Civil Liberties

Do They Dare to Say "Impeach"?

One person's airtight legal case is another's "Stay out the Bushes."

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You'll never find anyone as impartial, disinterested, judicious, and concerned only with the well-being of the American people as a party hack laying into a politician from a rival party. Thus the case for the impeachment of President George W. Bush has grown organically from the very fabric of the universe. It's not that Democrats are motivated by frustration with Bush and his party's electoral winning streak—hell, the Dems profoundly regret that they've been brought to this! It's that Bush's lies and violations of the Constitution are so egregious, so without precedent in American history, that we must activate the gravest of constitutional mechanisms.

To wit: In his 286-page report The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, House Judiciary Committee member John Conyers (D-Mich.) isn't grinding any party ax. Rather, the problem is that "we have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice President, and other high-ranking members of the Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq."

As a result, "the House should create a bipartisan select committee vested with subpoena authority to investigate the Administration's abuses" in order "to protect our constitutional form of government."

Interestingly, Conyers, who entered the House of Representatives in 1964, never managed to find any impeachable behavior in the conduct of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who lied America into a far more destructive war and presided over the colossal civil rights violations of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. But it's not just elected Democrats who view impeachment as something that should happen only to the GOP.

Former Harper's Editor Lewis Lapham, whose most recent cancer on the national attention span was a 5,000-word "Case for Impeachment" in the magazine's March issue, told a Harper's roundtable: "The media tends to believe that the branches of government are the Democratic and Republican parties.…I think we also have to make it clear—if this turns into a partisan thing, Democrat/Republican, I would think it would do more harm than good." (To his credit, Lapham adds, "I also think we should get over the idea that impeachment is a big deal. I mean, we should use it more often." That's a sentiment any good American would endorse.)

Thus, Lapham notes, we must distinguish between the Bush administration's "criminal DNA" and the far more famous DNA of "Bill Clinton, whose penis was known to be aimless and shown to be harmless." Not so harmless, of course, to those civilians in Yugoslavia, Sudan, and Afghanistan who were sacrificed when Clinton turned American forign policy into an extension of his own impeachment scandal.

Elizabeth Holtzman, the former member of Congress and New York City comptroller, made the same gestures toward nonpartisan concern for the Constitution in her 4,000-word impeachment brief in The Nation in January, but there's no way to know how she would have voted when her own party was on the hot seat.

Alas, Holtzman's political career ended in 1993, with a tearful denunciation of reporters who ignored her "long record of standing and fighting for people," and focused instead on a $450,000 loan she accepted from Fleet Bank in exchange for a lucrative city contract. Undoubtedly she would have vigorously contested Bill Clinton's promiscuous bombing raids, if only the media had given her the chance.

It's true: Bush is impeachable on the bare facts of the case, without any recourse to party differences. Back on Planet Earth, he's invulnerable as long as his party continues to control both houses of the Congress. If these Democrats and their supporters are serious about bringing him to account, they'll need to learn how to win elections. To make that happen, they might start by impeaching a few of their own leaders—not for high crimes and misdemeanors, just for incompetence.

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