As Mark Twain said, there’s a big difference between “lightning bug” and “lightning.” That is, if you simply chop off the last part of a name or a phrase, you can get something completely different. To put that another way, if one engages in that sort of chopping, one can change not only the wording but also the meaning.
Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak caught a current example of such language-chopping on December 3 when he tweeted, “The Schiff #impeachment report quotes George Mason during the  Constitutional Convention–without noting that his proposal for ‘maladministration’ as a basis for impeachment was rejected.”
By recalling Mason’s definition of impeachment, back in the 18th century, but not recalling that Mason’s definition was rejected at the time, the Democrats are doing some misleading language-chopping. To put the matter politely, in so chopping, they are doing a disservice to the historical record — and therefore to the truth.
So let’s take a closer look at this bit of slipperiness.
George Mason, of course, was one of the Founders gathered at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 232 years ago. The Virginia-born Mason was a highly regarded lawyer and scholar, and yet he was also an outlier — and thus his suggestion that impeachment could be made on the basis of “maladministration” was rejected.
Instead, in Article Two, Section Four, the Founders stipulated that impeachment would be reserved for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” As we can readily see, words such as “Treason” impose a much higher standard on impeachment than mere “maladministration.”
In fact, not only was Mason less-than-happy about the outcome of that definitional argument about impeachment, he wasn’t happy with the Constitution overall. Thus he was one of only three delegates to the Philadelphia Convention who refused to sign the document before it went to the 13 states for ratification; the Constitution was, in fact, ratified nine months later.
In other words, our sacred founding document, drafted by James Madison, was good enough for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton — but not good enough for George Mason.
Happily, Mason was free to follow his conscience, and yet today, in our time, it’s highly disingenuous for Schiff and the House Democrats to cite Mason as the source of a proper definition of an impeachable offense, when not only was Mason’s definition of impeachment rejected, but the Constitution itself was rejected by Mason.
Indeed, we might ask ourselves: What would have happened, these past 230 years, if “maladministration” had been the standard? Is there any U.S. president who couldn’t have been accused, at one time or another during his tenure in office, of maladministration?
In fact, if one sets the bar of impeachment low enough, it could become the equivalent of a “no confidence” vote in a parliament. Such no-confidence votes happen all the time in parliamentary systems — and when they happen, the prime minister falls.
Yet at the risk of dwelling on the obvious, we must point out that here in the U.S., we don’t have prime ministers — we have presidents. And the powers, duties, and responsibilities of presidents are listed right there, in Article Two of the Constitution, including the declaration that they are elected to serve full four-year terms, barring some truly horrendous criminal act.
We shouldn’t have to spend time going over such settled history; after all, the Constitution’s definition of the presidency, and of impeachment, has served this country well for more than two centuries.
Indeed, if we think about the Ukraine mess in the sweep of U.S. history, we are struck by the smallness of this matter. Stephen Castor, ace counsel for the House Republicans in the impeachment inquiry, was blunt on Monday, getting right to the point: “To impeach a president, who 63 million people voted for, over eight lines in a call transcript, is baloney.”
Fortunately, Americans are agreeing with Castor and the House Republicans. If Democrats think Trump is a bad president, fine — that’s what elections are for. And there’ll be another one, just as the Constitution says, in less than 11 months.
In the meantime, the Democrats’ rush to judgment — that is, replacing the voters’ judgment with their judgment — is badly faltering. A December 10 Quinnipiac Poll finds that a majority of Americans are once again against impeachment. We might recall that in October, at the peak of the MSM’s mania over the Whistleblower (remember him? — the fellow who was supposed to testify but has somehow disappeared back into the folds of the Deep State?), a slight plurality of Americans, 48 percent to 46 percent, were in favor of impeachment; now, two months later, it’s 51:45 against.
So it’s interesting to see that some pro-impeachment House Democrats are now having second thoughts. One such is Rep. Elissa Slotkin, one of those “moderates” who last year won a Republican-held seat in Michigan; indeed, in late September, she touted her own national security credentials (she served in the Obama administration) to make the case for impeachment. Yet now, in the wake of pushback from her constituents, she’s now saying, “I’m undecided.” In fact, a December 11 headline in The Washington Post reads, “House Democrats brace for some defections among moderates on impeachment of Trump.” How many defections? The Post guesses half a dozen, max, although The Hill suggests that the number might be more.
It’s worth recalling that only two Democrats voted against starting the impeachment inquiry in October, so there’s the potential that some Democrats might get caught as flip-floppers. In other words, it’s not a cinch anymore that the Democrats will have a majority for impeachment in the House, to say nothing, of course, of the two-thirds they need for conviction in the Senate.
So even if the constitutional standard of impeachment were Mason’s “maladministration,” Trump might well do just fine. But of course, maladministration is not the standard, and so let’s have an election, just like always, to see what the voters want for the following four years.
As a last note, let’s not be too hard on ol’ George Mason. He was a good man, and a patriot, and he did raise some interesting and constructive points.
For instance, as historian Jill Lepore recalled two years ago, Mason was particularly concerned about the possibility that some plutocratic wannabe president might seek to buy the support of electors in the Electoral College. As Mason said in Philadelphia, “One objection against electors was the danger of their being corrupted by the candidates.” Surely, Mason said, we’d want to impeach a president for that. And yes, in fact, we would; the Founders wisely specifically included “Bribery” as an impeachable offense.
Hmmm. So today, which presidential hopefuls are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in their quest to be the 46th president? Oh yes, that would be Democrats Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg, with Bloomberg, of course, potentially spending billions. Might that sort of money have some, uh, influence?
In fact, given Bloomberg’s total fortune — estimated at $52 billion, but who, really, can count that high — it’s possible to think that, well, you know, he could have a lot of influence among delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee next summer. And if Bloomberg could somehow snag the Democratic nomination in 2020, one can only guess about the possible effect of his money on the electors of the Electoral College. Could he… you know?
Let’s hope that we never have to find out. And yet still, it’s nice to know that the bribery provision for impeachment is right there in the Constitution, loud and clear — just in case we ever need it.