Fear Itself

Following up this morning’s post on impeachment: I admit at times I’ve been ambivalent about the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. This is not because I don’t think they deserve it. It was not necessarily because I thought it politically risky for the Democrats. The biggest reason is that if it were done and did not result in conviction and removal from office, then it were better not done. Because that would amount to exoneration. Conviction and removal require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, not just a simple majority, so unless some Republicans vote to convict it ain’t gonna happen.

But I feel the time to act has arrived, especially regarding Mr. Cheney.

As I wrote in comment #4 to this morning’s post, my primary concern is restoration of the balance of power and the integrity of the Constitution. This is the goal from which all other goals — including withdrawal from Iraq — flow. I don’t think in terms of what Bush and Cheney “deserve” — I leave such things to the law and karma — nor do I much care if they are punished for the mess they’ve made of America. What’s important to me is to make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that they are wrong. They are wrong about executive power, about the role of government, about the justice system, and about pretty much everything having to do with the Constitution and the civil liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.

What’s important to me is that we send a clear signal to posterity that this will not happen again.

Remarkably, a blogger who fancies himself a libertarian linked to the morning post with the comment, “Yup … there’s no wrath like that directed at those who don’t toe the Netroots line.”

Here’s the Netroots line. It begins “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” and ends (currently) with “Amendment XXVII: No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

And make no mistake, m’dears — this is what is on the line. It’s not about partisan squabbles, or who’s going to win the next election. It’s about preserving what has been the bleeping political foundation of our nation throughout its history. If you don’t see that, “libertarian,” open your eyes.

There is more than a whiff of abuse of power and criminal activity surrounding this administration. Particularly after the recent revelations about Dick Cheney, I’d say the White House stinks out loud these days. Even conservatives are putting together damn strong articles for impeaching Dick the Dick. See also “The Misunderestimated Mr. Cheney: The Vice President’s Record of Willfully Violating the Law, And Wrongly Claiming Authority to Do So” by John Dean.

Yesterday some bloggers had a conference call with Nancy Pelosi. There’s an account of this at Scholars and Rogues:

Pelosi’s argument against impeachment was, simply, that it wouldn’t be worth expending the political capital and effort to push the process forward. If the situation had been Bush coming in as a new president, she said, things might have been different, but with less than two years left on his watch and his record as a miserable failure etched in stone , the stronger weapon was oversight. Pelosi specifically mentioned the subpoena power that, she said, is making the Dem Congress “Bush’s worst nightmare.”

Essentially, Pelosi argued that we need to push forward and get a Dem in the White House in 2008 to really start enacting serious change, noting that even with majorities in both Houses, the Dems’ power could not overcome the 60 Senate votes needed to beat a Bush veto, and that the courts would be particularly unfriendly to Democratic moves for criminal investigations unless they substantially “built the cases” for each move. “Let the process play out,” she said. “Oversight isn’t political, it’s patriotic.”

I’d say sometimes impeachment isn’t political, either. Sometimes avoiding the hard issues by letting the clock run out is not patriotic.

If you owned a retail store and you saw pickpockets stuffing your merchandise into their coats, would you choose not to call the cops because it’s half an hour to closing time?

Captain Ed — who always has our best interests at heart, you know — writes,

Obama has this correct, not just legally but also strategically. First, although many people like to claim that impeachment is a political tool, the Constitution makes it clear that the remedy should only apply to actual criminal conduct. “High crimes and misdemeanors” makes it plain that the founders didn’t want a Parliament that removed an executive for a simple loss of confidence, but an independent executive whose election should only be nullified for actual and provable criminal conduct.

Exactly. As I said, it’s time.

Strategically, it’s difficult to understand why anyone still argues for impeachment — but the fact that Obama has to address this shows they do. George Bush and Dick Cheney have 18 months left in office, and sixteen until the next election. Even if the Democrats started impeachment now, it would probably take that long to gather enough evidence for a win in the House, let alone the two-thirds in the Senate needed for removal, which would be the entire point.

Protecting the Constitution is the point, so even if conviction were voted on the day before the 2009 Inauguration, it would be worth it.

