Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Favoring Impeachment

Favoring Impeachment
By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

With each passing day and new disclosure about the George W. Bush Administration’s m.o., Americans are becoming increasingly aware that the emperor wears no clothes.

As Butch and Sundance would say, Who are these guys? Answer: They are extremists - advocating a view of executive power that has never, from the Nation’s origins to today, been supported within the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The Constitution of the framers and founders and every generation since is one where the federal government’s powers are equally divided among three coequal branches. Early Americans knew first-hand about the oppressive tendencies of concentrated power, and they were determined to create a constitutional structure that would prevent the same.

This president does not subscribe to these basic separation-of-powers principles, believing instead that the executive is the preeminent instrument of government, and that the other branches should simply fall in line. This view is expressed in myriad ways, from his imperious go-it-alone approach in Iraq and his ultra-secretive War on Terror; to his aggressive use of signing statements in cherry-picking Acts of Congress; to the selective replacement of federal prosecutors who would deign to investigate his administration and the threats to prosecute reporters who would expose it; and to recent moves to further empower political appointees in federal agencies who will do a heckuva job in carrying out the president’s bidding.

This “long train of abuses and usurpations,” to borrow a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, goes on…, and on…, and on…, ad nauseum, resulting in immeasurable loss of international prestige and influence, plundering of the Nation’s economic and natural resources, and loss of many thousands of lives. Honestly folks, we would not have believed this if we had made it up six years ago.

What is to be done? While the “I” word has floated around the fringes of public discourse for awhile, garnering support from the likes of Rosie O’Donnell and Ramsey Clark, there is reason for a broader cross-section of mainstream America to support – indeed, to demand - the impeachment of George W. Bush. Pshaw!, you say - he has less than two years remaining in his term, he’s been effectively neutralized by the Democratic majority in Congress, Congress lacks the political will to take this up, impeachment is only reserved for extraordinary events…, and anyway, where’s the high crime or misdemeanor? (And the real kicker, and the reason why in practical terms I accept Bush can never be impeached, can be summed in two words: Dick Cheney - Bush's successor were he to be impeached and convicted.)

A “high crime” and/or “misdemeanor” is whatever the House of Representatives says it is. We learned in 1999 that a President lying under oath about having sex with a woman not his wife meets the test. As the “House of the People” has the sole constitutional power to impeach, we may conclude that “high crimes and misdemeanors” consists of conduct so unacceptable as to justify removing the president from office. And the laundry-list of unacceptable conduct by George W. Bush is extraordinary indeed.

Impeachment is not something to undertake lightly, and should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances. It serves as the constitutional equivalent to the parliamentary vote of no-confidence, providing a mechanism for the people to send a strong message – even beyond that available at the ballot box every four years – about what sorts of presidential behavior they ultimately regard as intolerable.

It is extraordinary when a president, as here, engages in a pattern of conduct that systematically betrays long-accepted basic constitutional principles. As Lewis H. Lapham suggests in support of impeachment in the January 2007 Harper’s Magazine, “[B]y holding up to the light the malfeasance, nonfeasance, and ‘all the other rot’ embedded in the character and conduct of the Bush Administration, we might discover what we mean by America the beautiful. Like it or not, and no matter how unpleasant or impolitic the proceedings, the spirit of the law doesn’t allow the luxury of fastidious silence or discreet abstention.” On this reasoning, it is Congress’s solemn duty to rebuke President Bush for his own long train of abuses and usurpations.