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BROOKS: Wild’s Speech Is an Unprecedented Attack on a Scholar

From Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society speech, notable leaders have employed university podiums to communicate ideas, to inspire or to warn us. Most use the opportunity to encourage a society falling on hard times, while some of our current leaders are instead failing in hard times.

On May 15, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild delivered the George Washington Law School’s 2022 commencement.  She chose this moment to attack a one of the prestigious school’s renowned professors. Though Wild did not state his name, anyone who follows Beltway legal matters knew she was referring to Professor Jonathan Turley. Wild conceded Turley “is without question well versed in constitutional law”. She then claimed that Turley had taken to “cable news and social media . . . [,] undermining his own past well-documented scholarship”.

What triggered her ire? Turley, a recognized authority on impeachment law, testified at both Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing (1998) and Donald Trump’s (2019), and Wild found displeasure in Turley’s legal interpretations.

Dipping her toes into the cesspool of the partisan hatedom without diving in head-first, Wild claimed: “A law professor who at one time strenuously advocated that a president need not commit an indictable offense to be impeached, just this past year argued the opposite for a president more to his liking. A president no less who instigated an insurrection and a bloody assault on our democratic process and the rule of law.”

According to Turley’s Trump impeachment hearings testimony, not only did the professor vote for Presidents Clinton and Obama; he also voted against Trump in 2016 and has been publicly critical of Trump’s “policies, and his rhetoric, in dozens of columns.”

As Turley put it, “one can oppose President Trump’s policies or actions but still conclude that the current legal case for impeachment is not just woefully inadequate, but in some respects, dangerous, as the basis for the impeachment of an American president. To put it simply, I hold no brief for President Trump.” Turley continued, “We have never impeached a president solely or even largely on the basis of a non-criminal abuse of power allegation.”

The important point that Wild’s rationale seems to exclude is that Bill Clinton committed perjury, a felony. As articles for the Clinton  impeachment state, our 42nd president “willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury.” Sex was the cause for Clinton to lie but was not the legal grounds for impeachment.

Wild’s talk stands out for doing something other commencement speeches by governmental leaders did not. No other attacked a faculty member of the institution at which the speaker was speaking. Sure, other speakers have taken digs at other politicians. But Wild – a guest – dedicated over a minute to bashing Turley at the professor’s workplace, unduly politicizing and detracting from an otherwise inspiring speech.

Wild’s speech started in the same manner as George W. Bush’s 2001 Yale commencement speech, where he joked: “Those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done. And, to the C students, I say, you too can be president.” Wild’s academic record at law school seems to have fit the same, as her “grades in law school were decent, but were nothing that were going to open doors for me.” Humble, and her rise despite that can be an inspiration, as could be Bush’s more self-deprecating quip.

If one juxtaposes the humanity of a speech like Bush’s to Wild’s gratuitous dig at Turley, one should see the point even more. Indeed, the more memorable commencement speeches are both uplifting and informative. Some use a sentence or two to point out a political opponent’s gaffs. But spending paragraphs to attack the intellectually defensible position of a seasoned scholar is out of bounds. As an attorney, Wild should realize that a corruption or bending of truth is hardly a desired outcome.

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: Worst First Year as POTUS? It’s Not Joe Biden

No matter how you look at it, 2021 was a bumpy ride for President Joe Biden. Washington pundits are already declaring his agenda D.O.A., and at least one says Biden’s had the worst first year of any president. Ever.

In the current era of political hyperbole and 24/7 cable news commentary, such a claim is hardly a surprise. But from the standpoint of history, it has to be labeled #FakeNews.

Looking for a rough rookie presidential year? Try William Henry Harrison. He stood in bitingly cold weather without a coat or hat and delivered a two-hour inaugural address, the longest in history. It was hardly a surprise when the 68-year-old died of pneumonia 31 days later, the shortest presidency in history. (The evidence suggests a longer Harrison administration wouldn’t have been any prize.)

But Harrison’s short-lived presidency can be dismissed as an outlier. Not so with President Bill Clinton.

Widely viewed as a political wizard later in his career, Clinton’s first year in office was almost amateurish. His first two nominees for attorney general went down in flames over not paying their nanny’s Social Security tax. He ran afoul of the military’s big brass over whether openly gay Americans should be allowed to serve in the military, resulting in the embarrassingly convoluted — and highly ridiculed — “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Clinton announced early on he would raise taxes (always a crowd-pleaser in the polls), and he pushed his tax-hiking 1993 budget through the House with just a 218-216 margin. His Department of Justice’s calamitous raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, left 75 people dead.

Travelgate and Troopergate were born, and a controversial healthcare reform commission headed by first lady Hillary Clinton was launched with the same fanfare the Titanic received when it set sail… and ultimately suffered a similar end.

Now that’s a bad first year.

But most historians agree the president who suffered through the absolutely worst first year of all was Abraham Lincoln.

Elected with just 39.8 percent of the popular vote in an election where turnout topped 81 percent, seven states had left the Union to create their own country before he’d even taken office in March 1861. His early attempts to keep more states from seceding left him looking weak.

Lincoln’s presidency was born in war (the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter just before sunrise on April 12, 1861) and began with few successes. Union forces were soundly defeated at Manassas, Virginia and Wilson’s Creek, Missouri in the war’s first major battles.

Then there were the political gaffes and diplomatic stumbles. The secretary of war (forerunner of today’s secretary of defense) was openly corrupt. When a Union general freed slaves in Missouri without authorization from Washington, Lincoln quickly rescinded the order to avoid escalating tensions in the crucial border states. He lost much support among abolitionists for that.

His administration bungled badly by declaring a naval blockade of Southern seaports. Under international law, a nation can only declare a blockade against another nation. Britain seized on that to grant the South belligerent status, one step shy of full diplomatic recognition. (John F. Kennedy avoided repeating that blunder a century later when he announced a “naval quarantine” instead of a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

Worst of all, in late 1861 a U.S. warship stopped a British commercial steamer on the open sea. Two Confederate diplomats bound for England and France were seized at gunpoint and tossed into a Boston prison. Lincoln looked decisive to Northerners but infuriated Britain. Her majesty’s government demanded the emissaries be immediately freed—then sent 12,000 British soldiers to neighboring Nova Scotia as a reminder Washington was dealing with a global Superpower. Faced with the real prospect of wars on two fronts, Lincoln humiliatingly released the pair in December. Lincoln’s support nosedived.

Biden’s first year the worst ever? Not even close.

At the same time, it’s hardly been a resounding success, either. And as bad as it’s been, many political observers expect it to get worse: His party’s almost certain to lose control of at least one chamber of Congress, his vice president is pulling down his poll numbers and few D.C. insiders expect Biden to run again. Once it’s clear he’s a lame duck, his political influence will fall even farther.

So while Joe Biden didn’t have a great first year of his presidency, the irony is it may turn out to have been his best.

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