Saturday, March 18, 2006

The pros and cons of censuring the president

In a Friday editorial, The New York Times argues that Senator Feingold's "censure proposal is a bad idea". However: "We'd be applauding Mr. Feingold if he'd proposed creating a bipartisan panel to determine whether the domestic spying operation that Mr. Bush has acknowledged violates the 1978 surveillance law, as it certainly seems to do. The Senate should also force the disclosure of any other spying Mr. Bush is conducting outside the law. (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has strongly hinted that is happening.)"

The Times is right that there should be an investigation into "the domestic spying operation". There is obviously much that we don't know. Indeed, I suspect that what we do know is just the tip of the iceberg.

And it's certainly true that Senator Feingold's censure resolution has put some of his fellow Democrats in a bind, with some of them "[running] for cover". It has also changed the subject at a time when Republicans themselves were on the run after weeks of bad news. And it has, to a certain extent, united Republicans at a time when they were deeply divided over issues like Iraq and Portgate.

But do you see what's going on here? I wonder if the Times does. Once again, Democrats are giving in to fear, backing down just when they should be taking the offensive. Just as they refused to take on Alito, so are they now refusing to take on Bush on "the lawlessness and incompetence of his administration," on what the Times admits is an illegal program, even as all those Republican in Congress are "too busy trying to give legal cover to the president's trampling on the law and the Constitution".

Yes, by all means, get the facts straight. Investigate. But Bush must be held accountable for what he's done, for what is being done on his watch. While most of his colleagues are playing politics and thinking too much about what will hurt them and what will help them going forward, hoping that the Republicans will just self-destruct and that Bush's approval ratings will sink even further, Senator Feingold took a stand. He at least wants to hold this president accountable.

This isn't about impeachment, as the Republicans would like you to believe, it's about censure. There is much with which to find fault in Bush's five-plus years in office. (Much of it has been blogged about here.) But with this domestic spying program, and perhaps with other domestic spying that as yet we know nothing about, Bush has clearly crossed a line. Manipulating the intelligence in order to make a largely fabricated case for war is extraordinarily troubling, don't get me wrong, but this is about breaking the law. It is about the abuse of power. It is about debasing the Constitution. For that, President Bush deserves to be censured.

Democrats do need to think about how best to get elected this fall. They do need to think about the optics of censure. But they also need to do the right thing, to stand up for what's right over and against what's politically expedient. They haven't -- and won't -- but they need to stand with Senator Feingold.

Courage, Democrats, courage. You will be rewarded for it.

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