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David Swanson: Politically Strategic Impeachment

Politically Strategic Impeachment

By David Swanson

While it would of course be good for the world for Bush and Cheney to be impeached, convicted, and sent packing, would it be politically advantageous for a Congress Member to introduce articles of impeachment? And would it benefit the Democratic Party for some or all of the Democrats to push for impeachment at this time? Or should they do it later? Or is there another way?

The facts that would seem to argue in favor of pushing impeachment include an NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll released November 10th showing 57 percent of Americans believe Bush deliberately misled them in making his case for war, while 35 percent think he provided accurate information. And a Zogby International poll released November 4th found that 53 percent of Americans want Congress to consider impeaching Bush if he did not tell the truth about the reasons for war.

An Ipsos Public Affairs poll released on October 11 found 50 percent favoring impeachment if Bush lied about the war. The poll also broke the results down by political party. A full 72 percent of Democrats and those leaning Democrat, a month ago, favored impeachment.

If you subscribe to the view that the Republicans have done a better job of appealing to their own base, you'll want the Democrats to take into consideration the opinions of the 72 percent among the ranks of their voters and potential voters who want Bush impeached.

Further weighing on the side of pushing impeachment forward is the level of energy waiting to be tapped. Many of those who want impeachment of Bush and Cheney are passionate about it. Many see the fate of the nation and the world as hanging on it. Several large organizations and thousands of websites have been formed to promote it. Meetings are being held around the country. Panels are being convened. Mock trials are being staged. Half the posters at anti-war rallies demand impeachment. The After Downing Street Coalition raised $10,000 in two weeks online to pay pollsters to ask about impeachment. And a new political action committee called ImpeachPAC has raised $30,000 online in one week to create a fund for pro-impeachment candidates. See:

So, it does seem likely that the first Congress Member to introduce articles of impeachment will become something of a national hero and receive a rather large outpouring of gratitude, volunteers, and cash.

On the other hand, endless discussions on this topic that I've had in the real world and online suggest that the Democrats' failure thus far to push for impeachment is contributing to cynicism and distrust of both parties. If you cannot demand impeachment for the highest crime imaginable (taking a nation to war on the basis of lies, lies formally and feloniously told to Congress on March 18, 2003) then you can never impeach – unless impeachment is reserved as a tool for handling sexual matters. It is this failure to push for impeachment now, when a more appropriate case for it cannot be imagined, that has people calling the Democrats spineless.

While impeachment is a political, not a legal, operation, it does seem clear that a very strong legal case can be made that Bush and Cheney knowingly lied to Congress about the reasons for war. They were in possession of overwhelming evidence that their claims regarding an Iraqi threat to the United States and Iraqi backing of the 9-11 attacks were baseless. (See list of evidence on left side of ).

Beyond the 53 percent of Americans who think impeachment makes sense if Bush lied about the war, many Americans want Bush and Cheney impeached for other reasons – in fact, a long list of other reasons that presents a cumulative indictment of this administration that was unimaginable to most of us five years ago. The list includes:

  • The gross negligence that contributed to 9-11 and to the suffering that followed hurricane Katrina;

  • A war that has made the world much less safe and world opinion of the United States much lower;

  • The 2000 Supreme Court coup and the 2004 Ohio election theft;

  • The elimination of basic rights and liberties through the PATRIOT Act;

  • The manufacturing and purchasing of propaganda disguised as independent news;

  • The use of chemical weapons in Fallujah;

  • The use of depleted uranium in Iraq;

  • The use of and open defense of torture;

  • The exposure of an undercover CIA agent;

  • The systematic destruction of workers' rights;

  • The elimination of jobs;

  • The dangerous escalation of environmental destruction;

  • The massive transfer of wealth to the wealthy;

  • The burdening of future generations with incredible financial debts.
  • But if the case for impeachment is as powerful – even overdetermined – as I've made out, then why isn't it happening? Are there perhaps wiser reasons for restraint?

    Well, one reason is that the Democrats are in the minority. They might look foolish if they proposed impeachment now, rather than in 2007 when they may have a majority and be able to really do something.

