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David Swanson: Impeach Cheney First

Impeach Cheney First

By David Swanson

We should impeach Vice President Dick Cheney first, and President George Bush immediately thereafter. This idea is not original with me. It's been seen on bumper stickers for quite some time. My attention has been called to it by the fact that Congresswoman and Judiciary Committee Member Maxine Waters is talking about it.

I'm persuaded of thevalue of this approach for several reasons. Among activists who very much want impeachment, one can hear a long list of fears and concerns about how things might go wrong, how impeachment could help Republicans who come around and back it, how impeachment could take energy away from elections, etc. But by far the most common of the nonsensical fears one hears is this one: "Impeaching Bush would give us Cheney, who is worse."

By proposing to impeach Cheney first, we eliminate this fear.

I cannot conceive of a serious investigation, with subpoena power, of either Bush or Cheney that would not incriminate the other as well. If I'm right about this, then the whole debate over which of these two criminals to impeach first, in one sense, doesn't mean much. But for purposes of organizing activists today it means everything. We need as many people as possible – including those terrified by Cheney – to push for an impeachment investigation. This campaign, and an investigation itself, should we get one, serve educational and political purposes. They further discredit Bush and Cheney while helping to build an opposition.

Our choices are not between impeachment and elections but between both and neither. Polls suggest it will be very difficult to win elections without demanding impeachment.

After an investigation, we will have to fight for impeachment, and after that for conviction and removal from office by the Senate, and after that for criminal indictments. While millions of Americans who favor impeachment have announced to each other that this goal is impossible or extremely unlikely to be achieved, almost every single one of them has implicitly determined that conviction in the Senate (which has never been achieved with a president in U.S. history) is a guaranteed lock. Thus "impeachment" is equated with "removal from office." We should bear in mind that Clinton was impeached but not removed from office. We very much need to remove Bush and Cheney from office, but it's remarkable how quickly we jump ahead to that stage when searching for reasons to fear and doubt ourselves.

If we were to impeach Bush and remove him from office and somehow not manage to do the same to Cheney, there would be a number of advantages to this. The man who is running much of the government backstage would be thrust up front. His 18 percent approval rating makes Bush's 32 percent look stellar. A President Cheney would be a lame duck and a walking advertisement against the Republican party and its Democratic allies.

If, somehow, we were to remove Cheney from office and leave Bush untouched, there would be disadvantages. Bush would (if Congress caved in, as it almost always does) be able to install as Vice President someone capable of running for the top job in 2008.

Nonetheless, I am persuaded that we should go after Cheney first. Again, he is incredibly unpopular. Very few Republicans in Congress are going to be willing to defend him. This will split the White House and the Republican Party and (if this can ever be done) unite the Democrats behind an aggressive and popular position. This would be a step toward a strong push in Congress for the impeachment of Bush as well. Aiming for the low hanging fruit first is just good organizing.

Currently 36 Congress Members (two of them just added this week) support Congressman Conyers' bill to create an investigation into grounds for impeachment of Bush (actually of any unnamed individuals in the Bush Administration). I suspect that specifically and exclusively targeting Cheney could add significantly to that number right away.

While it is the duty of U.S. citizens to demand the impeachment of criminal office holders, regardless of any predictions of success, it makes sense to begin from the angle most likely to succeed. More important than which individual ends up briefly or for years afterwards occupying the Oval Office is that he or she be aware that we can hold them accountable, that they be compelled to fear us, rather than we continuing to fear them.

The situation in Congress is as follows. Congressman John Conyers has taken the lead on the matter of impeachment and is not at this time prepared to move beyond his resolution for an investigation. Many other members are not leaders and will only sign onto someone else's initiative. Of those who are leaders, most defer to Conyers and are reluctant to step ahead of him, even as their constituents demand it ever more insistently. But introducing articles of impeachment against Cheney, and not Bush, is something that Conyers' office has suggested he would not oppose.

The idea arose several weeks back when Congresswoman Waters' proposed it at a meeting of several Congress Members, staff, and activists, which I attended. She went public with the idea this past Saturday at a forum in Sacramento held by the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. Nearly 1,000 rowdy, enthusiastic party members packed a large hall to capacity to hear Waters and others discuss impeachment. According to Bob Fertik, who spoke on the panel and wrote an account of it afterwards:

"…the next question [was] why Congressional Democrats have refused to introduce Articles of Impeachment. Luckily Rep. Maxine Waters was on the panel, and she described discussions we had earlier this year, which led her to propose impeaching Cheney first. That discussion was sidetracked when Sen. Russ Feingold introduced his Censure Resolution, but the refusal of most Senate Democrats to back Feingold appears to have convinced Waters to move ahead with her idea. And of course we will support Waters 1000% if she does."

1000 percent? Is that all? She'll be a national hero. No. Scratch that. She'll be an international hero. We'll need to add a Maxine Waters Day to our calendars, celebrating the day on which she placed the first stone in the edifice of a rebuilt democracy by introducing articles of impeachment against Richard Cheney.


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