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Impeachment in Seven Reasons
By Stirling Newberry, dailykos.com
Kos has said that impeachment talk is silly. With all due respect, it is deadly serious and completely necessary. The constellation of impeachment is rising.
First let me set the terms of debate. No President has ever been removed through conviction in the Senate. Only one has come close, and he almost had to side with the defeated South after a bloody war. No, no one seriously expects Bush to be removed. For the same reason, talk of "President Cheney" is also irrelevant, because Bush isn't going to resign. He won't even listen to people who contradict him on small matters, let alone large ones. Resignation is not in the cards for King George.
Thus "impeachment" means that, "impeachment" and not "conviction and removal". Since removal is not going to happen, the question of what "President Cheney" would do is irrelevant. More over, governorships are not comparable, because governors can be reached through normal mechanisms of law. McGreevey and Rowland resigned, because the alternative included trial by jury.
Second, there will be no formal moves towards impeachement unless and until there is a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. This means that impeachment, for the next year at least, will be about pressure for impeachment, and not the question of whether to vote on the Senate floor.
Finally, the Cheney question may well be answered before the election. Cheney, unlike Bush, can be indicted and tried as an ordinary criminal. And that is closing in around him because of the Plame investigation, just as Agnew was targetted at the point in time when Nixon began to seem vulnerable, the powers that be are looking in to cancelling Bush's impeachment insurance. That would mean a Vice-President, though selected by Bush, which would have to be voted on by a majority of both houses of Congress. If before the elections, the Republicans would have to put their seal of approval on whoever Bush selects, and thus tie them even more firmly to Bush electorally. [A commenter has noted, correctly, that impeachment could only occur with a Speaker Pelosi and therefore, taking the hypothetical that impeachment opponents use of a removal of Bush and Cheney, it is not Hastert the Unspeakerable who will be President, but the first woman chief executive in American history. Almost impossible, but once we go through the looking glass, we might as well play the game by the rules.]
Here are the reasons for pushing impeachment:
I. Impeachment as a tool of realignment
Impeachment is a tool by which the country calls to account a head strong executive. There have been four Presidents who had impeachment articles referred to the floor: Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, William Jefferson Clinton. There have been five other Presidents who had impeachment articles filed against them: Cleveland, Hoover, Truman, Reagan, Bush Sr.
Of these 9:
8 times the opposite party won the next Presidential election - only Reagan was the exception.
7 times the party pushing impeachment retained control of Congress - Tyler, which was a Whig civil war, and Truman were the only exceptions.
If "realignment" is ones goal, then the historical record indicates that a serious attempt to impeach is part of the means by which elected members of congress affirm their complete and utter disgust for the executive. Rightly or wrongly, they are putting political symbolism behind the country's anger.
II. Impeachment as a tool to restrain an executive
The other result of impeachment is that almost all other business comes to a stop. Faced with an executive set on acting against Congress - again, rightly or wrongly - Congress has the ability to stop the national debate, and focus it on the question of the chief executive's fitness for office. For those who fear an invasion of Syria, for those who see Bush as being willing to gamble on desperate connivance to maintain his Presidency and power, impeachment is a means by which Congress levels the power of investigation at an executive.
III. Impeachment as a means of removing legitimacy.
Impeachment has another important function, it is the means by which America tells the rest of the world that we reject George Walker Bush and his actions. This is essential for restoring America's credibility with other nations, particularly our allies in Europe. American actions in Iraq were illegal, impeachment is a mechanism for demonstrating to the world that America can be relied upon not to elect another Bush when the political winds of fortune shift. Merely turning his political heirs out in an election is not sufficient. Mentioning Johnson and Carter fails - because Johnson and Carter were both personally repudiated by the electoral process. Johnson after losing in New Hampshire, and Carter at the short end of an electoral landslide.
IV. Impeachment as means of exposing weakness
Impeachment is something that a large fraction of the country wants. In a recent commissioned poll 53% said that "Congress should hold Bush accountable through impeachment if he lied to take us to Iraq." And in a separate poll, more than 50% said that he did lie to take us into Iraq. This means that impeachment is the plurality position in the country, and it has been growing steadily. It is not the economic fundamentals that are undermining Bush as much as the perception that he cannot be relied upon.
This is the "Carter test", an executive can be re-elected in bad economic times if he personally seems to have a plan and be in charge. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan all faced less than ideal reelection economic environments, but all had a plan, and thus were given credit for success. Truman was reelected, in fact, just as a recession was starting. Bush is an economic failure, and impeachment will highlight that he cannot be trusted.
V. Impeachment as a means of setting right the Democratic Party
Most importantly is a point raised by Bush himself: to run impeachment the Democratic Party will have to do what Senator John Edwards did - namely, admit that Iraq was a mistake, take responsibility, and put forward leadership on Iraq. They will have to not only impeach Bush, but they will have to admit their own errors, and set forward an alternate policy.
VI. Impeachment as agenda.
In the wake of Tyler, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton impeachments the impeachment formed the basis for a political consensus as to what the agenda should be. With Tyler it was a move to restrain the executive branch and push outwards rather than inwards. With Johnson it was reconstruction and the post-war amendments, with Nixon it was opening government, including campaign finance reform, reform of Congress, the war powers act and other forms of restraining the Imperial Presidency. With Clinton it was seen as the basis for a rejection of executive managment of the economy. In each case the next chief executive won by running against the impeached executive.
Whether one agrees with those past agendas or not, it is clear that impeachment has been used, over and over again, to set the terms of debate.
VII. Impeachment as the basis for a campaign.
The Democratic Party has been using the language of impeachment. Reid has repeated "abuse of power", which is the very definition of what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors". The need to investigate Bush, that is, with sub peonas power, is a basic campaign theme for getting people to vote against their incumbent Republican law maker and instead for a Democratic majority. To investigate requires a majority in one house, particularly the House of Representatives.
If impeachment is the back drop that surrogates take, then it gives the elected party the cover to push for investigation. Impeachment creates the Democrats as a party of principle, rather than a party of careerism and opportunism. Because the country feels that impeachment is right, and those who disagree will at least see it as a principled stand, it takes back that important language of moral fortitude that a governing party must have.