Should curious George be impeached .. and what about Ford and Nixon too?

Jan 8th, 2007 | By | Category: USA Today

At the opening of the new and (more or less) Democrat-controlled US Congress on January 4, such progressive luminaries as Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, and Gore Vidal took to the streets to urge that “the House of Representatives immediately initiate Articles of Impeachment” against President George W. Bush, for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If Bill Clinton deserved to be impeached for a white lie about Monica Lewinsky, both George W. Bush and his vice-president no doubt deserve to be impeached for at least as serious lying on what the American people’s government really knew about Iraq. The trouble is that, between now and the end of Bush’s term, there will almost certainly never be enough Senate votes to actually remove “Bush-Cheney” from office. Is pushing an impeachment vote through the House a good idea anyway – to help break, e.g., the new dark-age spells cast by former President Ford’s many televised memorials, and on and on and on?

The case for impeaching George W. Bush …

A compelling short statement of the case for impeaching George W. Bush appeared in the March 2006 issue of Harper’s magazine – more than half a year before the November 7 mid-term elections finally put the Democrats in an altogether serious position to at least get a majority vote for impeachment through the House of Representatives. (As provided for in Article I, Section II [5] of the US Constitution.)

The piece was written by the former Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham, and made some special reference to the background documentation masterminded in 2005 by Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.). The “Conyers report,” Lapham concluded “doesn’t lack for … instances of the administration’s misconduct, all of them noted in the press over the last three years – misuse of government funds, violation of the Geneva Conventions, holding without trial and subjecting to torture individuals arbitrarily designated as enemy combatants,’ etc. – but conspiracy to commit fraud would seem reason enough to warrant the President’s impeachment.”

Lapham concluded his piece provocatively with: “We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country’s good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world’s evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation’s wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies. In a word, a criminal – known to be armed and shown to be dangerous. Under the three-strike rule available to the courts in California, judges sentence people to life in jail for having stolen from Wal-Mart a set of golf clubs or a child’s tricycle. Who then calls strikes on President Bush, and how many more does he get before being sent down on waivers to one of the Texas Prison Leagues?”

More recently, Lapham has also confronted the latest twists and turns since the November 7 mid-term elections in the January 2007 issue of Harper’s. An early internet report on this piece notes that Lapham “takes aim at Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment is off the table'” and “Robert Reich’s it would be far better if Democrats used their newfound power to lay out a new agenda for America. There’s no point digging up more dirt.'”

Democracy, Lapham argues, “is born in dirt” and “nourished by the digging up and turning over of as much of it as can be brought within reach of a television camera or a subpoena. We can’t lay out a new agenda for America’ unless we know which America we’re talking about, the one that embodies the freedoms of a sovereign people or the one made to fit the requirements of a totalitarian state … In Lapham’s view, impeaching Bush will be a form of public education, a civics lesson that might unearth American democracy.'”

A Wkipedia internet encyclopedia article on the “Movement to impeach George W. Bush” provides further details on other arguments and actions in the same broad direction. Elizabeth Holtzman, a former US Congresswoman, District Attorney of Brooklyn, and Member of the House of Representatives panel that impeached Richard Nixon, has now published a book with Cynthia L. Cooper on The Impeachment of George W. Bush. And a group called Progressive Democrats of America is planning an array of “impeachment events” in Washington, DC for Sunday, January 28, 2007, to be followed by meetings with Congress Members on January 29.

The pragmatic case against …

The case against spending too much progressive energy (and still scarce enough real political power and resources) on merely impeaching both Bush and Cheney is essentially pragmatic.

It does seem increasingly clear that US Iraq policy is unlikely to change in any seriously benign and sensible directions so long as George W. Bush remains in office. If it actually were possible to remove both him and his vice-president in a comparatively short space of time, that would quite probably make a great deal of pragmatic sense – for both democracy in America and the global village at large.

The problem is that a mere majority vote for impeachment in the House of Representatives (where the Democrats do command a majority at the start of 2007) will not remove anyone from office. It just starts a process, which then goes to the Senate for a “trial.” A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is then required to remove those under trial from office. (As provided for in Article I, Section III [6] of the US Constitution.)

The current Democrat majority in the Senate is razor-thin at best. And – barring some fresh bizarre activity by President Bush that drives the American people to still greater heights of antagonism towards him – there seems no prospect at all of putting together a two-thirds majority for removal from office in the Senate over the next two years. (At which point “Bush-Cheney” will be removed from office anyway, in the ordinary course of events.)

