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Richard Gephardt - Life Imitates Farce

This eloquent speech was given on the floor of the House of Representatives by Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the House Democratic leader, shortly before the House voted on four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton on Saturday, December 19, 1998.

The four articles charged Clinton with perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power, resulting from his attempt to conceal an extramarital relationship in the White House with Monica Lewinsky when she was an intern and after she became a paid White House employee.

Gephardt called for a resolution of censure against the President instead of impeachment and also pleaded for a change in the political atmosphere in Washington where attacks on personal conduct, past and present, had become part of the daily discourse.

Adding to the emotional impact that day – just prior to Gephardt's speech, House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston, a Republican from Louisiana, had made a stunning announcement. Livingston had first called on President Clinton to resign and then announced he would step down himself because of his own extramarital affairs which had been revealed on the eve of the impeachment vote.

Several weeks earlier, House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, had been forced to confront allegations of an extramarital affair that had occurred many years ago. Several other members of Congress had also been confronted with similar rumors and allegations.

Listen to the entire speech

Mr. Speaker and members of the House, I stood on this floor yesterday and implored all of us to say that the politics of slash-and-burn must end. I implored all of you that we must turn away from the politics of personal destruction and return to the politics of values.

It is with that same passion that I say to all of you today that the gentleman from Louisiana, Bob Livingston, is a worthy and good and honorable man.

I believe his decision to retire is a terrible capitulation to the negative forces that are consuming our political system and our country.

And I pray with all my heart that he will reconsider this decision.

Our founding fathers created a system of government of men, not of angels. No one standing in this House today can pass a Puritanical test of purity that some are demanding that our elected leaders take.

If we demand that mere mortals live up to this standard, we will see our seats of government lay empty, and we will see the best, most able people unfairly cast out of public service.

We need to stop destroying imperfect people at the altar of an unobtainable morality.

We need to start living up to the standards which the public, in its infinite wisdom, understands that imperfect people must strive towards, but too often fall short.

We are now rapidly descending into a politics where life imitates farce. Fratricide dominates our public debate and America is held hostage to tactics of smear and fear.

Let all of us here today say no to resignation, no to impeachment, no to hatred, no to intolerance of each other, and no to vicious self-righteousness.

We need to start healing. We need to start binding up our wounds. We need to end this downward spiral which will culminate in the death of representative democracy.

I believe this healing can start today by changing the course we've begun.

This is exactly why we need this today to be bipartisan. This is why we ask the opportunity to vote on a bipartisan censure resolution, to begin the process of healing our nation and healing our people.

We are on the brink of the abyss. The only way we stop this insanity is through the force of our own will.

The only way we stop this spiral is for all of us to finally say -- enough.

Let us step back from the abyss and let's begin a new politics of respect and fairness and decency which raises what has come before.

May God have mercy on this Congress and may Congress have the wisdom and the courage and the goodness to save itself today.

Richard Gephardt - December 19, 1998

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