    Or so I've been told. But by that logic the Dems should simply go home and nap until 2007. Almost every bill and resolution introduced by Democrats is doomed to failure. But they go on introducing them, co-sponsoring them, voting for them, and losing, and shouting about it to anyone who will listen. And rightly so! Why should anyone vote the Democratic Party into a majority if the Democrats provide no indication of what they are trying to do, of what they might succeed at if they had a majority?

    And who says no Republicans will join a push for impeachment? On Wednesday, Congressman Kucinich's Resolution of Inquiry into the White House Iraq Group picked up the votes in committee of two Republicans and failed because two Democrats refused to show up and vote. If that's any indication of what we can expect from Democrats when they have the majority, we might as well leave them in the minority.

    If a Democrat really wanted to push impeachment only after winning a majority, then he or she would do very well to publicly announce tomorrow "If we win a majority in 2006, my first act in 2007 will be to introduce articles of impeachment. Who's with me?" An informal support list could be built, and the American public could know that a political party existed that was ready to speak for them – albeit two years from now.

    The primary reason weighing against making such an announcement is also the primary reason weighing against introducing impeachment now, namely that whoever stuck their neck out on this would have it attacked by Republicans and the media.

    Well, yes, but what could be politically more beneficial right now than being attacked by these Republicans? Just ask the new governors elect of Virginia and New Jersey. Just ask the California nurses. Sure, you'll be called radical, but you'll be able to cite the polls that show you to be standing with the majority. Sure, the media will go after you brutally, but 70 percent of Americans distrust the media. Over 70 percent of Democrats favor impeachment despite the absence of a single story about it in the media. As soon as there are any stories about it, even if they are attacks on you, that number will climb higher.

    Well, all right, let's say it does. We still won't pass impeachment in 2006, given the size of the Republican majority. And when we fail to pass it, and fail with prominent Democrats, probably including our nominal leader, voting with the Republicans, that will make it harder to bring it up again the next year once we have a majority. Only we won't win a majority, because we'll have made ourselves look foolish and ineffective.

    No, wait a minute. You're missing the whole point. The point is not to pass impeachment now. The point is to erode any remaining credibility held by Bush or Cheney or their allies in Congress and to let the public know that the Democrats stand for something. This is how you will win a majority. The Republicans didn't win a majority by putting tape over their mouths and practicing restraint. They won by appealing to their base (and by cheating, and by raising more money). And there is no double jeopardy. Impeachment can be attempted any number of times before it succeeds.

    And look at the damage the Republicans did to the Democrats by impeaching Clinton. They destroyed what was left of the Party. After that episode, the party of FDR had nothing PERIOD but fear itself. And that was with an impeachment for a laughable reason against a popular president. Imagine how deeply the Republican Party could be buried by the overly justified impeachment of the most hated president since Nixon.

    Well, maybe so, but there's a fatal flaw in the plan. Nobody wants to impeach Bush and be stuck with Cheney, and with a new Veep chosen by Cheney. It's not just that Cheney is worse than Bush. It's that a veep would have a step up on running for president. (It's understood that Cheney won't run because he'd lose against any other living human.)

    Let's set aside the fact that it would set a horrible precedent to allow criminal underlings to provide immunity from impeachment. Do we seriously think a Cheney Veep could run a successful election campaign? Gore was Clinton's Veep and barely squeaked out a victory against a certifiable moron draft dodging unsuccessful oil driller from Yale. More to the point, could we actually impeach Bush and have him convicted (a first in history) and removed from office, and not incriminate Cheney in the process? The plan needs to be impeachment of the pair of them, but it's almost inevitable that impeachment of one of them will destroy the other's career. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

    If Bush and Cheney were both actually removed from office, the speaker of the House would become President. If the Democrats have a majority, the speaker will be a Democrat. And if the Democrats have a majority by the time one of the two (Bush or Cheney) is impeached first (should that happen) the Democrats choose to vote down the other one's picks for new VP.

    All right. In theory, that works, but the whole impeachment process will be traumatic for the country.

    Yes, and what do you call this hell we're living through now? Impeachment is medicine, and it may be bitter, but it will heal us.

    Remember this: Not only does a majority believe Bush lied and want Congress to consider impeaching him, but it's safe to say that most of the 35 percent who still trust Bush are people who will never ever vote for a Democrat no matter how many wars you support or ducks you hunt.


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