“Tom Railsback supports impeachment.”
My mother said those words quietly with a bit of wonderment. I was in fourth grade sitting crossed-legged on the floor staring at the Magnavox and watching the news.
The House Judiciary Committee was voting on articles of impeachment. And Railsback, a Republican from Moline, voted in support.
My folks weren’t political people. They voted and usually supported Republicans. But occasionally they would support a good Democrat.
That said, they liked Richard Nixon and adored his vice president Spiro Agnew. And they admired the administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz.
In my father’s eyes the three were a political holy trinity. Dad, always said he voted for Nixon in 1960 because he knew how to work and his wealthy opponent John F. Kennedy never had to.
When I was in second grade, my mother sent me to school with a giant Nixon campaign poster to hang on the classroom bulletin board.
Yes, we were a Nixon family.
When Democrats criticized Nixon, they brushed it off as partisan rhetoric.
But when Railsback, our local congressman, started raising concerns, they listened. After all, how often does a member of Congress call for impeaching a president of the same party?
Nixon had campaigned for Railsback and the president had remained popular in the rural western Illinois district even as the Watergate scandal heated up.
When politicians act against their political self-interest, as Railsback did, take notice. It is not a common occurrence. When it happens, we are watching statesmen emerge.
I was thinking about Railsback this past week when I saw the House once again begin an impeachment investigation. And there weren’t many Railsback-types speaking out.
Oh, sure, Senator Mitt Romney raised concerns about the president’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
And yes, Trump called the former GOP presidential nominee a “pompous ass” on Twitter and said Romney is the one who should be impeached. But for the most part Republican members of Congress have been almost blindly supportive of the president.
They seemed scared voteless of The Donald and his Twitter account.
Upon observing this, I picked up the phone and called Railsback. The former congressman is 88, frail and living in an Arizona assisted living facility. But he was eager to share his opinion.
His take on the difference between the impeachment moves of 1974 and 2019? The partisan nature of Congress.
“My closest friend in Congress was a Democrat,” Railsback said. He stressed it is important for Republicans and Democrats to put aside partisan loyalties when considering a matter as momentous as impeachment.
“Back in those days, there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Today you won’t find many of either in Congress,” he said.
And that’s unfortunate.
This hyper-partisanship is harming the country.
As the impeachment debate heats up, politicians are behaving like, well, politicians. Few have strayed from their party’s staked out positions. It seems a foregone conclusion, the Democrat-controlled House will impeach the president and the Republican Senate will keep him in office.
What we are observing now is political theater, with pre-ordained outcomes. I would have much rather seen Congress devote itself to an infrastructure bill and other pressing needs if they are entering a process that accomplishes little but headlines.
But now that we are here, it’s time for the men and women who represent us to step out of their political foxholes.
Trump not only called for Ukraine to investigate Biden, but he asked China to do so as well.
I agree with Romney when he said: “When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated.”
I once voted for Romney. I’m proud of that. (And in case you are keeping score, I voted for Barack Obama four years before.) But right now, he is a pretty lonely Republican figure in the U.S. Senate. And in the U.S. House, Republicans remain silent.
This is a time for courage. A time to put country above party or self.
Where are the Tom Railsbacks of 2019?
Few and far between.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and freelance reporter; [email protected]