Regarding time — for comparison’s sake — the Senate Watergate Committee began its nationally televised hearings on May 18, 1973, and the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment, charging obstruction of justice, on July 27, 1974. But the committee investigations into the Bush Administration are ongoing already, and much depends on whether the Bush White House gets away with ignoring subpoenas. That’s the real holdup. Once evidence of criminal activity is in hand, impeachment itself doesn’t take that long.

They would risk a huge backlash from moderates and centrists who would see this as a stunt, much the same way the Republicans did in 1998 — only this time, it would come in a presidential election cycle instead of the midterms. It might be the one event that could restore George Bush’s flagging approval ratings, and it would be political suicide for a Democratic Congress that has done nothing in its first six months.

Oh, I don’t think so. Impeaching Bill Clinton was a stunt, and everyone but the wingnuts themselves recognized that. Which is why the impeachment stunt backfired backlashed nastily (although not fatally) against congressional Republicans.

But if you’re old enough to remember the Nixon episode, you know things can take a very different turn when the issues are serious. Remember, Nixon was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history on November 7, 1972. By the time he resigned less than two years later, the nation was content to see him go, and the members of the House and Senate committees that investigated him were rock stars. Senate committee chair Sam Ervin became so popular he went on to a second career making television commercials. On the House committee, Rep. Barbara Jordan was a standout, but the entire judiciary committee, both Republicans and Democrats, clearly were trying to do due diligence for the Constitution. On the whole, the nation recognized how serious this matter was and respected Congress for what it did.

Compare/contrast to the slobbering smarminess exhibited by Republicans in the Clinton impeachment process.

And Democrats reaped rewards in the 1974 midterms, picking up 49 seats in the House and 5 in the Senate. So many new Democrats elected to Congress they were called “Watergate babies.”

John Dean, who would know, says the current White House is worse than Watergate. On the other hand, news media of the time hadn’t been taken over by a Right Wing Echo Chamber that distorts nearly everything the public hears. Doing the right thing is riskier now than it was in 1974, unfortunately.

But how things are done are enormously important. If the impeachment process is handled with seriousness and dignity instead of bellicosity, and if the focus is kept on the importance of protecting the integrity of the Constitution, I think the public can handle it. On the other hand, if we go into this thinking “these people screwed up America and we’re going to make them pay,” that’s a problem. As tempting as it is, don’t go there.

One other point — waiting until after 2008 to find out what the Bushies are up to may sound grand now, but by then the public may not be in the mood for it. They might very well want to forget they ever heard of Bush and Cheney. And a new Democratic administration will have other things on its plate. Now is the time.

Along these lines — I took a look at the articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney filed by Dennis Kucinich a couple of months ago. (Go here and search for H. Res. 333.) I’m not impressed. “He’s sneaky and got us into Iraq,” while true, is far from the strongest case that can be made, seems to me. I wonder if Kucinich is serious or just likes to file articles of impeachment from time to time to get his name in the papers.

I believe the better model would be based on John Dean’s suggestions — he overstepped his office, committed crimes, and violated the Constitution.

30 thoughts on “Fear Itself

  1. You are thinking in terms of restorative justice rather than retributive justice. Retribution has the possibility of locking us in a cycle of tit-for-tat. Restoration (restoring the balance of powers and the Constitution) can hopefully get us to a healthy equilibrium.

  2. I’m not as down on Pelosi as many in the blogosphere, but I have to say, Nancy, we’ve ridden the subpoena horse about as far as it will take us. If we are ever going to know what’s really been going on in the White House, impeachments are the only way.

  3. I wrote up something (here) about the WaPo articles I haven’t seen touched on before – namely, that the articles have stuff in their to make everyone hate Cheney – left, right and center.

    I think it’s fairly likely Cheney will be gone this summer. Could be a power struggle in the WH. Or Cheney went to far with his 4th branch stuff. Most obvious is that resignation, search, confirmation takes a lot of time and energy away from investigation or impeachment.

    The warrantless wiretap issue is a criminal investigation (since it’s contrary to FISA), so I think that’s the hot one for possible impeachment.

  4. even if conviction were voted on the day before the 2009 Inauguration, it would be worth it.

