The Late Senator Dale Bumpers Was An Ethics Corrupter Of Historic Significance: That’s His Legacy

Impeachment ticket

Former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Ark) has died at 90, and his obituaries respectfully note his successful political career that led him to the Arkansas State House as well as Washington, D.C. His death is nicely timed with the re-emergence, thanks to Donald Trump and Bill Cosby, of scrutiny of Bill Clinton’s proclivities as a sexual predator. Bumpers played a key role in not only allowing Clinton to escape accountability for that reprehensible conduct and other conduct required for him to continue it, but also in corrupting the Presidency, the public and the nation.

Good job, Senator. Sorry you’re dead, but now, while you are briefly back in the public eye, is the time to be clear about your legacy.

On January 21, 1999, late in the Clinton impeachment proceedings on the Senate floor, recently retired Senator Dale Bumpers took center stage to defend his fellow Arkansas Democrat as he fought for his political life. The fact that Bumpers was allowed to make such a speech proved that the proceedings were rigged, and were nothing but partisan theater. I don’t think Chief Justice Rehnquist, who supposedly presided over the impeachment “trial,” should have allowed Bumpers to speak; maybe the Chief Justice had to: I am unclear on whether he could have acted like a judge if he wanted to. Bumpers was not then a member of the body, and he introduced no evidence. Indeed, his entire function was to mischaracterize the issues, confuse the public, and remind his Democratic colleagues that their first duty was to the party rather than the nation.

That being the case, he did his job well.

Reading the transcript of his speech again for the first time in over a decade, I was struck at how terrible—cynical, misleading, dishonest—it was. The speech essentially distilled all of the rationalizations and excuses, repeated ad nauseum by Lanny Davis and others on cable TV since the Monica Lewinsky scandal had broken, into a credible imitation of a sincere, non-partisan appeal by an elder statesman. Masterful it was; it was also rotten to the core.

After a couple of jokes—summaries of the evidence in real trials don’t include jokes, unless the lawyer thinks he can get away with treating the trial itself as a joke, which was Bumpers’ evident intent—Bumpers began with a lie: that he was there defending Bill Clinton not because of his political and personal loyalty to the man with whom he had benefited from a long professional association, but because of Bumpers’ devotion to the Constitution of the United States. He thus moved on to the fallacious argument of an appeal to authority, in this case, a disgraceful and partisan petition by 400 almost entirely Democratic historians asserting that a decision to convict held the potential for destabilizing the office of the presidency.

That petition was shameful and unprofessional (I wrote about why at the time), and now we know it was also wrong. Because of the Clinton kangaroo court-decision to make an impeachment trial nothing but a test of polls and political manipulation, impeachment has been effectively eliminated as a control over Presidential power of any kind. The current President, who has on multiple occasions willfully violated the Constitution with full confidence that impeachment is politically impossible, has been a primary beneficiary.

Next Bumpers played the rare “nobody should have even found out about this” card (a rationalization that needs to be added to the list, I realize):

“We are here because of a five-year relentless, unending investigation of the president. Fifty billion dollars, hundreds of FBI agents fanning across the nation examining in detail the microscopic lives of people.”

Uh, Senator, wherever you are? The Clinton investigations cost taxpayers almost $80 million, which ain’t hay, but 50 billion is an absurd exaggeration. Oh, that was a mistake, you say? In a courtroom, you have to correct material mistakes, and as a lawyer, you damn well knew it. I never heard any correction. None was submitted And I’m not certain at all that the misrepresentation was a “mistake.”

Moreover, the reason for all that money being spent was that the Clintons refused to cooperate, denied everything, and fought the investigation tooth and nail. You know—like the IRS and Benghazi investigations.

Then Bumpers said…

“But after all of those years and $50 million of Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, you name it, nothing, nothing, the president was found guilty of nothing, official or personal.”

Not true. Clinton was found to have lied under oath in court, when questioned about Lewinsky in the Paula Jones lawsuit. He was found to have lied outright to the press and the American people, and obviously obstructed justice. He also broke the sexual harassment law he had signed into law himself. he hadn’t been found guilty in court, because this was the trial, and it hadn’t concluded yet.

What a whopper!

After muddying the water, misrepresenting facts, demeaning the proceedings and launching rationalizations, Bumpers announced his central lie…

“You’re here today because the president suffered a terrible moral lapse, a marital infidelity. Not a breach of the public trust, not a crime against society, the two things Hamilton talked about in Federalist Paper number 65 — I recommend it to you before you vote — but it was a breach of his marriage vows.” It was a breach of his family trust It is a sex scandal. H.L. Mencken said one time, “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about money,’ it’s about money.” And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex,” it’s about sex.

