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January 25, 2006

File Under Posts That Won't Win Me Any Friends

I'm not terribly happy to see impeachment returning to the national conversation. It is, I think, a mind-boggingly bad idea. A few reasons:

• Fine, impeach. And then what? Hail to the Cheney? And Cheney gets to pick an heir for 2008, unifying the Republican Party around a fresh-faced, much-hyped successor? Why do we want that?

• Impeachment proceedings aren't always good politics. We on the left make a lot of noise about Newt's Wild and Crazy Prosecutorial Adventure, but we don't always mention the ass-kicking his party received in 1998, the one that led to his retirement from Congress. Proving bad faith on Bush's part is going to be mighty hard without the sort of smoking gun that proves he was deploying the NSA against personal enemies. So unless anyone knows where to find that enemy list...

• It's bad for the republic if impeachment becomes a routine feature of second-terms. Yes, I know that Democrats shouldn't be limited merely because the Republican Class of 1994 proved a crop of witch-hunting demagogues, but sometimes, fair or not, someone needs to play the adult. In this case, it's us.

Impeachment may be the sexiest and most gratifying of legal remedies for overstepping executives, but more attention, I think, should be paid to censure. It's a moderate response that codifies presidential wrongdoing and locks in perceptions of illegality. It short-circuits partisan defenses and rallying points that would refocus attention on the politics rather than the substance of the crime. And it strikes me as the most likely way to handicap Bush's second term and create favorable electoral results for Democrats, the only two outcomes actually able to constrain the executive branch.

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Comments

There are two of these.

Posted by: Dadahead | Jan 25, 2006 3:17:57 PM

Impeachment may be the sexiest and most gratifying of legal remedies for overstepping executives

It's the only one provided for by the Constitution. Censure is a bastard procedure spatch-cocked together to stick a finger in Andy Jackson's eyes a hundred and seventy years ago.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Jan 25, 2006 3:29:54 PM

The thing to do if we have enough power isn't impeach him, but launch massive investigations into the many stupid things he did, destroy the Republicans' reputation on all sorts of issues and set ourselves up for victory in 2008. It might be nice to bring down Bush himself, but I don't care all that much about that. I've got my sights on the whole Republican Party.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 25, 2006 3:32:11 PM

I agree. Although I'd love to see Bush be impeached, my desire to see such an event is based a vengenance rather than a desire for positive outcome. Yes, Bush sucks for America, and the world, but I think history itself will prove Bush & Co. wrong and, to be honest, him being proven wrong shouldn't be and hopefully isn't the strongest or even one of the strongest motivations behind the anti-Bush base. Really, I just want to see a job done much better by somebody else and meanwhile, to prevent or at least control possible future harm, educate the public so as to strip Bush's political support and capital. I think an impeachment would only distract Democrats from putting forth their message in '08 (not to mention '06 midterm elections) and retaining control of government. The Democrats need to define themselves, they need to reach out and connect with America, and not just try to tear down their opponent.

Posted by: steve c | Jan 25, 2006 3:33:31 PM

Ahead of yourself.

First, investigation.
Long, painful investigation.

Then, we see where we go.

Downgrading 'impeachment' as it's barely on the radar is playing the admin's game, by their rules.

Better to forget 'impeachment' and work on investigation -- which is to say, working on changing the public mind. The only way it's known to work is by the daily application of outraged congresspeople, pundits and astroturfed 'little guy' noise to the gears of the media machine.

Then, you can talk impeachment. Of course, if you've done the fertilizing properly, a succesful impeachment will not really be necessary -- at the end of the day it's the investigation, and the way that investigation changes the discourse, that gets all the results for you.

No?

Posted by: Half | Jan 25, 2006 4:06:49 PM

Respectfully disagree.

And Cheney gets to pick an heir for 2008, unifying the Republican Party around a fresh-faced, much-hyped successor?

Cheney will suffer from the Bush impeachment taint, as will his VP. I think most Republicans would consider that Cheney-second-banana post as political suicide.

Proving bad faith on Bush's part is going to be mighty hard without the sort of smoking gun that proves he was deploying the NSA against personal enemies.

Fortunately, "bad faith" doesn't enter into it. Impeachment is the product of violation of the law, which -- under the present facts -- isn't that far a stretch.

Yes, I know that Democrats shouldn't be limited merely because the Republican Class of 1994 proved a crop of witch-hunting demagogues, but sometimes, fair or not, someone needs to play the adult.

The problem with this sentiment is that it assumes that "we" (the left) will be the driving force behind impeachment. As you and others have noted, the outrage at Bush's illegality isn't nearly as partisan as the events that led to Clinton's impeachment. If impeachment of a Republican president comes from a Republican-led Congress, who is going to see it as "partisan"?

Posted by: Kman | Jan 25, 2006 4:11:07 PM

Heh....what an exercise in masturbation!

The impeachment talk is unrealistic at best and delusional at worst. However, I hope it makes ya'll feel better 'cause that is as far as it will go. (I love this liberal blog!)

