Monday, June 25, 2007

To Impeach or Not to Impeach: That is NOT the Question

As I have reluctantly stated before, I am in favor of impeaching the President, the Vice-President and Alberto Gonzales. Of course, I am not alone in this opinion; in fact, I came to it rather late. And certainly, it appears that more and more people are getting comfortable with the idea of impeachment--so many, in fact, that the impeachment drive can no longer be ignored by the traditional media. The Bush Administration's radical reinterpretations of the definitions of the Office of Vice-President as an island of government, and the range of authority of Executive Orders as not applicable to the Chief Executive will certain add even more fuel to what is becoming a raging Impeachment wildfire.

Of course, the "Impeach Now" crowd is not the only one capable of reasonable Progressive thought. Well-meaning, intelligent progressives may also come down on the side of what they see as Pragmatism; I myself was proud to be a member of this camp until not very long ago. Markos himself has been and may continue to be of this opinion (he hasn't written much on the subject lately). So-called Pragmatic arguments against Impeachment come in a variety of forms, including that:

  • Democrats have a chance to frame ourselves and what we will do for the country--and that given a limited amount of media oxygen, the Party will not be able to walk and chew gum simultaneously.
  • Partisan recriminations will only further divide an already deeply divided nation.
  • Above all, bitter impeachment proceedings won't help accomplish the primary goal stated in the DailyKos FAQ: to help get more Democrats elected.

The oft-cited counterargument, of course, is that in the face of an out-of-control executive that believes it has imperial powers overriding all judicial and legislative authority, impeachment is the only pragmatic recourse. The counter-counter argument is that America has largely weathered the Bush storm; we only have 18 months of this bastard left; our democracy is largely intact and Democrats just need to prove themselves the competent party of adults who can get things done rather than play partisan games. And so the wheel of question-begging arguments turns round and round.

Both sides of this argument, however, are missing the only point that really matters. Both sides are right--right in the sense that impeachment is the only way to restrain the Bush Administration's mad lust for power, and in the sense that Bush is essentially a lame duck with little time left to play Oval Office demi-god, and is already being cast to the wolves by members of his own party, while Democratic victories in 2008 are the paramount objective. But both sides are also wrong. Both sides are wrong because they are both asking themselves the wrong questions. The question at hand is not "What Do We Do About Bush?" or "How Do We Move America Forward in a Progressive Direction?" or even "How Do We Put Bush Behind Us and Create A Lasting Democratic Majority?" The real question at hand is instead "How in the world did this happen in America--and more importantly, how do we stop it from ever happening again?"

As evil as the NeoConservative agenda has clearly been, as utterly deficient in competence and moral compass as the Religious Right has been, as predictably disastrous as placing a formerly cocaine-addicted sociopathic dry drunk with a silver spoon in his mouth and serious daddy issues has been, and as monumentally insane as having former Nixon protégés be in charge of Executive secrecy and power has been, it should still shock Americans with a sense of civics and history how easy it has been for a nutso Commander-in-Chief and his morally-challenged cronies to subvert the Consitution, the will of the American People, and the very foundations of Democracy in a few short years. Had you told me back in 1999 that this could have happened in America even with the worst of leaders, I would have laughed in your face. I had confidence in the power of our structural institutions back then that I utterly lack today. For me, the key question--indeed, the only question--is how to effectively stop even the worst of madmen from ever having the power to wreak such havoc again.

Because, you see, impeachment does not answer that question. If that blessed day does finally come when Bush, Cheney, Rove and/or Gonzales are finally held to account for their crimes in House and Senate impeachment proceedings, it will not stop such abuses from happening again. As much as we would like to throw the entire book at President George just as Thomas Jefferson did to King George before him, that is not likely to happen. Instead, impeachment is likely to hang on some relatively minor crime of obstruction or other. In the context of an administration that has deceived the American people into the disastrous military occupation of a non-threatening nation, obliterated checks and balances, eliminated habeas corpus, enshrined torture into our interrogation practices, and assumed the ability to invade privacy without a warrant (among a host of other crimes), nailing George Bush for covering up the real political reasons for the firing of a few U.S. attorneys he appointed (a crass, damaging and unprecedented though not illegal move in and of itself) would seem even more hollow and anticlimactic than jailing Al Capone for tax evasion.

Most importantly, impeaching Administration officials for one offense or another will only serve to warn the next administration to avoid that offense on which the impeachment proceedings were based, rather than the entire Unitary "we create the history you'll write about later" theory of Executive Power that is the source of the trouble. Instead, rightly or wrongly, the next Administration is likelier to learn in the wake of consecutive impeachments of Clinton and Bush that an Executive who loses control of Congress is at risk of losing his/her job in an overtly rancorous and hostile political climate--perhaps leading to increased attemnpts at Executive power consolidation.

Neither, however, does the anti-Impeachment side have any better answers. Even the most optimistic political observer knows that there is a pendulum in American politics that usually works in fairly regular cycles: Democrats and Progressives won't be in control forever. God forbid, in fact, that we should create permanent institutional majorities, else we would soon need yet another revolution to rid ourselves of the Pigs who took over Manor Farm. Further, authoritarianism comes not only in the red flavors of fascism, but in blue Stalinist ones as well. Simply ensuring the election of Democrats does not and will not ensure that Bushist theories of executive power will not rise from the dead yet again.

Preventing the nation from being torn asunder through vicious partisan strife will not rescue us from an actually competent Straussian Philosopher-King removing our liberties for own good in his/her infinite wisdom.

And finally, enacting progressive policies such as guaranteed universal health care, publicly financed elections, marriage equality, progressive taxation, corporate regulations, privacy protections and the like, will do nothing to prevent the next authoritarian freak and his merry band of cronies from replaying this sordid history like an unwelcome recurring nightmare.


No, the great challenge for American democracy is neither impeachment nor corporate corruption: it is the curtailment of the power of the executive branch itself. America can survive the depradations of Republican legislators and jurists; it cannot so easily survive many more years of maniacally out-of-control chief executives and their lieutentants. That challenge will remain with us regardless of whether Democrats win in '08, or whether George Bush is impeached before then.

From this moment onward, the Presidency of George W. Bush must serve not only as a monstrous enemy to block and stymie at every opportunity, but more importantly as an object lesson: What we have witnessed here must never happen again so long as we have memories to share, eyes to see, and the will to fight.

From this moment onward, our primary political focus must not only be on passing progressive legislation in the traditional sense, but more importantly on codifying the balance of powers in such a clarion way that not even the love child of Samuel Alito and Dick Cheney could possibly mistake it for a fragile bird to shoot down with a stroke of their "Unitary Executive" pen.

From this moment onward, the specter of George Bush must hover over our government as an ever-present reminder of the frailty of our institutions, and the clear and present danger imposed not only by Republican ideology, but by unchecked Executive Power itself.

From the 2008 election onward, Progressive Policy must be defined as much by its explicit curtailments on executive power as by its work on behalf of the beleaguered middle-class and underclass.

Let us, therefore, impeach if and when we can. Let us work to elect Democrats. Let us work to pass progressive legislation.

But let us also remember that to impeach or not to impeach is not the question over which our slings and arrows should fly at one another. Because the question that should drive us, keeping us awake at night on our computers, is instead How do we stop even a mad hatter like Bush from ever sending us down this rabbit-hole again?

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