Yes, there was an impeachment

Debra J. Saunders

8/1/2000 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
Remember when doomsayers predicted that impeachment would cost legions of Republicans their seats in 2000? They said that many Repubs would lose in the general election because they voted for impeachment, while the few Rs who voted against it could lose to primary challengers. If reality fit that script, delegates here would be as doleful as they were facing certain defeat in 1996. Ha. The mood here is heady. Turns out that impeachment is not a killer issue after all. Polls show that more voters now support the House impeachment vote. "Far from being a cloud, I think it's a badge of honor," said Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May. "Republicans did what was right even when the polls suggested it was not the political thing to do. I think there are people who respect that and are tired of Democrats who only do the politically beneficial thing." Who'd have thunk it? Pols can buck the almighty polls and still survive. Not that you should expect a lot of podium talk on The Big I. Savvy pols want to leave well enough alone, and will limit their digs to vague references to integrity and character. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was an exception to that rule when he addressed the California delegation Sunday morning, and talked of the one congressman who may lose his seat because of impeachment -- House impeachment manager Jim Rogan, R-Los Angeles, whose district gave more votes to President Clinton than Bob Dole. "He stood up when he could have very easily sat down," said Santorum. Rogan knew he could lose his job when he stood for his beliefs, but he probably never dreamed that if he loses, he'll be the lone impeachment casualty. "I didn't know how it would turn out politically," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said of his votes against impeachment. What happened? "I found that I had lost some Republicans at that time, but I made up for it by getting independent and Democratic voters." Polls indicate that he even has won back once-angry GOP voters. Party leaders did not punish King for his choice. "They would have only made it worse if they went after people like me," he noted. In fact, the RNC asked him to host a reception for Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa this evening. At least Republicans felt free to break ranks. Five GOP senators voted against both counts of impeachment, and 10 voted against one count. No Democratic senator voted to convict President Clinton, and you know that at least one Democrat had to think deep down that The Big Creep deserved it. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., beat a primary challenger who bashed him for voting against all but one impeachment count, but his victory was not without a personal toll. A devout Christian, Souder believed that the president's lies were not impeachable offenses. He thought it inappropriate to pioneer law in the impeachment process. Constituents in his conservative district accused him of siding with Democrats. Lifelong friends left voice mail messages that accused him of not being a good Christian. It was disconcerting, he said, "to have all these Republicans screaming at me over what I see as a strict constructionist vote." "It's been two years. We couldn't go out to dinner," he said. His wife couldn't buy groceries without taking flack. "My staff hung through it. They cried. People were abusive to them when they went out to eat, even though most of them didn't agree with my decision," he added. To this day, when he goes to parades or GOP dinners, some people won't shake his hand. On the plus said, Souder found out who his true friends were. RNC suits stood by him. And he earned the respect of people who had dismissed him as a mindless conservative. "I'll never feel exactly the same, because it really sorts through friendship. In the end, my closest friends didn't flinch. The church groups that stuck with me, stuck with me through the end. There were some people who I thought were close to me -- you can't believe that someone would turn on you that aggressively," Souder said. Souder said he'd vote the same way today. To vote against his conscience, he said, would make him guilty of the very crime of which critics charge Clinton: "breaking my oath of office." Souder did the right thing, and most voters stood by him. It was painful ignoring the polls and outraged voices, but he can look himself in the mirror. Conventions are about unity, places where people put aside -- swallow -- their differences because they want to win. That's how it should be. Meanwhile, Souder and Rogan have shown that when men value principle more than victory, they are more than winners; they are heroes.