Events undergo a kind of gestation process. What they appear to be the day they occur is almost never what they grow up over time to become.
What got me thinking about that is impeachment.
A few months ago, when a few voices on the far left first uttered the “I” word in relation to Dick Cheney and George Bush, I was turned off by the idea. Then I started to wonder why I felt that way. After all, if any two public officials in American history ever earned a thorough impeaching it's those two. Yet the idea of actually kicking that process into action produced a sinking, sickish feeling deep within.
Then it dawned on me — Republicans had “removed” impeachment from the arsenal that made Congress a co-equal branch of government. They didn't do that on purpose, but by accident — a fortunate accident for them, as we now see.
As I said above, events often mature into something else, and that's precisely what happened to the publics feeling about the impeachment process. When mad-dog Republicans misused impeachment during their anti-Clinton feeding frenzy, the public — the sane majority anyway — was turned off by it. They saw it more for what is was — a legislative coup attempt by Republicans against a Democratic president, rather than the legitimate use of Congressional power.
It was also viewed as a monumental waste of time, taxpayer money and critically needed legislative bandwidth.
Over time that impression gestated into a deep national ambivalence, bordering on disgust, with the impeachment process. It's now almost a knee-jerk response when someone demands impeachment. You can almost hear a national moan:
“Oh no. Please, no. Don't take us down that road again! Please.”
So there you have it. With their unjust, frivolous, mean spirited, wolf-pack-like pursuit of Bill Clinton the GOP inadvertently inoculated its own top officials from the threat of impeachment today, even when so richly deserved.
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While I now understand that, the idea of impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney still didn't feel good, but it did seem thinkable. I still don't have a good feeling about impeachment. Not because I remain “traumatized” by the Clinton impeachment fiasco, but because that's how I think we should always feel about impeaching a sitting President or VP. Impeachment is the ultimate punishment, the constitutional equivalent of a firing squad. Therefore it should be approached accordingly — only when clearly justified, only as the last resort, and only with a sense of judicial solemnity, not partisan glee.
That's where I am now.
What happened to Bill Clinton had nothing to do with the legitimate use of congress' power to impeach. Lying about sex — even under oath — is no reason to unseat the President of a local SPCA, much less the President of the United States. That sorry event reflects, not a flaw in the power to impeach, but a flaw in humans who chose to soil and abuse that power. We must not now compound that mistake by letting it forever place impeachment emotionally and/or politically off limits. To do so would gut the already seriously eroded constitutional separation of powers.
Unlike Bill Clinton's stupid, immature, self-indulgent transgressions, Bush and Cheney have actually committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” — and plenty of each. If a court-like impeachment hearing ever began the process of stripping away the Orwellianisms from the Bush/Cheney list of activities over the last six years impeachment would be — if you'll excuse the expression — a slam dunk.
- What really is what the administration likes to call, “enhanced interrogation techniques?” It's torture.
- What really is wiretapping without a warrant? It's a crime.
- What are “Presidential signing statements,” that nix laws passed by congress and signed into law by the President? They are a violations of the US Constitution which the President swore to uphold.
- What are false statements made to mislead congress into approving war? They are lies — lies to congress — a high crime if ever there was one.
- What is “preemptive war?” A war against another sovereign nation that had not directly threatened the US? It's an international crime — just as President George H. Bush declared when Saddam invaded and occupied Kuwait.
- What is it when five million White House documents (emails) “disappear” just as the administration faces it's first real congressional oversight hearings ever? It's called “contempt of Congress,” and when those missing documents involve an ongoing criminal probe it's called “obstruction of justice,” a felony.
But the question remains, should we? Would impeaching Bush and Cheney be more disruptive than curative? After all, we have only two more years to endure them. So, should we? Should we impeach?
Up until this week I would have said that it was more trouble than it was worth. But, unless the administration begins treating congress with the constitution respect and deference the law requires, especially regarding the war in Iraq, I say yes, impeach.
And so far it does not appear either Bush or Cheney are about to stop acting like they are overseeing a monarchy. Yesterday when the president vetoed the war supplemental with conditions and time lines attached by congress, he said something that indicates he still does not get it.
Ah, earth to George — those are not just “ideas.”
What if Congress had said it. “Of course, we are always interested in any ideas the President has to offer...but..”
Or, what if Congress declared, “We are always interested in any ideas the US Supreme Court has... but...”
Then this morning I read that the White House is backing away from it's agreement to get court approval for warrantless wiretaps. Instead, Bush claims, he as President has the power to approve wiretaps on his own.
Responsible, cool-headed, soft-talking, clear-thinking Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate should get out their impeachment primers, dust off the swearing-in Bible and oil the rusted wheels of Congressional justice. Because I am starting to think we're going to be forced to impeach these two guys.
Because, by all indicators, these two Dukes of Hazard have clearly decided that, rather than change their ways, they are going to try to beat Smoky to the border. They are putting their lawless heels to the metal.
So it's time for Congress to get the spike-strips of impeachment out — first as a warning.
If that doesn't work, then use them. Use them before these two men do any more damage. Use them also as a clear warning to the next administration. be it Democratic or Republican, that if you break the law, regardless of intentions, you will be held to account.
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