Thursday, August 02, 2007

Impeachment as Clever Politics

Ever since the fantastic Moyers piece on impeachment, good lefties can at least raise the issue without looking like deranged fanatics. The idea is generally quickly dismissed, but at least it's not so absurd as to obviate the need to kick it around conversationally. We're still at the point where it seems like political suicide, but at least we're doing the polling.

Ah, but I think I see a way to have your impeachment and eat it, too. Here's how.

The Argument Against
Most recently, I heard Rosa Brooks and Heather Hurlburt discuss the cons of impeachment on a podcast of their bloggingheads discussion. Their analysis, typical of lefties, goes like this:
HEATHER: In an alternative fair and just universe, the president would be already be impeached, he'd be convicted, he'd be gone.

ROSA: Absolutely, okay. Here here. (smiles broadly)

HEATHER: So I'm totally with that as the ideal outcome.
But the problem, they conclude, is that it's politically unwise. Yes, Bush has committed crimes against the Constitution, and yes, his is exactly the case the framers envisioned when they included impeachment in it. Having just declared independence from a king, they wanted to make sure there were stops in place to prevent one, too. This is the essential argument for impeachment as a remedy--when a president seizes power beyond those granted to the executive, there must be a way to stop him besides waiting for the next election. As Nichols noted in the Moyers discussion, impeachment is the corrective to the crisis, not the crisis itself. With these arguments Rosa and Heather agree.

Still, impeachment is politically out of the question because the '94 zealots beat Dems to the punch, squandering this rare privilege in a contemptuously partisan move. Impeaching Bush/Cheney would look like cheap payback for Clinton, plus it would galvanize the GOP and jeopardize Democratic chances in '08, plus the votes aren't there, anyway. So fahgeddaboutit. Move on, let history be the judge.

The Argument For
There's actually very little disagreement--even on the right--about presidential "overreaching." Since taking office, Bush has claimed powers that are demonstrably not granted by our Constitution: he hides things from the Congress, imprisons and tortures suspects, spies on citizens, uses the federal government as a political arm to abuse political foes. The case has been made well elsewhere (and ad nauseum) and I won't go into it here.

The real threat, of course, is that having granted a president these "rights," we have to live with them. Future President Clinton will have the right to torture suspects she doesn't like, to spy on her enemies, and to use the federal government to punish her foes. Or Giuliani, or whomever. There is only one way to prevent these rights from being transferred, and that is to force the president to cede them; and that is done by drawing up articles of impeachment. (If he chooses not to cede them, then removal settles the matter.)

Now, here's the clever politics part. If the current Democratic presidential field led the charge for impeachment* and demand impeachment on the grounds that they shouldn't have these rights when they become president, it would defang the political argument and turn it into a discussion about what it properly is: a Constitutional crisis. Most of the field are senators, so they can't actually begin the process, but by taking point on it, they could raise the heat on power-grabbing Republicans. Even more to the point, they could begin hammering the Congressional GOP by asking whether they want these rights to be transferred to a Democratic president, and demanding that if the answer is no, they support the impeachment process.

I don't have any great delusions that it would lead to actual impeachment hearings, but it could become the political coup of '07. And based on polling, it wouldn't hurt their approval ratings, either. Dems miss an enormous opportunity by letting it pass.

*Or join Kucinich's charge.


Terry said...

So where do you stand?

We now hear calls for Alberto Gonzales' impeachment. I say impeach the man who appointed him. Gonzales is merely Bush's shield.

There's no way that this current slate of Dem candidates, outside of Kucinich, will agree to back an impeachment of Bush.

As you should have learned from the Moyers interview, impeachment is not about politics, "clever" or ohterwise. It's about protecting the Constitution.

Jeff Alworth said...

Actually, impeachment is a specifically political remedy--it just happens to be one of the very few outlined and sanctioned in the constitution.

I'm for it, but I think "politics" is what's preventing it. I think a reframe takes it out of the context of cynical politics and back into the realm of constitutional protection, not partisan bickering. Which is exactly why he should be impeached.

iggi said...

"impeachment is politically out of the question because the '94 zealots beat Dems to the punch, squandering this rare privilege in a contemptuously partisan move. Impeaching Bush/Cheney would look like cheap payback for Clinton"

this seems like a catch-22...all the Repubs have to do the next time there's a Dem president is start impeachment proceedings against him/her and then their next president is free to do whatever he feels like - all because the Dems are too scared to look like their going for cheap shots.

cheap shots be damned. the man and his entire administration are criminals. they need to be brought down hard.