    My question is, in what universe would this occur? I respect your distinction between setting precedent and justice in the abstract, but since it won;t happen, it’s all in the abstract. The intensity of our desire to see Cheney in prison doesn’t mean it will happen.

    And the generation-long/permanent disintegration of the GOP would be a pretty strong disincentive to recommit the current admin’s offenses, I think, with or without impeachment. Agreed?

  5. More to the point, acknowledge the weaknesses of this case! Cheney is not going to be impeached for defying an executive order, merely for lack of an exemption that he could have all but granted himself anyway.

    Nor is his contempt for the Presidential Records Act likely to get the public riled up in and of itself, let alone swing the GOP votes needed.

    As to Geneva, did he defy it? Yes – but he lawyered up when doing so, and will have a host of legal opinions like Yoo’s to rely upon in his defense – these were mere “interpretations” of existing law, made in “good faith”. He will argue that these effectively wash his hands of ultimate responsibility – and that is indeed what legal opinions generally do (like it or not).

    From a defense perspective, if you can muddy the waters, you win, and if you win, it’s akin to an innocent verdict. Cheney has been way more careful than Nixon ever was, and he has got away with more.

    Similarly, there is no smoking gun on the misinformation in 2002-03. They got Tenet’s OK to point to. They got intel, however questionable, to point to. We will not convict them for cherry-picking or for dismissing dissenters within the admin, however undemocratic these actions were.

    The Dems cannot afford to be blind to the prosecution’s many weaknesses, or the enormity of the gamble. Dean’s Findlaw article is most noteworthy for the lightness of the charges. It is pure folly to assume that Cheney is another Nixon. He is far more protected, and he could indeed have the last laugh in an impeachment proceeding. Think about that when you talk about “restorative justice” (or any flavor of “justice”).

  6. biwah — Fine, you vote for giving up and letting the Constitution get flushed down the toilet, because Cheney is too smart and too mean and has wrapped himself in all manner of extra-constitutional legalisms so that Congress can’t touch him.

    But that’s the very reason impeachment is necessary. Don’t you get it?

    The case against Cheney is only weak now because the hard evidence is (we assume) being withheld behind “executive privilege.” The danger to the Constitution and the balance of power is, however, greater now than during the Watergate scandal. Nixon was a piker compared to these guys.

    And if you could read with more discernment, you might notice I didn’t claim Cheney was Nixon. I’m saying impeachment could be handled in a way that would not be politically damaging to the Dems. That’s entirely different.

    If you think the case in Dean’s findlaw article is “light,” then you are either an idiot, or a troll, or both. Good bye.

  7. Warrantless wiretapping is on it’s face illegal under FISA. So that is automatically a criminal investigation. They cannot use Executive Privilege (though I’m sure they’ll try).

    Turley makes the point that this is the best and shortest path to impeachment.

  8. cheney’s approval rating is so low they pollsters will not release it. My best guess it is in the single digits.
    cheney has yet to defend himself or clear up this claim that he is the 4th branch of government. The dems have allowed cheney to send out one of his trained dogs to explain and reexplain his position. Not acceptible. Dems are acting like they are affaid of that sick old man.
    Question….I did not watch the debate last night…were there any questions about cheney. If not, proof the dems are punks.

  9. Do we approach all possible criminal cases this way? Well, getting a conviction is iffy so let’s forget it? If anything, Mr. Cheney deserves his day in court, just like any other suspected criminal.

    Cheney seems to believe that he is above the law. If we give him a free ride, he is.

  10. Agree that the two main risks/problems are 1) getting the evidence and 2) conducting it with decorum, for the right reasons, and ensuring it doesn’t turn into a retributive circus. Both are pretty serious obstacles in my view, but not showstoppers.

    It’s encouraging to me that we seemed to have crossed a tipping point recently, probably because of the series in the WaPo. More and more conservatives are finding hard to deny the obvious. Even though there are some very high minded reasons to impeach, and this is what the leaders of the procedings had better focus on, I am certain that many Republicans will finding it enticing to get on this bandwagon simply to purge their party and themselves of this awful stain.

  11. I’d like to see the strategy aimed at getting Republican Senators to go to the White House and ask Cheney to resign. This is what they did with Nixon.
    Perhaps an internet campaign could get it started with:
    Trent Lott loves Cheney!
    Mitch McConnell loves Cheney
    John McCain loves Cheney!
    Fred Thompson love Cheney!
    etc. etc.

