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What can Barbara Jordan teach us about impeachment?
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Since the Democrats took control of the House, the issue of impeachment has loomed over President Trump and his administration after the Mueller findings in the Russia investigation. Now, with Trump all but admitting he pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, calls for impeachment have grown louder. Up until now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposed impeachment as part of an election strategy that feared jeopardizing the House Democratic majority.

 

Impeachment can be a tricky topic for an introductory class to cover, particularly as it unfolds in the news. One way I would approach talking about impeachment is through the great speech by Barbara Charline Jordan, from the 1974 House Judiciary Committee.

 

A transcript and audio of her speaking can be found here (video below). You could play it in class, as it is about 15 minutes long. Her speech is stunning in its logic and rhetorical power, and you could ask students to interpret her argument in light of the current events.

 

 

Her profound speech contains one of my favorite quotes by an American politician, highlighting what was at stake in the impeachment hearings:

 

My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.

 

Jordan never outright calls for Nixon’s impeachment, but she defends the system of checks and balances and elevates the ideas of the framers to understand the gravity of the situation they were in at that time with the Watergate scandal. It is one of the great American political speeches.

 

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