Just Say Yes: Tulsi Gabbard on Impeachment

Well, my fan-boy crusade for Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign has come to grief on the shoals of her abstention on impeachment last night. Her decision to abstain strikes me as a serious mistake: it had no clear legal or constitutional justification, and simply managed to alienate the base that’s supported her so far. I get the rationale, but it seems a bridge too far to a political right that’s essentially lost its way and lost its mind. I still have great respect and admiration for Gabbard, and still intend to post the fourth installment of my series on “Tulsi Gabbard vs. Liberal McCarthyism” (haven’t changed my mind on that, and don’t agree with the accusations of “cowardice” that have been leveled against her for this decision),* but the fan-boy crush, alas, has ended.

Here is her statement on the issue. It’s pretty unconvincing.

I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country. When I cast my vote in support of the impeachment inquiry nearly three months ago, I said that in order to maintain the integrity of this solemn undertaking, it must not be a partisan endeavor. Tragically, that’s what it has been.

On the Democratic side? How?

The president’s opponents insist that if we do not impeach, our country will collapse into dictatorship. All but explicitly, they accuse him of treason. Such extreme rhetoric was never conducive to an impartial fact-finding process.

Not credible. The charges against Trump are not essentially tied to any prediction about the country’s collapse into dictatorship. And neither of the articles of impeachment are implicitly or explicitly a matter of treason: treason isn’t one of the charges, and isn’t the relevant issue. (It’s Trump who’s accused people of treason.) Gabbard takes issue with the fact-finding process, but doesn’t identify a single actual problem with it, and doesn’t take issue with the substantive findings of the impeachment inquiry, which were almost as obvious at the outset of the inquiry as they are now. I would not have made the same procedural decisions as Schiff or Nadler did, but then, I’m not a lawyer (neither is Tulsi Gabbard), I don’t stand in an adversarial legal relationship to Trump (unless citizenship itself is one), and it’s reasonable that Congress have leeway in dealing with a president (and party) that plays its own Machiavellian brand of hardball.

It makes no sense to to attack the “impartiality” of so comprehensive a legal proceeding on so clear-cut an issue, when the findings are beyond any reasonable doubt, and the defense has offered literally nothing in the way of credible counter-argument. I’m all in favor of giving defendants a fair shake at a defense, but Donald Trump lost that argument months ago.

There’s no winning here. A trial in the Senate will likely end in acquittal for Trump. Even conviction would just give us a year’s worth of Pence. But the bottom line is that Tulsi Gabbard has, by one fatal omission, wrecked her candidacy for the presidency. One omission doesn’t usually do that, but this one did.

*With predictably Orwellian inaccuracy, The New York Times writes, in today’s report on Gabbard’s decision:

In October, she and Mrs. Clinton sparred after Mrs. Clinton suggested that Russia was backing Ms. Gabbard for president and that Republicans were “grooming” her for a third-party run.

Clinton did not say that Republicans were grooming Gabbard: that’s Clinton’s ex post facto rationalization about what she said, one that’s inconsistent with the text of her remarks. The text makes clear that she was saying that the Russians were grooming both Tulsi Gabbard and Jill Stein (see the next hyperlink). So, by the way, does the Times’s own (crap) reporting, which they’ve now discreetly reversed: it was the Times itself that reported what it called Hillary Clinton’s “claim of Russian influence.” The “Republican grooming” interpretation also contradicts Clinton’s own spokesperson’s claim, who coyly told the press that Gabbard was the target of the unnamed remark, “if the nesting doll” fit. Don’t expect anyone to ask what the Republicans have to do with nesting dolls.

Talk about a loss of impartiality. As Christopher Hitchens aptly put it during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, at this point, there’s no one left to lie to, and nothing left to lie about, either.

8 thoughts on “Just Say Yes: Tulsi Gabbard on Impeachment

  1. I believe that you have over-analyzed Ms. Gabbard’s abstention. My interpretation is that most people (which excludes professional philosophers) will simply view her as having been less extreme than the Democrats in the House, whose partisan rancor has been on display from the beginning and reached a crescendo before the vote to impeach. Whether her position will help her candidacy is another matter, but it’s evident that she believes it will help.


