The Impeachment Question
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, July 6, 2005; 1:24 PM
More than four in 10 Americans, according to a recent Zogby poll, say that if President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment.
But you wouldn't know it from following the news. Only three mainstream outlets that I can find made even cursory mention of the poll last week when it came out.
You also wouldn't know it judging from the political discourse in Washington, but that makes a little more sense. After all, impeachment is for all practical purposes a political act, not a legal one. So with a Republican-controlled Congress that doesn't even like to perform basic White House oversight, it's basically a moot point.
Nevertheless, could there be anything that 42 percent of Americans agree on that the media care about so little?
The poll results certainly illustrate the intense polarization of the American electorate -- not exactly news.
But they also suggest an appetite for more investigation into Bush's reasons for war and specifically -- in light of the assertions in the Downing Street memos -- whether his public rationales were in fact at all like his private rationales.
One topic for further inquiry, for instance, could be whether in private conversations Bush expressed the same kind of reticence about war that he advertised publicly. Some evidence -- stories like this one in Time, which quotes Bush saying in March 2002: '[Expletive] Saddam. we're taking him out.' -- suggests otherwise.
Was Bush motivated more by personal animosity toward Saddam Hussein than by a post-Sept. 11 desire to protect America from a grave threat? Did he exaggerate that threat? At what point was war inevitable?
Those are not settled questions. And evidently quite a few Americans would like to see some accountability if Bush deceived them.
The impeachment question was part of a Zogby International poll conducted early last week, and released on Thursday.
It found that Bush's job approval ratings had slipped a point from the previous week, to 43 percent.
But the jaw-dropper was that 42 percent said they would favor impeachment proceedings if it is found that the president misled the nation about his reasons for going to war with Iraq.
Zogby noted: "While half (50%) of respondents do not hold this view, supporters of impeachment outweigh opponents in some parts of the country.
"Among those living in the Western states, a 52% majority favors Congress using the impeachment mechanism while just 41% are opposed; in Eastern states, 49% are in favor and 45% opposed. In the South, meanwhile, impeachment is opposed by three-in-five voters (60%) and supported by just one-in-three (34%); in the Central/Great Lakes region, 52% are opposed and 38% in favor."
Pollingreport.com offers the results broken down by party. Among Democrats, 59 percent answered the impeachment question affirmatively -- as well as 25 percent of Republicans.
Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post made the poll results the third item in the paper's Sunday politics column: "Even the pollster couldn't believe his eyes. 'It was much higher than I expected,' John Zogby said of the 42 percent. . . .
"By comparison, in October 1998, as the House moved to impeach President Bill Clinton over the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, a Zogby poll found that 39 percent of voters supported the House action, while 56 percent opposed it. . . .
"Zogby said the hypothetical question 'reveals just how badly divided this country is over the war,' but also that people may be more comfortable with the idea of throwing a president out of office. . . .
"Unlikely that the Republican-led House will begin proceedings anytime soon. But the Web sites are up and running. Impeachcentral.com is running a petition drive. Impeachbush.org is planning a march on Washington in September. Thefourreasons.org site argues that the Iraq invasion was unconstitutional. Afterdowningstreet.org asserts that Bush secretly decided to go to war and to mislead Congress in mid-2002."
In a Washington Times political roundup, John McCaslin also mentioned the poll in an item headlined: "Crying wolf?"
He wrote: "If you believe the latest Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans would favor impeachment proceedings if President Bush is found to have misled the nation about his reasons for going to war in Iraq."
Pollster Zogby himself made it onto Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Thursday night. Olbermann was most taken with the fact that 25 percent of Republicans were willing to consider impeachment.
He asked Zogby: "When do you do the impeachment question again? When are you going bring that up again in a poll?
"ZOGBY: We'll test it periodically. Probably a month from now. Again, no one is really talking about it, but it is a good barometric reading."