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 25, 2006 4:16:05 PM

I hope everyone can agree that to not use impeachment at all for an instance of major lawbreaking (when there is no recourse in the criminal courts for Presidential/VP misbehavior), would effectively remove the impeachment sanction from the Constitution and encourage further lawbreaking.

The question is what is major lawbreaking, and how do you know when you have it. Clearly, without an investigation and hard, clear evidence, no sanction (impeachment or indictment after leaving office) can or should proceed.

Bush claims a novel theory of executive power and is fighting for that interpretation, so this lawbreaking is associated with rule-of-law issues: is the Executive interpretation correct? The question is how to get this issue into the courts at this time. Who has standing to bring a suit?

Congress could pass an even more explicit law on FISA (or on Executive power in warlike circumstances - providing for standing in court for those who may challenge breaking any further law - and if the President does so break the law, then the case goes to the courts. If the courts rule against the President and he persists, then impeachment would be clearly justified.

I see the problem today as not having evidence that indicates actual non-terrorist use of Bush's claimed powers (spying on political enemies, for instance). And Bush won't supply that evidence, just as Nixon didn't want to turn over his audio-taped oval office conversations. Until we get a court order for Bush to disclose, their will be no evidence, and hence no impeachment is reasonable - considering that this is a constitutional interpretation issue at heart.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Jan 25, 2006 5:03:05 PM

Ezra! Your half right, and ironically "Half" is completely right.

We should not be talking about impeachment for all the reasons you say, and let me add to your list the most obvious: This Congress wouldn't impeach Bush if he burned the White House to the ground.

Censore is just silly.

First, we need to push relentless to investigate Bush and hold out for real minority power in those Congressional investigations (see the Ds response to the attempted Katrina whitewash) and start driving the debate. As the minority party we are only as strong as the public support we can muster.

Second, we must win elections. See the first.

Posted by: Don | Jan 25, 2006 5:43:56 PM

Impeachment is a process that weakens and possibly removes the legitimacy from a President, his Party, and the people who voted for him. It has benefits far exceeding the removal of the man, it tells Republican voters that they screwed up and can't be trusted to exercise their franchise competently. It is good as an exercise of power in its own sake.

Nixon's branch of his party was effectively annihilated by his impeachment. I think you are underestimating the political advantages.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 25, 2006 5:56:04 PM

Could we get an impeachment and Senate trial in between Election Day in 2008 and the Inauguration? Not much goes on during that period anyway, and it'd be a nice going-away present.

Posted by: Bob Munck | Jan 25, 2006 6:29:03 PM

it's important to showcase how incredibly inept this republican and his followers have been. this is not lying about a private act.

this is believing terrible, stupid "intelligence" about wmd in iraq, killing tens of thousands of innocent iraqis, allowing 9/11, allowing the destruction of new orleans, making the rich richer and doing nothing for people who work for a living, calling a disastrous tax handout to big pharma "helping seniors," then spying on americans because hey, i guess we're the bad guys.

if talking about impeachment opens a few more eyes, let's talk about impeachment.

Posted by: pluripotentate | Jan 25, 2006 6:31:40 PM

The whole conversation is sorta moot, anyway, because it's the Republicans (Arlen Specter, to be precise) who are going to begin hearings on the FISA stinker. He's already released a list of nasty questions to be answered by AG Gonzales.

The democrats can't do anything about this, one way or another. If the republicans want to impeach him (holy mother of god, did I just write that?), then they will.

They won't be able to blame democrats, tho' I'm sure they'll try very, very hard.

I have no clue whether they're serious or not. But I know that if they do impeach Bush, they'll blame everything from 9/11 to gum disease on him, brand republican will come out clean on the other side, the republicans will be the new party of reform and responsibility, Dick Cheney will be in charge, and then Katie bar the door. They'll be hunting us like dogs.

Posted by: merciless | Jan 25, 2006 6:43:43 PM

Let's see, Nixon was going to be impeached and Carter was elected, Clinton was impeached and we ended up with Bush. Impeachment seems to work even when it fails.

Posted by: MarvyT | Jan 25, 2006 8:07:16 PM

• Impeachment proceedings aren't always good politics. We on the left make a lot of noise about Newt's Wild and Crazy Prosecutorial Adventure, but we don't always mention the ass-kicking his party received in 1998, the one that led to his retirement from Congress. Proving bad faith on Bush's part is going to be mighty hard without the sort of smoking gun that proves he was deploying the NSA against personal enemies. So unless anyone knows where to find that enemy list...

Why do people remember this backwards? Republicans did poorly in 98 relatively speaking, and THEN they impeached Clinton. And THEN Bush was elected president.

