Jonathan Rauch argues in the National Journal that Rod Blagojevich's impeachment could have been considered "fundamentally antidemocratic."
Suppose, at least for the time it takes to read the next several paragraphs, that the ousting of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was a political railroading. Suppose the intention, whether out of malice or opportunism or both, was to overturn the 2006 election. What, actually, would that have looked like? And how different would it have looked from what happened last week?I already know what to think of this, because I thought about it during the Clinton impeachment. People, even conservatives, were arguing that it was wrong to impeach a president who had been "elected twice."
I think that Blagojevich is probably a crook, and so does everyone else, so the question may seem academic. But it's not. Overturning an election is fundamentally antidemocratic and, in a democracy, potentially dangerous. When it needs to be done, the proceedings need to be objectively distinguishable from a railroading. In other words, the rules must be scrupulously fair. Otherwise, the process for removing corrupt politicians becomes, itself, indistinguishable from political corruption....
"Maybe one day it might happen to you," Blagojevich warned the state senators. He called his removal "a dangerous precedent that could have an impact on governors in Illinois and governors in other states."
Well, first of all, the only person who can be impeached is someone who's been elected. No one ever tried to impeach Harold Stassen, Pat Paulsen, or Strom Thurmond, because they were never elected president. Second, the only people who can impeach and remove the executive are the legislators, who are also elected. Third, a President (and to certain extent a Governor) is immune to other forms of legal action, so no one but the legislators can touch him. (Obviously Blago can be jailed by a federal prosecutor, and in fact it turns out to be easier to jail a Governor of Illinois than to impeach him.)
And finally, the only person who can replace an impeached Governor or President is the next in succession, usually a member of the same party who's been elected specifically to for the purpose of filling out the term when the Chief Executive can't. Vice-Presidents and Lieutenant-Governors don't usually have much to do as long as the boss is still in office. So I'm not worried about the danger to democracy in Blagojevich's impeachment, any more than I would have been if the Senate had voted to replace President Clinton with Vice President Gore.