The higher pragmatism … and Ford’s pardon of Nixon …

It is no doubt pragmatic arguments of this sort that have prompted the new first woman Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to say that, as far as the new Democrat majority in Congress is concerned right now, “impeachment is off the table.” And, from the standpoint of most Democratic (to say nothing of Republican) Members of Congress right now, this pragmatic case against impeachment may seem conclusive enough.

Lewis Lapham and his impeachment supporters, at the same time, may well contend that they are appealing to a higher form of pragmatism. They are saying that just impeaching Bush-Cheney through a majority vote in the House of Representatives – regardless of what happens in the Senate – will be “a form of public education, a civics lesson that might unearth American democracy.'” And they are also implying that the state of American democracy at the moment is desperate enough to make some civics lesson of this sort very important.

This argument has its strengths as well. As a case in point, consider the recent essentially anti-democratic hagiography that has blossomed around the various funerals of former President Gerald Ford over the year-end holiday season of 20062007, on mainstream US TV.

On the one hand, those Canadians who follow the American political news more or less closely (as so many Canadians do, along with their own political news on Canadian TV) have lately been subjected to much punditry about how President Ford’s pardon of President Nixon, in the wake of the Watergate Scandal of the earlier 1970s, was a noble gesture, that helped heal the deep wounds Watergate had induced in the body politic.

On the other hand, we have also seen clips, several times now, of Richard Nixon himself, explaining how, on his extremely extreme doctrine of executive privilege in the Imperial Presidency, the mere fact that the President does something, as President, makes it right and legally and constitutionally correct.

How, any self-respecting North American democrat of the early 21st century is bound to ask, is this kind of Nixonian doctrine of presidential powers any different from the Divine Right of Kings? And isn’t that something that democracy in America is supposed to be against, etc? May it not very well be that, in the long history of the more vigorous American democracy of the future, Ford’s pardon of Nixon will finally appear as a great mistake?

Leaving your heart in San Francisco …

The answer of Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to this kind of higher pragmatic argument right now seems to be that House Democrats, through their use of the subpoena power, are going to be initiating a variety of investigations into the War in Iraq. While stopping short of any movement to impeach the president in the House, these investigations will hopefully also serve as “a form of public education, a civics lesson that might unearth American democracy’.”

(And meanwhile the Democrats will also be focusing some major energy on showing the American people that they have real and much clearer and more progressive alternatives to all the wild failed plots and schemes of Bush-Cheney in US domestic policy. Or at least that is the way things seemed until very recently. Already, on January 8, the Washington Post was reporting that: “Democratic leaders who had hoped to emphasize their domestic agenda in the opening weeks of Congress have concluded that Iraq will share top billing, and they plan on aggressively confronting administration officials this week in a series of hearings.”)

All those of us who only observe US politics from across the line up north in Canada can do is wait and see what happens, as the days, weeks, and months of 2007 that lie ahead unfold – starting with the president’s evening TV appearance on Wednesday, January 10.

Who knows? George W. Bush’s next steps on Iraq may so outrage the American people that even Nancy Pelosi will change her mind about pushing an impeachment vote through the House, regardless of what may happen in the Senate? Or it may be that George W. Bush will somehow find some path out of his current wilderness? Or something altogether different and surprising again might happen instead?

What most progressive liberal democrats probably agree on, inside and outside the USA, is that, strictly as a matter of principle, the case for impeaching George W. Bush remains considerably stronger than the case for impeaching Bill Clinton ever was. And, one way or another, somebody ought to be reminding the American people of that, again and again and again …

So, very best wishes to everyone who shows up for the “impeachment events” in Washington, DC, on Sunday, January 28, 2007, to be followed by meetings with Congress Members on January 29. And cheers to the “over 1000 people” who recently “gathered in Nancy Pelosi’s district, on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, to spell out the message IMPEACH!’

“America is a great country,’ said event organizer Brad Newsham, a local cab driver and author. But President Bush has betrayed our faith. He misled us into a disastrous war, and is trampling on our Constitution. He has to go. Now. I hope Nancy Pelosi is listening today.’ … A majority of Americans share Newsham’s sentiments. A 2006 Zogby poll found that 52% of Americans agreed with the statement: If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment?'”

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