Posted by: Jedmunds | Jan 25, 2006 9:40:56 PM

Remember, folks, that impeachment is just the foreplay. While impeachment takes a simple majority vote in the House, it takes a whopping two-thirds of the Senate to actually remove a president once he's impeached. So unless somebody can figure out how twenty-one Republican senators are going to either vote to convict George W. Bush or turn into Democrats, getting rid of Bush before 2009 is still a pipe dream.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Jan 26, 2006 1:38:16 AM

Um, we already know that Cheney took part in breaking the law. In the unlikely event that we remove Bush, I think Dennis Hastert would take office as President.

Posted by: Omar K. Ravenhurst | Jan 26, 2006 3:46:23 AM

Hmm, an awful lot of "argument by assertion" floating around here…

You assume that because you don't agree with the justification for war, that there must be something illegal about it, as opposed to simply mistaken.

You assume that despite the public views of Cass Sunstein et al to the contrary (to say nothing of the entire Justice Department), the NSA program was illegal.

You assume that Bush has asserted "novel" theories about executive power in wartime. (Abraham Lincoln, anyone? FDR? Bush hasn't yet imposed martial law or sent political opponents to prison, nor has he rounded up American citizens and put them into internment camps.)

You assume that impeachment can be used as a political tool, without even considering whether any supposed misdeeds meet the Congressional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors." (Remember that one?)

Best of all, you assume that you can muster up a majority in the House of Representatives in favor of impeachment. Just which twenty or thirty Republican congressman do you hope will cross the aisle?

Why do you waste your energy on this sort of foolishess? As well pray for men from Mars to save you from AmeriKKKa. I would much rather prefer that you spend your time crafting well-thought-out policy alternatives… you know, the sort of thing that makes concrete improvements in American society?

Posted by: Mastiff | Jan 26, 2006 4:49:24 AM

*Constitutional standard.

Jeesh, I gotta stop posting at 2 in the morning…

Posted by: Mastiff | Jan 26, 2006 4:50:56 AM

Ezra, on many other issues (eg the Iraq war) I might agree with you. But this NSA programme, especially in light of the rejected DeWine amendment that Glenn Greenwald unearthed, is far, far too important to let slide. We have to send a clear signal that this brazen illegality and contempt for the constitution will not stand. If a president can't be impeached for this, then what can they be impeached for. We're talking about an administration that on the one hand was arguing in the Senate that a Congressionally authorised watered down version of the warrantless spying programme for non-US persons only would be unnecessary and probably unconstitutional, while on the other it was actually undertaking exactly that activity for US persons. I can't think of any example other than Iran Contra that comes close in terms of blatant contempt for the law and Congress.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jan 26, 2006 7:36:35 AM

Ezra is right for all his reasons. Also, impeachment is simply not going to happen in this political environment. Let me restate, WE ARE IN THE MINORITY. I don't care what that poll says. Until the Democrats have a majority in either the Senate or House, we should save the impeachment talk. Remember, that link indicates, "If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives..."

Thats if. And if it does, I would support it then, and only then, because we would have the ability to bring the process toward full fruition. If we lose on, we will be left looking like fools and losers, and we can say goodbye to 2008.

Posted by: Adrock | Jan 26, 2006 12:02:30 PM

Why do people remember this backwards? Republicans did poorly in 98 relatively speaking, and THEN they impeached Clinton. And THEN Bush was elected president.

Ezra didn't have it backwards at all. The Republicans screamed about impeachment going into the '98 election, and ran on that as their main issue. The electorate didn't want to see it happen, as per every single poll taken on the subject, so the Republicans did badly and Newt resigned. Then the impeachment proceedings happened.

And then Bush won in 2000 by running AWAY from the "I" word, which he NEVER uttered in public, not even once. All he did was talk about "restoring honor and dignity to the White House" (snicker). He wouldn't have even had to be that vague about it, if he hadn't have needed to navigate the minefield of criticizing Clinton's unpopular behavior without being tied to the even more unpopular GOP impeachment drive.

And, in fact, Gore ended up being the one who was more tied to the impeachment, because he had defended Clinton so vigorously (not that defending Clinton against impeachment was wrong--of course it was a bullshit witch hunt--but Gore wasn't seen as even being all that critical of what Clinton had done). Politically speaking, it's entirely clear that the Republicans in Congress completely overreached by going as far as they did.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 26, 2006 12:37:47 PM

Bush has essentially declared that during time of war the Executive can break any law he deems necessary without telling anyone about it. He admits to having intentionally and repeatedly broken a major law designed specifically to limit his powers and insists he will continue to do so. We have to trust that he's not misusing his assumed power... and by the way, we're in a permanent state of war - against anyone who looks like a danger to national security.

Isn't there a pretty serious downside to NOT impeaching the President?

The proposed alternative is to damage him and his party through continuing investigation and bad publicity - as if that's suddenly going to start working? Presidents are more vulnerable to a narrowly focused attack, no matter how trivial compared to their other sins: Nixon's coverup, Clinton's perjury... Bush's illegal wiretaps?

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Posted by: judy | Sep 29, 2007 10:59:39 AM

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