Saturday, January 12, 2008

McGovern: Impeach Bush

Couldn't blog on this when it came out, but it's important. McGovern seems to be right about this--perhaps most notably about the point that the case for impeachment against Bush is probably stronger than the case against Nixon.

I think there are a couple of reasons why Pelosi et. al. don't want to impeach Bush. First, they think it will energize Republicans. Consequently, second, they think it will lower the odds of a Democratic win in November. Third, they think that a Democratic win is crucial this time around. Fourth, they realize that Bush would never be convicted because--basically no matter what--an insufficient number of Senate Republicans would vote to convict. And, finally, perhaps the Dems realize it will turn into a highly partisan slugfest...and Dems almost always lose such contests. (Why? Well, Republicans tend to be meaner and more partisan...but also more resolute and courageous. The Dems tend to be more objective and reasonable...but also more wimpy and feckless.)

The central reason is probably the worry about losing in November. Now, I, too, think it's fairly important to get a Democratic president this time around (though the real need is to get someone capable of repairing the extraordinary damage done by the Bush administration...and McCain might be able to do that, too). However, it's also extremely important to punish crimes, especially crimes committed by the president. It's well-known that Jim Wright knew that Reagan deserved to be impeached for Iran-Contra--but he decided not to pursue it because he didn't think the country could take another such crisis on the heels of Nixon. This was a noble error. The refusal to impeach Reagan has almost undoubtedly emboldened the Bush administration. If they knew that there would be swift and certain punishment for abusing presidential power, then it is far less likely that they would have done the things they've done.

It is likely that impeachment would energize the GOP and reduce the odds of a Democrat winning in 2008. It's also crucial that someone sane, honest and competent be elected. But--even putting straight-forward points about justice to the side--it is important for the future of the country that Bush (and perhaps Cheney) be impeached. If this administration was emboldened by the failure to impeach Reagan, consider the effects of the failure to impeach Bush on the next such administration. If Bush does not deserve impeachment, then one must begin to wonder whether there is any crime or abuse of power that would warrant it.

Two final points:

I am not arguing that Bush (or Cheney) should be convicted. That is a more complicated legal question that I'm not qualified to have a strong opinion on. That they ought to be impeached seems fairly clear, but it may very well turn out that the evidence exonerates them. In fact, once the facts are carefully investigated and reasoned about, those of us who are outraged by the actions of the administration might even come to see that their actions were not as bad as we thought. But we'll never know without a thorough investigation.

Finally, we also need to worry about the differential standards for impeachment that seem to have been established. This is in part a consequence of differences between the parties already mentioned. The lesson of the Clinton administration seems to be that, if Republicans don't like a Democratic president, then they will investigate him until they are able to find some thin pretext for impeachment. On the other hand, the Democrats seem unwilling or incapable of even considering impeachment even when it is clearly called for. This is a very dangerous state of affairs, and even the (wimpy) Democrats should be able to see that, even merely from the crass perspective of partisan self-interest, this is not a winning strategy.

It's always struck me as peculiar that the very people who have the most pronounced tendency to wave the flag and extol the virtues of America also seem to have the least actual respect for the Constitution and the institutions of our government. That brand of patriotism--if patriotism it even is--is of a tribalistic, sophomoric variety. Actual patriotism, however, requires a commitment to the principles of the Consitution, and an ability to take an objective view of matters of this kind by transcending partisan commitments. There may be legal arguments that show that impeachment is not, in fact, called for, but if those arguments exist they have not been made public. From the perspective of the well-informed layperson, given the available evidence and arguments, impeachment must at least be seriously considered.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more consideration against impeachment:

There are more than a few Nixonite dead enders who seem to sincerely believe that the Watergate proceedings were a succesful coup d'etat by the Senate. Several Nixonite dead-enders occupy key positions in this administration, Dick Cheney most notably. This administration also clearly believes that there could never be any legal proceedings against it that are not both an infringment on the "unitary executive" and a simple political power grab. Finally, George W. Bush himself has a clear tendency to conflate his own personal interests with the will of history. Given these factors, what are the odds that GWB surrounds the Capitol building with tanks to protect what he thinks is the real constitutional order from a politically motivated plot by an overreaching, defeatist Congress? One in ten? One in five? I don't like those odds with those stakes, not when all we win is impeachment now, instead of real criminal investigation after these people are no longer in office with their finger on the button. (And with a president not inclined to hand out pardons.)

5:40 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I guess I don't see that as a real possibility...and if I *did*, then I'd be doing everything I could to promote impeachment. Though now that you mention it--though I can't see tanks around the White House--I guess I wouldn't put it past these guys to just throw up some patent legal bullshit and refuse to leave office...

7:20 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for dispensing with that piece of paranoid nonsense, WS.

But just as it was merbers of his own party who convinced Nixon to resign [the very next day], so too, if Bush and Cheney were constitutionally removed from office, their supporters [and the military] would follow new President Pelosi, as there could be no reasonable legal challenge to her authority.

11:20 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

Impeachment is a political remedy. It has due process trappings and procedural analogies to criminal procedure, but its only authorized punishment is removal from office and disqualification from eligibility for office, and it is specifically exempted from the prohibition against double jeopardy.

Impeachment was intended to be an extraordinary remedy, and that's why the Republicans were wrong to pursue it against Bill Clinton. If lying about blow jobs in Washington were extraordinary, we'd all know that the country was run by lesbians - and they'd be doing other things that the likes of Ken Starr would find unspeakable (but would document and footnote with prurient glee anyway).

The wimpy Washington Democrats have failed to make this distinction, too, or they would be able to distinguish between the Constitutional abuses of the Bushists and the marital abuses of the Clenis. Instead, Nancy and Harry let the conventional post-Democratic Beltway narrative and their own preference for playing it safe to bollix them.

Ironically, the Bushists' transparently bogus Constitutional interpretation of the Presidency constrains them to accept impeachment as political. If the President is immune from the law, as they have repeatedly claimed in a reprise of Nixonian defenses, impeachment is the only remedy between elections for an Executive run amok.

But logic and law don't work on these guys. Need an example? All the Republicans who pursued Clinton on grounds that no impact on government now blithely accept Duhbya and Darth's blanket claims of immunity.

The only goals the Bushist Republicans (practically speaking, all the party's officials) pursue consistently are their own power and tax cuts for the wealthy. When they have those, they don't need logic or law.

2:48 PM  

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