  12. Impeaching a President for misrepresenting having a girlfriend, while NOT impeaching a President and Vice President for high crimes and misdemeanors would be despicable.

    Or do we all, like Bush and Cheney, have such contempt for the rule of law that we do nothing when it’s been violated?

  13. Maha,
    While agree with you, today’s MSM is too far gone. It would try to link this impeachment not to Nixon’s, but to Clinton’s. How? I don’t know. How do you compare a BJ to War Criminal’s is beyond me. But, FOX will find a way. And the other’s will echo, echo, echo…
    I say, impeach anyway. If you can’t make the American people understand that it’s in their best interest, if we’re that stupid, we deserve what we’ll get: Rampant Corporatist Fascism. We’re just about there already.
    We need to do all we can to stop this and take our country back. Impeachment is the first step. Let’s not be afraid of impeachment. Let’s be afraid of what will ensue if we don’t.

  14. Ooops! I forgot to mention another consequence – Dominionism!

    Sleep tight…

  15. Cheney’s poll ratings have got to be somewhere between radioactive waste and port-a-potty smell……….

  16. Many thanks for the clarification, both in your comment and in this post. As both a newcomer and a mere dabbler in your blog, it was not clear from the content of the previous post what your motivation for impeachment was, and it is interesting to see this elucidated.

    The goal of constitutional restitution is a much tougher battle than the withdrawal of troops. I believe it would be wiser at this time to focus on the latter objective, for which a consensus and method of resolution are both plausibly attainable.

    This is not to suggest I do not value your purpose – I most surely do – but I’m attempting to give you some outside perspective here.

    You will struggle to fix the damage to constitutional integrity by application of partisan politics, I’m afraid. Attempts to intervene to restore the balance while troops are abroad will result in resistance since when people are anxious about the lives of their family members, they cannot see the bigger political picture. This is only human, and to expect otherwise is to ask too much. (That politicians abuse this is a larger problem we must work upon in a different time scale…)

    Post-Iraq, it will become far easier to repair the damage – although make no mistake, it will be an uphill struggle. The US has perhaps forever lost its albeit shaky claim to moral high ground in the wake of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. This would have been the saddest legacy of Bush administration, had Hurricane Katrina not provided more immediate horror on the very doorsteps of the electorate.

    Fortunately, there appears to be sufficient political momentum to swing the other way, but the mechanics of how this will be done remains uncertain. I still believe Obama represents an ally in your ultimate goal (irrespective of his bid for presidency), whatever political necessity may dictate in the short term, but we wouldn’t have freedom of thought if we couldn’t shoulder our many different perspectives alongside one another.

    Thanks once again, and good luck!

  17. The goal of constitutional restitution is a much tougher battle than the withdrawal of troops. I believe it would be wiser at this time to focus on the latter objective, for which a consensus and method of resolution are both plausibly attainable.

    They are of a piece, however, not two separate issues. The Iraq issue is not just about the military action in Iraq. It’s also about a President who has decided the title “commander in chief” gives him exclusive control over the military without congressional oversight. An important part of the solution to Iraq is restoring Congress’s rightful, constitutional war powers and its ability to oversee the executive branch. I don’t see any other way to lawfully resolve our Iraq problem without restoring the balance of powers.

    You will struggle to fix the damage to constitutional integrity by application of partisan politics, I’m afraid.

    I have no idea what you mean by that. “Partisan politics” in media these days refers to “any time anyone disagrees with Republicans.” But the remedy to our current illness requires that at least some Republicans come over to our side and join the Dems in repairing the damage. It cannot happen otherwise.

    Attempts to intervene to restore the balance while troops are abroad will result in resistance since when people are anxious about the lives of their family members, they cannot see the bigger political picture.

    I think the American people already are seeing the “bigger picture” better than you do. And may I say you are starting to sound like a concern troll.