Thus were the office, the proceedings, the public and the culture corrupted. Using this false characterization as a foundation, Bumpers was free to use every rationalization he could think of, and he thought of many. He began with “Think of the children!“, evoking Chelsea as he said,

“To say constantly that the president lied about this and lied about that, as I say, I thought that was too much for a family that has already been about as decimated as a family can get.”

President Clinton was the one who should have considered that factor before he did in fact, lie about this and lie about that.

Next on Bumpers’ rationalization parade were the #1 rationalization, “Everybody does it” [“Sure, you say, he should have thought of all that beforehand. And indeed he should. Just as Adam and Eve should have. Just as you and you and you and you, and millions of other people who have been caught in similar circumstances, should have thought of it before.”] and #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”

Bumpers even said “none of us are perfect.” The President of the United States, however, as the national leader and role model as well as the exemplar and symbol of the entire nation and its culture, has an ethical obligation to try to be as perfect as he can be, and the public trusts that he understands that. Clinton’s conduct was ludicrously far from “not perfect.” He lied under oath, subverting justice; he engineered a cover-up; he lied to the American people; he violated laws, and he set out to lower the public’s ethical standards so they would shrug it off, permanently lowering societal standards. Nor were any  of these were “mistakes.” They were intentional, they were calculated, and Clinton still resented being required to account for them.

Next came “The King’s Pass”: “And the people are saying: Please don’t protect us from this man, 76 percent of us think he’s doing a fine job.  After that, #42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?”, but with the ironic twist of using foreign leaders in place of Hillary: “The truth of the matter is, this nation has never enjoyed greater prestige in the world than we do right now.”

Do you know why so many Americans are incapable of coherent ethical analysis? It is because public figures they trust who citizens think know more than they do, like U.S. Senators and journalists, teach them to substitute invalid rationalizations for right and wrong.

Having already falsely framed the impeachment issue as one only of personal morality and “sex,” Bumpers concluded with a pseudo-scholarly/legal analysis of the impeachment provision in the Constitution, concluding that a only a serious “breach of trust” qualified as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Bumpers insisted that Clinton had not committed perjury (Clinton had committed perjury), and that “an unfaithful relationship does not even come close to being an impeachable offense.”

Straw man. Nobody except Democrats claimed that Clinton’s adultery was an impeachable offense, or the issue in the impeachment trial.

Finally, Bumpers concluded by resorting to that old standby of the lawless, Rationalization #30. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule.”  Nothing short of treason or bribery is a sufficient reason to impeach a President, and to do so would do immeasurable damage to the institution, he argued.

In other words, Bumpers, a lawyer who knew that such an argument was considered unethical in court, argued jury nullification.

I am not at all certain that Clinton should have been convicted in his impeachment trial, but I am absolutely certain that his acquittal needed to be achieved using facts, legitimate arguments and ethical analysis, not deception, logical fallacies, tricks, rationalizations and obfuscation. Bumpers’ role in elevating all of those to respectable tools of analysis did tangible harm to the integrity of the process, as well as to public civil literacy.

That harm has metastasized in the intervening years, while Bumpers himself has faded to a footnote. The occasion of his death should be used as an opportunity to make Senator Bumpers’ legacy clear. We should not forget that he chose to corrupt the values of his country, when he had an opportunity and an obligation to strengthen them.

You can read all of Bumpers’ presentation here.

 

25 thoughts on “The Late Senator Dale Bumpers Was An Ethics Corrupter Of Historic Significance: That’s His Legacy

  1. At times like this I go back to looking at my high school American History textbook and the drawings of one Senator beating another bloody with a walking stick on the Senate floor in the 1850s when I used to think to myself, “Wow, thank goodness the people who govern our country are more civilized and responsible than they were back in the 1850s!” And then we read about Dale Bumpers or Harry Reed. I guess some things never change.

    • Slight correction, Bill. Charles Sumner was beaten badly after delivering a speech condemning slaveholders. It was a close relative of a Southern senator who came up to him and said, “I have carefully read your speech several times. It is a slander on the South and Senator (forgot name), who is a relative of mine”. He then began to beat Sumner severely with his walking stick, damn near killing him. Sumner himself was no prize, BTW. He was the top man in the abolitionist caucus in the Senate and was viciously anti-South in all aspects. After the war, he implemented the harsh occupation and corruption of the carpetbag governments (all under the benign sounding name of Reconstruction) which left a legacy of regional and racial hate that still endures.

