Monday, July 23, 2007

Fulfilling a historical mandate

By J. Kingston Pierce

Like many Americans, I suspect, I’ve gone back and forth over the last two years on the advisability of impeaching George W. Bush. Clearly, his willingness to subvert the Constitution by spying on Americans without court sanction, the deliberate deceptions he propagated in order to involve the United States in a disastrous “preventative war” against Iraq (where are those WMDs, anyway?), his blithe willingness to commute the prison sentence of an ex-White House advisor whose further testimony could have worsened the scandals already besetting the administration, his determination to practice partisan politics even if it means dismissing U.S. attorneys for no good reason and his assertion thereafter that Congress has no power to prevent those abuses or ask for information regarding those dismissals--all of those acts, and more, are better justification for impeaching Bush and removing him from office, than were the openly partisan efforts of Republican’ts to end Bill Clinton’s presidency early back in 1998.

Bush has been a disaster--even worse than James Buchanan, the stubborn Southern-sympathizing Democrat from Pennsylvania who, in the 1850s and early ’60s, failed to act sufficiently in preventing slave-holding states from seceding from the Union, and thus let the country slip into its tragic Civil War. By his failure to change course when the circumstances require it (in Iraq or elsewhere), and by his disregard for the needs of his countrymen in times of crisis (he couldn’t be move from a Florida schoolroom while New York City and Washington, D.C., were under attack on September 11, 2001, and he peacefully strummed on a guitar out in California while New Orleans drowned beneath the deluge released by Hurricane Katrina), Bush deserves to be kicked out of office in shame. Even the despised Richard Nixon wasn’t as incompetent a president as Bush has proved himself to be. Which might explain why a recent American Research Group poll found that 45 percent of Americans (including a full 50 percent of independents) favor the U.S. House of Representatives commencing hearings to impeach Bush.

Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom holds that if the Democratic-led Congress concentrates its attention on extricating Bush and Dick Cheney from their seats of power, it will undercut Democrats’ chances of retaining the majority of seats on Capitol Hill and electing one of their own to the Oval Office in 2008. Just as surely as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay soured Americans on the GOP with their openly partisan campaign to impeach Clinton.

It’s impossible to know whether Dems would in fact hurt themselves mortally by punishing Bush for his high crimes and misdemeanors. There would seem to be a lot of good will they could exploit in this direction. Voters are not excited by any of the Republican’ts wishing to succeed Bush. A recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll discovered that “the leading Republican presidential candidate is ... none of the above,” with even most GOPers “apathetic about their options.” As NBC White House correspondent David Gregory observed last week, “a president as unpopular as Bush is unlikely to be succeeded by another Republican.” A second public survey, this one conducted on behalf of CBS News and The New York Times, found that “63 percent of voters believe it’s likely that Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton will be elected the first woman president in U.S. history if she wins her party’s nomination.”

At this point, it’s hard to imagine that Bush could depend on the support of Americans to survive impeachment, the way that President Clinton did nine years ago. And the act of impeachment would be the clearest vote of no confidence the nation could express toward a prez who has weakened international faith in the United States and exploited the fear of citizens to further his partisan goals. How long will it take his successor to rebuild the mess Bush has made of his office, to restore trust in the U.S. presidency? Failing to impeach Bush could be seen as another instance of his skating through life without paying the consequences of his actions. Still, one has to ask whether the efforts to boot Bush from the Oval Office would be good for the country at this point.

Which is why a new proposal being made by Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) to censure Bush “for his management of the Iraq war and his ‘assault’ against the Constitution” sounds so attractive. According to the AP:

Feingold, a prominent war critic, said he soon plans to offer two censure resolutions--measures that would amount to a formal condemnation of the Republican president.

The first would seek to reprimand Bush for, as Feingold described it, getting the nation into war without adequate military preparation and for issuing misleading public statements. The resolution also would cite Vice President Dick Cheney and perhaps other administration officials.

The second measure would seek to censure Bush for what the Democrat called a continuous assault against the rule of law through such efforts as the warrantless surveillance program against suspected terrorists, Feingold said. It would also ask for a reprimand of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and maybe others.

“This is an opportunity for people to say, let’s at least reflect on the record that something terrible has happened here,” said Feingold ... “This administration has weakened America in a way that is frightful.”

Feingold has sought to censure Bush before.
In 2006, he proposed condemning the prez for secretly authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless monitoring of international communications originating in the United States, “and then misleading the country about the existence and legality of the program.” But it went nowhere. Even his fellow Democrats weren’t willing to endorse that legislative rebuke, no matter how justified. And Feingold’s latest proposal is receiving the same cold shoulder from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). “We have a lot of work to do,” Reid said this morning on NBC-TV’s Meet the Press. “The president already has the mark of the American people--he’s the worst president we ever had. I don’t think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that.”

True, Bush bears the black mark of failure, as surely as Hester Prynne wore the mark of “adulterer” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel. Despite Joe Lieberman’s idiotic assertion that time will vindicate Bush’s actions, history is much more likely to look disparagingly upon the 43rd president, and that in itself is a sort of punishment. Still, it may not be enough. Impeachment and censure were tools given to Congress to admonish one of its own or else a chief executive found guilty of misconduct. The failure to employ such instruments might be interpreted as the legislative branch failing to conduct its constitutional duty. And that would be no more acceptable than Bush’s own abuses of power.

Feingold’s censure proposal deserves a full and respectful debate. Now, Senator Reid, not later.

(Cross-posted at Limbo.)

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