THE RALLY ORGANIZED BY JESSE JACKSON on the Capitol steps last week was advertised as a prayer vigil against impeachment; but for demonstrator Haji Warf, a 33-year-old non-profit-foundation employee from the Virginia suburbs, the event was "part of the grieving process." Warf has been involved in politics at the volunteer level for years -- her husband is a Democratic pollster -- but she has never felt as passionately about Congress as she does now. "This thing is driving me crazy," she says. "I can't even make dinner for my family anymore. I start thinking about what the Republicans are doing to Clinton and I start to cry."
Since the Monica Lewinsky story broke, Warf has been crying a lot. She cries on her way to work in the morning listening to Republican members of Congress on the radio. She cries when she gets to the office. She cries as she remembers crying. And when Warf isn't crying, she's seething. "I have violent feelings," she says, feelings brought on by this "sham of an impeachment process. Countries have gone to war for less than this, hand-to-hand battle for less than this. I would be surprised if we didn't revolt. It's a good thing we're a civil society or there would be mass murder right now to rectify the situation." Personally, Warf says, she doesn't have plans to hurt Republicans. On the other hand, "I can see how some people would act on their impulse to violence. I can see that happening."
How did an otherwise mild-mannered soccer mom like Warf get so worked up? By listening to the impeachment debate, of course. And if you believed half of what some Democrats are saying, you'd be worked up, too. Consider the speakers at last week's prayer vigil.
This impeachment, shouted Rep. John Conyers of Michigan to the crowd of several thousand, is not a political process and it isn't a legal proceeding. It is "a bloodless political coup d'etat." In fact, it's worse than that. The impeachment process, Conyers said, is a "crime against the United States and the people," perpetrated by "clinical, psychopathic" Republicans intent on seizing executive power for their own evil ends. But they won't get away with it, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee thundered. "They will pay."
They certainly will, agreed labor leader Gerald McEntee, and not just in the next election. Republicans, said McEntee, head of the AFSCME government employees union, are facing defeat at the heavenly polls as well. For "those who vote for impeachment," he said sadly, we can only "pray to God to have mercy on them."
It's going to take a lot of mercy, observed another speaker, John Boyd of the National Black Farmers Association. According to Boyd, Jesus himself has come to Washington to judge the impeachment proceedings. "He's looking at the wrongdoing of the Republican party," Boyd told the crowd, and His verdict is clear: Republicans had better rethink their position on Clinton. Otherwise, Boyd warned, "on judgment day they might not get through."
Why is God so mad at the pro-impeachment Republicans? Well, for one thing, they're racists. Jesse Jackson Jr., second-term congressman from Illinois, explained as much during a long speech toward the end of the vigil (an event he described as "the most relevant historical protest of our time"). It is not actually Bill Clinton who is being impeached, Jackson informed the heavily black crowd. "They are impeaching 130 years of opportunity and hope for every American." And who is "they"? "Old historical forces," Jackson said -- the same forces who opposed the Voting Rights Act, the same forces responsible for "the long, dark night of the Negro's legitimate discontent in America," the same forces, in fact, who fought on the wrong side in the Civil War.
Confederates loose in Washington? Where? Well, said Jesse Jr., just look at who's supporting impeachment. There's Bob Livingston (then still the speaker-designate). He's from Louisiana, and "they seceded from the Union." Sen. Jesse Helms, meanwhile, is from North Carolina, another secessionist state. As for the home states of Republican representatives Tom Bliley of Virginia, Porter Goss of Florida, Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr of Georgia -- they, too, "seceded from the Union."
In a Congress run by pro-segregation, pro-slavery forces, Jackson explained, it doesn't take a genius to know the impeachment hearings are really all about race. "This is not a Republican takeover, it's a states' rights takeover," Jackson told the cheering crowd. "In 1998, they don't have to call you Negro anymore. They just call you liberal."
It's easy to dismiss much of Jackson's rhetoric as a weirder, less eloquent version of his father's. It's harder to ignore the same kind of talk -- dark warnings of political coups and plotting segregationists -- when it comes from Alan Dershowitz, law professor, cable television fixture, and creator of the "political coup d'etat" talking point. For one thing, Dershowitz represents Harvard Law School, not the South Side of Chicago. For another, Dershowitz appears on MSNBC a lot more often.
Plus, Dershowitz is even less subtle than Jackson. "A vote against impeachment," he told Geraldo Rivera last week, "is not a vote for Bill Clinton. It is a vote against bigotry. It's a vote against fundamentalism. It's a vote against anti-environmentalism. It's a vote against the right-to-life movement. It's a vote against the radical Right." It is a vote, Dershowitz said gravely, against "the forces of evil, evil, genuine evil."
Overheated as Dershowitz's rhetoric is, he is still on the faculty at Harvard, and one might expect him to have at least some evidence for his charges against Republicans. He doesn't. Take Dershowitz's claim, repeated on television to Geraldo, that Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are "a bunch of politically opportunistic hypocrites who couldn't care less about the United States of America."
Nastiness aside, there's a problem with this contention: If polls show most Americans are against impeachment, how can Republicans who vote for impeachment be acting out of political opportunism?
"There are two different kinds of polls," Dershowitz explains. "Very few politicians care about the polls you see on CNN. They have their own polls." Which polls? Which politicians? "This impeachment is largely driven by that kind of look at the polls," he repeats. Yes, but how do you know this? Where are the reports, the studies, the data people who run around calling themselves "professor" are supposed to whip out in the heat of an argument to prove their case? "It's the conclusion I draw," Dershowitz says primly. "Everybody's entitled to reach a view on this, and that's my view."
Dershowitz's view has won him appearances on lots of cable broadcasts over the past year, not to mention an audience with the First Family on Martha's Vineyard, but it's hard not to think he has lost something in the process. Calling your political opponents evil can be an effective short-term strategy. Among other things, it can whip soccer moms into a useful frenzy. The trick is to get out of the game before you begin to sound like a frenzied soccer mom yourself. It may be too late for Dershowitz.
Earlier this month, Dershowitz gave an interview to Sean Hannity, host of a radio show on WABC in New York. During the course of the program, Dershowitz made the point that Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia is a white supremacist. Hannity disagreed. Dershowitz lost control. "You're a horse's ass, a wimp, and a liar," Dershowitz screamed. "You'll be working for McDonald's in a few years because you're playing ball with racists, and your New York audience shouldn't be subjected to this."
"Shut your jackass-professor mouth," replied Hannity. "You're a failed talk-show host who has the nerve to call people racists after you sat silent while the race card was played in the [O.J.] Simpson trial."
"Listen, you wimp," Dershowitz yelled back. "I'll bet you $ 1,000 that you won't renounce your buddy Barr after I prove to you that he's a racist and an anti-Semite."
The argument continued, but how it ended isn't the point. The point is that it happened at all. One moment, you're a respected Harvard law professor. The next, you're screaming at radio talk-show hosts about who is and who is not a racist. Before you know it, you're standing on the steps of the Capitol in tears.
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.