Steven Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers describes a groundswell of support for impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
More than 70 cities and 14 state Democratic parties have urged impeachment or investigations that could lead to impeachment. The most common charge is that Bush manipulated intelligence to lead the country into the Iraq war. Other charges include spying on Americans and torturing suspected terrorists in violation of U.S. and international law.
Most recently, the Massachusetts Democratic Party voted to push impeachment of both men. The 2,500 state convention delegates voted almost unanimously against Cheney; the vote against Bush was closer.
Massachusetts’ Democratic Party thus joined 13 others on the investigate-or-impeach bandwagon, including: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
Among the cities and towns, the largest and most recent is Detroit, where the city council voted 7-0 this month to urge Congress to impeach Bush and Cheney for “intentionally misleading Congress and the public regarding the threat from Iraq in order to justify the war.”
“There’s a lot growing in support,” said Tim Carpenter, the director of the liberal group Progressive Democrats of America. “Whether Congress will respond, that’s another question.”
Thomma goes on to describe three reasons Dems in Congress are dragging their feet. IMO these three reasons are bad reasons.
The first is that they haven’t yet found that Bush/Cheney have committed an impeachable offense. Oh, puh-LEEZE. We have a broad selection of impeachable offenses to choose from.
The second is that Dems fear a political backlash, the way Republicans were “punished” in public opinion polls (but not, notice, at the voting booth) after they’d impeached Bill Clinton. I don’t think this excuse is applicable, either. I believe most of the public by 1998 had grown heartily sick of the Republicans’ perpetual investigations of Clinton’s every twitch and the hysterical frenzy with which they repeatedly attacked Clinton for so much as breathing. Piranha politics can be effective when people are looking for excuses to dislike a president, but not so much when the guy is charming and doing a reasonably satisfactory job.
The third reason:
The third is that they’re eager to keep Bush and Cheney around as punching bags for Democratic candidates in the 2008 campaign.
“The political lens they’re looking through is the 2008 election,” Carpenter said. “They want to see Bush and Cheney dangling so the election is a referendum on them. That is not the correct lens.”
I think it’s possible impeachment hearings might actually help the Dems and make them look stronger and more principled in contrast to the GOP snivelers who will (probably) still make excuses for Bush. The 1973-74 Watergate investigations and hearings in the Senate and House certainly didn’t hurt Dems in the 1974 midterms (Dems picked up 49 seats). Several previously obscure Dems became stars; Barbara Jordan is one example.
Whether impeachment hearings would reflect well or badly on the Dems might depend on how they went about it. As much as possible I’d want them to frame impeachment as an act of due diligence to protect the Constitution, not as a way to punish Bush and Cheney for being bad. Take a look at Barbara Jordan’s opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee:
I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. …
… We know the nature of impeachment. We have been talking about it awhile now. “It is chiefly designed for the president and his high ministers” to somehow be called into account. It is designed to “bridle” the executive if he engages in excesses. “It is designed as a method of national inquest into the public men.” (Hamilton, Federalist, no. 65.) The framers confined in the congress the power if needbe, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the executive. The nature of impeachment is a narrowly channeled exception to the separation-of-powers maxim; the federal convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term “maladministration.” “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: “We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the others.”…
… The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that “nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can.”
Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for insurance, campaign finance reform, housing, environmental protection, energy sufficiency, mass transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we are not being petty. We are trying to be big because the task we have before us is a big one.
We must not be petty. Or smarmy. Or hysterical. We must be measured and solemn and undertake this act only when the acts of the Executive are potentially injurious to the Constitution itself. The charges against Bill Clinton didn’t come within ten miles of those criteria. I think most of the nation understood that the articles of impeachment brought against Clinton were petty, and part of a partisan war being waged by the Right. The lynch mob hysteria exhibited by Republicans in 1998 in no way resembled the gravity and solemnity with which Congress approached impeachment in 1974.
There’s a fourth reason not listed in Steven Thomma’s article, and that reason should be considered very carefully.
As you probably remember, articles of impeachment — essentially accusations against the President — must originate in the House. I believe such articles need only a simple majority to pass. Once impeached, a president is tried in the Senate. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote.
What happens if Bush is impeached, tried … and not convicted? Wouldn’t he then be exonerated? Wouldn’t impeachment then be rendered into an empty gesture?
At the moment there is no way two-thirds of the Senate would convict Bush. That might change after public hearings. But the burden of proof is huge. It’s not enough to prove that Bush did something unethical or even broke a law. Instead, it must be shown without doubt that Bush’s conduct in office has rendered serious damage to the Constitution and our system of government itself, and that the survival of our Republic depends on making it clear to all future presidents that this will not stand.
I think that case can be made. But if there’s any doubt, then I’d have to reluctantly agree that impeachment may not be the best move.