Previously, I have dismissed calls for impeachment as impractical (the Republicans control the Congress), unproductive (if successful, Dick Cheney would become president, and if impeached, Tom DeLay would be next in succession) and politically counterproductive (it would be seen at some level as payback over Clinton. People who understand just how deadly serious are the issues of usurpation of power understand that we need to keep impeachment as a credible sword hanging over presidents. Part of that is using it, but never frivolously as was done with Clinton.
But at last, I have changed my mind. I see narrow conditions
under which impeachment might be an effective strategy. Please indulge this lengthy post; I think the patient reader will have his/her reward.
First, what are the proper bases for impeachment? Law professor Marjorie Cohn has argued that the war crimes of George Bush, especially relating to torture, are sufficient
for impeachment.One lengthy analysis focused on deception of Congress and initiating war without congressional assent
; this was compiled by Walter Uhler. John Dean early made the case that lying to Congress over the causes for war was sufficient.
I would disagree with none of these analyses. Impeachment is a political
and act and not the prosecution of a crime per se. In other words, it is not an act of the Courts, in which there is legislation and case law on which to rely. The Constitution grants Congress extraordinarily
broad authority and sometimes, as with Clinton, misuses it. If the Congress chose to impeach George Bush over his choice of sock colors, they would be within their rights. The Constitution does not forbid Congressional folly and, indeed, what force on heaven or earth has ever been able to prevent that? The voters
are supposed to serve as the natural check on that.
If the reader has been gracious enough to stay with me this long, this post has a point. Since impeachment is a political
act, the bases for and schedule of impeachment should be focused on the long-term political
effects, not on the personality of who will hold the presidency. Remember that thirty years on, Watergate is remembered as a burglary. But if it were really a burglary, that would hardly have qualified as a high crime or misdemeanor. What made Watergate an impeachable offense was the use of the FBI, CIA, and IRS to destroy political opponents and seize power. Richard Nixon was attempting to seize dictatorial powers. Yet he succeeded in framing the debate so that even many Democrats think the impeachment was over a burglary. In politics, context (or "framing, as some call it) is critical. We shouldn't need a George Lakoff to instruct us on that.
So: If the people wish to reassert Congressional War Powers, impeachment should be built around that. If the people wish to demand that future presidents be truthful, impeachment should be built around that. If the people want to demand that the United States comply with international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, impeachment should be built around that. If the people want to rebuke the president for infringing on the Bill of Rights, impeachment should be built around that. Other causes can be included in the particulars, but one
cause of impeachment should stand supreme, as the one that the history books will tutor presidents-to-be.
My choice for the primary issue in impeachment would be none of the above. I would choose maladministration of the Department of Defense, notably questions of bribery and corruption, but including malfeasance in administration of the intelligence agencies within the DoD. The use of disinformation by the DoD is another facet of malfeasance.
The reason for this choice is that the war industry has grown far too powerful, such that a good president can barely keep them in check. A bad president has in the defense industry a ready-built lie factory, one with tentacles in the press, in trade organizations, and Congress. The budget is enormous, and can serve as a slush fund to coerce industry. The cloak of secrecy over the national security agencies needs to be withdrawn enough that Congress can do its job of oversight, and so that abuses such as occurred in Cointelpro do not become the norm.
The primary threat to democracy, I would argue, is the accumulation of power in the Military Industrial Complex, just as President Eisenhower warned. Therefore, the primary remedy we should seek is to this accumulation of power, not merely to the president's role in its misuse.
Now, as particulars
in articles of impeachment, I would certainly list violation of the War Powers Act, lying to Congress, use of torture, and so on. But I would frame the issue as one of maladministration of the Department of Defense. The public can readily understand financial corruption, and resents it. That's politically
important. Also, there's a lot of material to work with. Finally, once the magnitude of the corruption is brought out, the motivation for the rest of the lies is apparent.
Finally, when should impeachment be done? It won't be done in this Congress. Democrats must win control of the House to start the process, and to do that, they need to start fielding candidates in difficult districts now
. But should they win the House, or even win both House and Senate, I would suggest that they spend 2007 building the case and then set it aside well before the election. George Bush should be impeached two weeks before his term expires and convicted on the last day of his term. In that manner, the Democrats would prove beyond any doubt that the goal of this was a public rebuke, not grasping at power.
I also believe that this approach would have two effects more important than simply getting rid of George Bush. It would fundamentally change power relations, as mentioned. It would also lead to a national examination of corruption. George Bush is the symptom of a much more deadly disease, one that affects all of us, and that is the casual acceptance of dishonesty. It is this cancer that must be cut out, not just from the presidency, but from the hearts of us all.