The Magazine


Mar 9, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 25 • By DAVID FRUM
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The framers of the Constitution plainly intended impeachment to play a broad role as one of their several defenses against abuse of power. That was still the view fifty years later, when de Tocqueville said the main object of the clause was "to take power away from a man who makes ill use of it." It is a historical anomaly, therefore, to treat the idea of impeaching a President as almost sacrilegious. It is inconvenient to change Presidents in mid-term; it is risky. But the risks are not only one way. We can live with a weakened presidency; we have done so before. But can we live with ourselves under a leadership that we know is tainted?

The American system is less flexible than the parliamentary, but it does not condemn us to the rigid embrace of a President unfit for office. The Constitution speaks not only of "removal" but also of "resignation." Is there any serious possibility of resignation? It is an act of self-denial hard to imagine in any man ambitious enough to become President. [Still] one cannot exclude a decision that only [the President's] resignation can open the way to a healing of American politics.