According to Adam Nagourney of the New York Times, Bill Clinton has provided California Gov. Gray Davis with an interesting way to look at the movement to recall him from office. Here is how the Clinton-coached Davis put it in the Aug. 19 kickoff of his anti-recall campaign:
This recall is bigger than California. What's happening here is part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win.
It started with the impeachment of President Clinton, when the Republicans could not beat him in 1996. It continued in Florida, where they stopped the vote count, depriving thousands of Americans of the right to vote.
This year, they're trying to steal additional congressional seats in Colorado and Texas, overturning legal redistricting plans. Here in California, the Republicans lost the governor's race last November. Now they're trying to use this recall to seize control of California just before the next presidential election.
Al Sharpton, who is a lousy presidential candidate but an excellent phrase-maker, calls the GOP's strategy, "Let's do it again until I win."
Is the criticism fair? To answer that, let's break the accusation down into two parts:
1) Republicans are subverting democracy to unseat the opposition.
2) They're doing this more than the Democrats.
Now let's consider whether these two assertions apply to Clinton and Davis' litany of examples. Chatterbox clarified his thinking on these topics by consulting two smart opinion journalists who hold opposing views—Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memoand David Tell of the Weekly Standard. Neither should be held responsible for the conclusions that appear below. These are Chatterbox's own and inevitably reflect distinctions that are somewhat subjective.
"It started with the impeachment of President Clinton, when the Republicans could not beat him in 1996." This one's pretty simple: Clinton's impeachment did subvert his democratic election, and Democrats haven't lately tried to do the same to a Republican president (unless you count the movement 30 years ago to impeach Nixon, which was a bipartisan response to crimes of the state that stemmed from the Nixon White House's own effort to subvert the 1972 election). Chatterbox's only quibble is that the Republican effort to unseat Clinton actually preceded the 1996 election, though it didn't really snowball until afterward. (The "vast right-wing conspiracy" began as a small conspiracy conducted by a shockingly well-funded nut fringe.) From the start it was very clearly motivated by the desire to remove Clinton from office; the conservative groups that funded Jones v. Clinton surprised no one when they failed, subsequently, to persist in combating the social evil of sexual harassment.
Tell argues that the removal of Clinton from office wouldn't have subverted any elections because Clinton would have been replaced by Vice President Al Gore, whom the electorate twice approved as Clinton's replacement, should one be needed. (In that respect, the Clinton impeachment was more democratic than Nixon's near-impeachment, which resulted in Nixon's resignation and the installation of Gerald Ford, whom the national electorate had not approved.) "I would have been perfectly content if Al Gore had been president," says Tell, "and he's no Republican." But if Gore had been needed to take Clinton's place, it would have been because of Clinton's forced removal from the office to which he was twice elected. Voters had approved not a Gore presidency but the contingency of a Gore presidency. The person they'd elected president was Clinton.