      • Interesting. So the assailant wasn’t a member of the most exclusive club.in America. Well then, there’s always “Senator Snort” to keep me from thinking contemporary congressional mores are something new.

      • Oh, no.

        The South was already an awful place. That’s why it rebelled in the first place; it was already revolting long before the Civil War.

        The idea that reconstruction is what created the South is false. The sad reality is that the premature withdrawl of reconstruction is what created the South. Had they properly deConfederated the South – utterly crushed all their sense of pride in their Confederate heritage, nipped the whole Lost Cause nonsense in the bud, made them feel properly ashamed as we did the Germans after World War II – the South would be a much better place.

        Alas, instead we got a hundred years of segregation and the modern Republican party out of it.

        • “De-Confederated”? That sounds a lot like Defenestration to me. And “the modern Republican Party”?? Was it that you learned American history at Berkeley? Or is it some paranoid hatred for the South? Either way, it’s evident from that blather that you entertain some serious problems in regard to rationality. Perhaps a few tranquilizers at bedtime? Your Obamacare account might help you with that.

  2. Jack: Senator Bumpers might have considered (had he been speaking forthrightly to begin with) the true meaning of his “It’s for the children” remark. Indeed it was and not just for little Chelsea. It had to do with the legacy of vice and corruption that all those selfsame children (including Chelsea) would have to grow up with and endure as adults. That was something that should have transcended all political equations. Cynically citing the Constitution was just the icing on the moldy cake after that. Notably and ever since, the excuse for spending untold billions on extra-constitutional, vote buying federal social programs has often been framed in those same terms. It’s for the children! Whenever you hear that said- and not just in the political arena, either- you can virtually rest assured that children are just the facade for devious doings. As J.P Morgan once noted, “A man always has two reasons for doing anything. A good reason… and the real reason.” J.P. knew that well enough!

    • I was screaming at the screen as I watched Bumpers’ expert and disgraceful performance, and then sublimated the memory until now. His death brought it all back. Too soon to label him what he was?

      Nope.

  3. I am not at all certain that Clinton should have been convicted in his impeachment trial, but I am absolutely certain that his acquittal needed to be achieved using facts, legitimate arguments and ethical analysis, not deception, logical fallacies, tricks, rationalizations and obfuscation. Bumpers’ role in elevating all of those to respectable tools of analysis did tangible harm to the integrity of the process, as well as to public civil literacy.

    Essentially, there were two questions:

    – Was the conduct in question justifying removal from office?

    – Does the evidence presented establish that he did the conduct in question?

    The first question has to be answered in the affirmative before the second question needs to be reached.

    What would have been an ethical defense against removal from office? (please note that in the context of what is to be done about unethical conduct, Rationalizations 2, 7, 13, 16, 20, 22, 26, 39 can be valid)

  4. I’m not sure the fact that a lawyer could lose his license on the grounds of lack of trustworthiness and honesty always equates to a “high crime or misdemeanor.” It’s certainly relevant, but I’m not sure it’s ipso facto.

    I always thought he should be removed because he committed perjury, a felony. If the Constitution says high crimes and misdemeanors (although there’s plenty of debate about what that means), can’t we all agree a felony is sufficient?

    • I’m not SURE either, but I think it’s a strong argument: Lawyers argue the law, and are expected to be honest and trustworthy. Should not the man whose job regarding upholding the laws is far greater and requiring a higher level of trust not be subjected to at least as high a standard of integrity? In other words, if he is not ethical enough to be a lawyer, how can anyone argue that is ethical enough to be President?

  5. “That petition was shameful and unprofessional (I wrote about why at the time), and now we know it was also wrong. Because of the Clinton kangaroo court-decision to make an impeachment trial nothing but a test of polls and political manipulation, impeachment has been effectively eliminated as a control over Presidential power of any kind. The current President, who has on multiple occasions willfully violated the Constitution with full confidence that impeachment is politically impossible, has been a primary beneficiary.”

    This is pure, sheer nonsense.

    You can set this 100% at the feet of the Republican party, and specifically, Kenneth Starr.

    The reality is that the Republican Party went utterly insane after the neo-Confederates joined the party en masse and started baying for blood.

    The whole Kenneth Star persecution was wildly unethical. The special investigation went far beyond its original bounds, and randomly wandered off into everything else. It was an attempt by the Republicans to attack Bill Clinton, to destroy Bill Clinton.

