defeat in 49 out of 50 states. Massachusetts, take a bow.

We were visiting the Capitol with our five children ranging in age from 9 to 16. It was a memorable “take the kids on a family road trip before they grow up and leave us” vacation. We stopped in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and slept in a motel on Gettysburg’s battlefield.

In D.C., we met with a widow friend and her four children of like ages, Madeline Kelly of Omaha. Amazingly, I found an affordable suite of rooms to accommodate both families at D.C.’s Pick-Lee Hotel.

Touring, we all laughed at the African-American guide’s eyeroll as he counted off nine kids and, maybe, two wives in line at the Washington Monument. Our visit to Washington became memorable.

Two painful years later, in his second term, Nixon was due to be impeached for covering up the Watergate break-in. He resigned. Vice President Gerald Ford proclaimed, “Our long national nightmare is over.”

I supported Democrat Bill Clinton for president. He took office in January 1993. My first official column in the Gazette showered Bill and Hillary with hopeful praise, yet added a caveat. Presidents had disappointed us before. Clinton made me look wise when, in his second term, he was impeached for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The Senate refused to convict him, but not before I wrote this September 1998 column headline: “Advice to Clinton: Let Gore Step Up.”

That brings us to the horror of today’s White House occupant. Trump, a real estate magnate who upset history’s 2016 apple cart to defeat Hillary Clinton.

This year’s Mueller report outlines how Trump received illegal aid from Russia via Wikileaks using emails stolen from Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. That’s shades of Nixon. Charged with abuse of the Constitution, Trump is under an impeachment inquiry by Congress. The smart money says that he will be impeached by the House and acquitted by a Republican-controlled Senate. So, that’s it, three impeachments in the nutshell of this one American’s life.

Philadelphia, 1787: A lady asks: “Dr. Franklin, what have we got a republic or a monarchy?” Ben, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Today: Ben Franklin’s dare will be met if we hew to the facts!

This is my penultimate Gazette Opinion column. I appreciate my loyal readers’ encouragement for nearly three decades. My first column ran in January 1993, leading to 181 bylines and 6 books. A heartfelt Thank You to my family, friends, Florence Poets Society and fellow columnists. Jim Cahillane lives in Williamsburg.

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