    • I’ve simply responded to her statement. A statement of this kind is an invitation to analysis, but her arguments don’t hold up. The Democrats have in a sense been “extreme”: they’ve been extremely assiduous in performing the thankless but necessary task of cutting a would-be dictator down to size. I don’t dispute that the Democrats have displayed rancor. Rancor is a form of resentment, and it’s entirely proper to resent those who abuse their power. Under such circumstances, it’s the absence of rancor that would be mystifying. The Republicans have hardly been paragons of equanimity themselves; it’s just that their rancor is directed at the victims of abuse rather than its perpetrator.

      The substantive question is whether Trump did abuse presidential power. I think it’s been made amply clear that he did. A secondary question is whether we should, in the name of national unity, censure rather than impeach/remove him. A month ago I might have preferred censure to impeachment, but it’s too late for that now. Instead of waiting until the 11th hour, Gabbard should have made the censure suggestion when it stood a chance of being an alternative to impeachment. What she did instead was publicly to support the impeachment inquiry, then reject its prescription without contesting its arguments. All in all, that makes little sense and shows poor judgment.


      • I don’t think the Democrats have done anything to cut anyone down in size except themselves. If anything they’ve fired up Trump’s base and sent Biden to be slaughtered (destroying his chances might have been their plan though. They seem more interested in Harris/Mayor Pete than old Joe. Problem for them is Old Joe is the only candidate resonating to any degree with seniors and the black vote.)

        Trump will treat it as another personal trophy, another reason he is unique and special.

        The base gets fired up.
        D’s feel vindicated.
        Independents contemplate.

        Trumps wins reelection.


        • @Michael Philip
          A local volunteer for the Tulsi Gabbard campaign sent me a similar comment off-line. I would say that cutting Trump down to size was and is the aim of impeachment, not necessarily its most likely outcome. At the outset, I agreed with Nancy Pelosi’s original view, that impeachment should be avoided, not because it was unwarranted on grounds of constitutional morality, but because it was imprudent in the narrow electoral sense you mention.

          Pelosi was convinced out of her original position by a small group of freshman representatives who argued that she ought to look at the bigger picture: since Trump’s abuses of power were aimed at the electoral system, there was a good chance that, if left unchecked, he would corrupt the 2020 vote. So, faced with the possibility of losing the election via unchallenged electoral corruption, and losing it because the Senate’s predictable acquittal of Trump would “fire up his base,” it was better to take the first option. Even if both led to the same outcome, the first option had the virtue of active resistance to Trump’s corruption.

          I myself preferred the first option–when it was a live option. But it no longer is. So now that impeachment is under way, I have no qualms defending the second at this point. The only alternatives to impeachment at this point are to remain neutral (as Gabbard did) or vote against (as the Republicans did). I’ve already responded to Gabbard’s view. As for the Republicans, the evidence against Trump on both impeachment charges is obvious, and in hours of incoherent ranting and jabbering, they produced literally nothing in the way of a defense. (I have a long commute, so I had the opportunity to listen to the hearings every day while stuck in Jersey traffic.) Given that, I regard impeachment as the best of the available options.

          Beyond that, the Republicans’ tactics have been reprehensible. If I had tried to enter a secure room during a formal deposition, I would be in jail right now. I’ve been arrested for less. But they seem wedded to the belief that when they do it, it’s OK. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite so sickening as the Republicans’ whining complaints about the procedural “unfairness” of the impeachment hearings. These are people–like that other pathetic whiner, Brett Kavanaugh–who know exactly how the legal system works for ordinary people. Now they profess to be amazed by its “arbitrariness” while they bask in their entitlement to defy subpoenas to appear and produce documents. Find me one ordinary person in this country who could invoke his boss’s “executive privilege” to defy a legally valid subpoena or citation. That’s the kind of thing that gets ordinary people killed. Meanwhile, William Barr is lecturing at us about our lack of respect for law enforcement.

          The bottom line is that there’s more to politics than vote-counting-by-amateur-prognostication. I forget who coined the phrase “constitutional morality,” but it’s a valid concept, and one that trumps (so to speak) narrow electoral concerns.

          In any case, there’s no certainty that the sequence of events you describe will actually happen.


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