In one of those anniversary pieces that sometimes attribute more significance to what is being remembered than is deserved, Peter Baker suggests in today’s NYT that the impeachment of Bill Clinton 10 years ago marks the beginning of the vendetta-like conflict that characterizes politics in the nation’s capital:
Indeed, except for brief interludes, Washington in the last decade has been governed by a climate of anger and animosity, a modern-day tribalism pitting faction against faction that some trace to the days of the impeachment.
That seems a bit of a stretch. I’d be tempted to trace the phenonomen back another decade, to when Newt Gingrich, then just a journeyman member of Congress from Georgia, filed ethics charges against House Speaker Jim Wright. Eventually, Wright was forced to resign for what, even at the time, seemed a pretty minimal offense. This was the opening battle in the war that won the Republicans control of the House, made Gingrich speaker, and established the style of partisan combat that led directly to the Clinton impeachment.
What the impeachment may more truly have signified is indicated in a quote from Mark Corallo, an aide to former Louisiana congressman (and almost speaker) Bob Livingston at the time and later a Justice Department spokesman under President Bush:
At the end of the day, the Republicans were hurt more. We became the party of the moral jihad. I’m as guilty as anyone. We all got wrapped up in it.
This gets to the heart of the debate over the future of the Republican Party. So long as the GOP remains the party of the moral jihad, Republican candidates will continue to have trouble appealing to the young, the suburban, the better educated, and the well-to-do. And without those constituencies, it’s hard to see how they recoup.