    It was quite obvious to everyone at the time with the remotest shred of ethics.

    The whole fiasco was a result of Kenneth Starr’s and the Republican party’s wildly unethical behavior. They made it all into a circus. They were fumbling around, grasping for something – anything – they could sink their teeth into.

    The whole thing was political from the get-go. It was never about the law. It was about trying to find some way of bringing down Bill Clinton.

    It was, of course, enormously damaging to the country in many respects – the whole thing radicalized the Republican party, resulting in them deciding that they were secretly being conspired against by everything, that the Clintons were machiavellian criminal masterminds who murdered dozens of people. They refused to acknowledge the possibility that the whole thing was an obvious witch hunt lead by deeply immoral people for entirely cynical, political reasons.

    The whole thing was a farce, and everyone knew it.

    If it has made impeaching a president impossible (and, let’s face it, it is not something that has ever happened in our nation’s history, and the one guy who would have gotten impeached resigned first), it is the result of the Republicans so transparently and doggedly pursuing nonsense for years in the hopes of trapping Clinton in a lie.

    Allocating blame to the Democrats to playing the same political game – and playing to win – is wrong. The Republicans were playing a political game and lost, and never quite got over it – and certainly never admitted that they were being unethical in the whole thing.

    The whole thing never should have happened in the first place. And it never would have happened if Kenneth Starr hadn’t spent years and years trying to bring down Clinton.

    There is a principle in the law, the fruit of the poisonous tree, that when something is done in violation of someone’s rights, the subsequent evidence found as a result of that violation are not allowed at trial. The basis of this principle is that it discourages the government from violating people’s rights by preventing the government from benefiting from doing so.

    The same general principle applies to the Clinton impeachment. Creating a situation where the opposition party wastes tens of millions of dollars and enormous amounts of stress on trying to constantly attack the person in charge and trap them in a lie about something which isn’t even illegal is a terrible precedent, and you don’t want to reward people for doing that – it would encourage them to do that constantly in the future, and it is deeply unhealthy behavior for the government to be engaged in. Not to mention unethical – spending public money on furthering your personal political goals is not ethical.

    • I’m not even addressing this crap, which is partisan mythology, or you are just dumb as a brick. Your argument is self-rebutting. Fruit of the poisonous tree?? First of all, no evidence was introduced in court, so the doctrine wouldn’t apply even if there were an illegal search or interrogation that led to “fruit.” You’re just blathering.

      A President who lies under oath in a court of law and attempts to cover up the lie by having staff assist in a cover-up AND lies in the face of the American people has betrayed the trust of his office. The decision to impeach Clinton should have been bi-partisan, to the shame of the Democratic Party. Daniel Pat Moynihan, Democrat, liberal and honest man, was asked if Clinton’s conduct was properly impeachable. His answer-I witnessed it—was a blunt “Yes.” But, he said, whether to convict was a political decision, not a legal one. Exactly. But the issue needed exposure, condemnation and resolution. Clinton would have resigned, if he cared about the country.

      My certainty that you are a troll, just hanging around here to make partisan knee-jerk complaints, is now at 90%. When you hit 100, I’ll ban you. Final warning.

          • The whole Kenneth Star persecution was wildly unethical. The special investigation went far beyond its original bounds, and randomly wandered off into everything else. It was an attempt by the Republicans to attack Bill Clinton, to destroy Bill Clinton.

            It was quite obvious to everyone at the time with the remotest shred of ethics.

            The whole fiasco was a result of Kenneth Starr’s and the Republican party’s wildly unethical behavior. They made it all into a circus. They were fumbling around, grasping for something – anything – they could sink their teeth into.

            too bad we will never find out if this commenter would apply the same logic to Robert Mueller.

    • I’m banning you, whoever you are.

      Just read your comments about Ethics Alarms on another blog…including this: “Those who know me well know that I have… other objections to the man.”

      Yeah? Well, you didn’t have the integrity or guts to submit your real name–AS REQUIRED—so I have no idea what your secret grudge is, and frankly, don’t care. I do care that having an unstated bias and motive to be an ass here makes you a jerk, a troll, and unwelcome. So hence forth, any post of yours will be deleted the second I see it, and eventually will fly straight to spam.

      I engaged you in good faith, you came on here with an agenda, and under false pretenses. Thanks for alerting me to the misspelling of Immanuel Kant’s first name, though. I’ve been doing that since high school. Amazing that no one else flagged it.

      Go to Hell.

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