As I completed last fall my annual undergraduate survey course in American history from Reconstruction through the present, I covered the resignation in August 1974 of President Nixon. I discussed the eventual conclusion of many otherwise loyal Republican U.S. Representatives and Senators and other party leaders that Nixon faced inevitable impeachment by the House, followed by trial by the Senate. Conviction by the Senate would have meant Nixon’s ouster from office. These hitherto Nixon supporters had become increasingly shocked by the evidence that the President had apparently approved illegal acts that eventually were called “Watergate.” Watergate was a huge Washington, DC, apartment and office complex whose tenants included the Democratic Party’s national headquarters, the headquarters that had been broken into by Nixon’s “Plumbers” brigade.
Only two Presidents have been impeached by the House and then tried by the Senate: Andrew Johnson, who took office upon the murder of President Lincoln and who avoided being ousted by the vote of a courageous Senator: and Bill Clinton, whose misdeeds, while not minor, were greatly exaggerated by a majority of Republican Representative and Senators plus Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr (the self-righteous now former President of Baylor University who proved to be a total hypocrite in ignoring various misdeeds by Baylor male athletes for the sake of athletic victories). Clinton was acquitted of all misdeeds by a majority of the Senate.
As usual in my class, I praised William Cohen who, as a first-term Republican Representative from Maine’s Second District and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was prepared to vote for impeachment. He refused to bow down to Republican Party pressure to go with the blind loyalty of others and to ignore the evidence that had been gathered by Washington Post reporters Bernstein and Woodward.
Two years ago Maine House Republican Minority Leader Ken Fredette (Newport) blasted highly respected Senator Roger Katz (Augusta) for being disloyal to his fellow Republicans in the legislature and to Republican Governor Paul LePage. Fredette has made disparaging comments about Katz’s moderate voting record as prime evidence of a refusal “to move Maine forward.”
Just think: if Ken Fredette rather than Bill Cohen had been in the US House at the time of Nixon’s downfall, Fredette would obviously have backed President Nixon to the hilt and would have blasted any and all fellow Republicans who deviated from Fredette’s blind loyalty, regardless of the circumstances. God knows what Fredette would have said about Democratic Representatives and Senators–no doubt starting with damning them as Communists. In any case, Fredette might have halted the anti-Nixon crusade. For him, party loyalty alone counts.
I do not know Representative Fredette personally, but I am relieved that he is not my State Representative. I suspect that he will not go down in Maine history as quite the paragon of integrity, of intelligence, and of bipartisanship that are invariably attributed to Edmund Muskie, Margaret Chase Smith, George Mitchell, Bill Cohen, and, sometimes in her two-sided voting record, Susan Collins.