  18. I feel strongly, after experiencing Bush/Cheney’s determination to subvert the Constitution by any and all means possible, that impeachment, of Cheney at least, is the only way forward. Like-minded individuals will have taken note, and just as Cheney has bided his time accruing power and establishing his networks, others will build off his foundation. I believe that the only way to “send a clear signal to (his )posterity that this will not happen again” is to make sure that it stops, NOW. That it will not continue to happen for even another day. We bear an awful burden – the lives of the American troops that were taken away or changed dreadfully by the lies and manipulations of this administration. We, the American people and our elected representatives, owe it to the men and women who volunteered in good faith to defend our country and Constitution to atone for their betrayal by the President and Vice President of the United States. The founders of this Republic gave us the tools and the mandate to do so. Bush and Cheney have made the choices that have brought us to this point in our history. They have stymied and stonewalled and obscured the truth and blocked any possibility of obtaining it other than by the investigations that impeachment hearings would provide. They have made their choice. I think we are honor bound to proceed with impeachment.

  19. Such intense, baseless fantasizing.

    What’s important to me is to make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that they are wrong.

    No, what’s important to you is some external verification that YOU are right. This isn’t about Cheney. He’s done nothing other than piss you off by contradicting your worldview. It’s all about you, because to you all of these fantasy crimes and conspiracies of e v i l are more plausible to you than the possibility that YOU are (gasp) simply wrong in your ideation of cause and effect and the way the world works.


  20. Peter — you’re projecting, dear. The Constitution is being flushed down the toilet, and you think I’m just in this fight for the ego gratification? You must be a wingnut. People like you are killing America.

  21. Not ego gratification, ego preservation. You’ve got your ego invested in your worldview making it no longer psychologically possible for you to be wrong about anything.

    People like you are killing America.

    Exactly. I have to be, right? Because if it’s not true and I’m just another decent person, then you would be wrong. And that’s not possible, is it?

    What your ego doesn’t want you to understand is that the world and our ideas about the world are two separate, independent things, so any of us could always be wrong about anything, or even everything.

    But then again, I could be completely wrong. =8^)

    I hope your hatred doesn’t devour you completely.


  22. Peter —

    What your ego doesn’t want you to understand is that the world and our ideas about the world are two separate, independent things, so any of us could always be wrong about anything, or even everything.

    It’s interesting you would say that.. This actually dovetails nicely with my sermon for today, “The Wisdom of Doubt, Part IV.” It’s a series. This morning’s topic is on the nature of fanaticism and ego attachment.

    It is true that generally our ideas and reality are two separate things. Most people walk through life like that. As a Zen student, I am more than aware of the delusion/reality thing. However, that does not translate into “my reality is just as valid as your reality.” There is objective reality and absolute reality and places where opinions crumble away in the face of empiricism.

    You have made assumptions about me based on your prejudices. Yet you do not address the serious nature of the challenges we face; you just insult me. This tells me that what I said bumped into your ego, so look to yourself.

    Are you not alarmed at the Bush Administration’s “unitary executive” theory, the gross violations of the constitutional balance of powers, the erosion of habeas corpus, and the extremes the Bush Administration goes to to avoid oversight, among other things? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need serious educating. If you do know what I’m talking about, then explain to us how you want these issues to be addressed. If you want to make an argument that impeachment is not the appropriate way to do this, then by all means go ahead and tell us what you think. If you can make a reasoned argument based on facts I’m perfectly willing to consider it.

    But don’t come here and throw temper tantrums, OK? I’m too old and tired to deal with children any more. Further content-less comments from you will be deleted.

    And I repeat, people like you who make knee-jerk defenses of the Bush Administration are killing America. Wake up.

  23. “Oh, I don’t think so. Impeaching Bill Clinton was a stunt…”

    So some crimes are okay, others not?

  24. Anon — some crimes rise to the level of impeachable offense because they are abuses of power and the Constitution. Others don’t.

  25. Captain Ed is wrong about the criminality aspect of impeachment.

    The House Judiciary committee explicity addressed criminality in their report on impeachment and its history in February 1974


    State and federal criminal laws are not written in order to preserve the nation against serious abuse of the presidential office. But this is the purpose of the consitutional [sic] provision for the impeachment of a President and that purpose gives meaning to “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

    The nation can’t have laws to cover every possible way in which a president might misuse (or fail to use) their power. Even the Founders knew that. That’s why there is an impeachment process.

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