Let's consider an alternative constitutional structure. The president is selected not by the mass of voters but by the House of Representatives from one of its members, with the approval of a majority of the Senate. The House can remove the president whenever the members wish, whether for crimes or just because they think he is not doing a good job. There is no vice president - a new president is chosen from another member of the House.
Members of the House of Representatives in turn would not be elected directly by voters, but from district councils, which in turn are elected by lower-level councils, and so on down to local neighborhood councils (see my editorial, "Democracy Needs Reforming," October 1997, in the Progress Report archive). Each lower- level council elects a representative and an alternate to the next higher-level council, recallable at any time.
The British parliamentary system does not have an impeachment problem. The head of state is the queen or king, while the head of the government is the prime minister. The prime minister can be removed by his party or by parliament. The resignation of the prime minister is not a national crisis. In the reform I am proposing, which I call "communitarian democracy," the president would still be both the head of state and the head of the government, but since he would not be elected by the people and not serve a fixed term, his removal would be a serious matter but not a national trauma.
The other aspect of why impeachment is such a national problem is the great power of the presidency. Another part of the remedy is therefore to reduce the scope of federal activity. Many of the functions that have become centralized in the national government, such as education, housing subsidies, and welfare, should be decentralized to the states.
Also, if we had a sound free-market economy with commodity-based money and benefit-based public finance, the economy would run itself just fine. Currently, with the welfare state, socialized money, and arbitrary taxation, the president is thought to "run" the economy, and polls constantly gauge whether the president is "doing a good job" with the economy. The economy should not depend on the abilities of one or two men, whether the president or chairman of the central bank. In actuality, the economic condition of the past few years has had rather little to do with the president's policies, except that the current global financial crisis may have been prevented if the president understood economics and used his position to push true free-market policies rather than real-estate and financial bubbles.
It is a troubling indictment of the American culture that the current talk of impeachment centers on alleged falsehoods and obstruction of justice related to his sexual peccadillos and infidelity and not also the state murders at Waco, the mass violations of civil liberties, confiscations using civil asset forfeiture, sitting by while millions die in famines and mass slaughter, and the failure to pursue sound economic policy.
The president of the United States just has too much power, and is too much like an emperor. The basic problem is not the current occupant of the White House, but the whole constitutional structure that results in the current mess. We went through another national trauma with president Nixon 25 years ago. There will be other presidential crises until we reduce the job to a human scale, a national leader with limited power and accountable to a small group of electors, the House of Representatives. In being removable at the will of the House, the president would also be much more careful not to do anything illegal or embarrassing.