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Tulsi Gabbard's cowardly impeachment vote was the ultimate betrayal — and not just to Democrats

Last night, the United States’ House of Representatives made history by voting, for the third time in the country’s history, to impeach the president of the United States. The House introduced two formal articles of impeachment, accusing President Donald J Trump of both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The vote results fell along party lines — with a few notable exceptions. Representatives Jared Golden of Maine, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, and Collin C. Peterson voted “no” on one or both of the articles.

And then there was Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

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Representative Gabbard, who is theoretically running for president on the Democratic Party primary ticket (national polling has her below 5 per cent), voted “present” on both articles, failing to side with either the Republicans, who oppose impeachment, or with the members of her own party, who support it.

“I could not in good conscience vote either yes or no,” Representative Gabbard said in a statement this morning of her decision to embrace centrism. Instead, her conscience apparently told her to pick no side whatsoever.

Let me be clear: a vote against the articles of impeachment would have been despicable for a Democrat, and it was despicable for the three Democrats who, concerned about their standing in swing districts, chose to break with their party and, apparently, their morals. But Representative Gabbard’s vote of “present” was far worse than the political posturing demonstrated by those three other representatives, because it was so desperate. Her vote of “present” was a slipshod attempt to ally with centrist voters. And it didn’t work.

The problem is this: Gabbard’s vote of “present” was, in essence, a non-vote, an abject refusal to acknowledge the grave sins committed by this president and, also, a cowardly way of avoiding true defection of the party. Her move was political rather than moral, during a time when 65,000,000 of us who don’t feel represented by this president or his malevolent administration need members to speak truth to power. It’s hard to think that anything could plumb depths lower than the Republican defense of President Trump, but, somehow, Tulsi Gabbard managed it. Her vote indicated that she doesn’t care about truth or transparency in Washington. She cares about making a point, however ill-conceived that point happens to be.

Supporters of Representative Gabbard who hope to see her in the White House someday have always pointed to her as an iconoclast who makes decisions based on right and wrong rather than on popular opinion. That’s why they defend, for instance, her clandestine meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, or her Twitter takedown of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But what is courageous, or moral, about failing to form an opinion on one of the most important political matters facing the current American condition? What courage does a neutral actor exhibit, when things in the world are deeply wrong?

The case against President Trump has been laid out carefully and systematically by members of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats have pointed out that the lawlessness promoted by the president and his cohorts is antithetical to the values held dear in a democracy. Even Republicans have developed their own (admittedly flawed) set of arguments, opining about process and the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors pursuant to the president’s behavior.  

Everybody with a pulse, it seems, has an opinion about impeachment. Everybody, that is, except for the gentlelady from Hawaii.

Failing to take a position on impeachment represents great cowardice at work. Representative Gabbard may believe that she is placating dueling forces by avoiding the fray. Instead, she is showing herself to be a woman without a moral compass. How could anyone reasonably expect a candidate for highest position in the country to have no opinion at all about such consequential political dealings?

Whether or not she realizes it, one word — present — will be Tulsi Gabbard’s undoing. She made no great point about the American politic by withholding opinion. She neither aligned herself with her party nor with the opposition. Instead, she placed herself in a sort of no-man’s-land, where people paralyzed by fear of public opinion languish, and then fade from consciousness.

The only reasonable thing one can take away from Tulsi Gabbard’s vote is that she was too scared to choose a side. That demonstrated weakness disqualifies Representative Gabbard from the presidency, if not from public office altogether.