Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Case for Impeachment

Keeping up with administration scandals and incompetence is a full-time job; larger than a full-time job. It's a depressingly Sisyphean task, made worse by the fact that there is no end-game.

Impeachment of the President and Vice-President would almost certainly fail to pass the Senate. Let's get that out of the way first. It doesn't matter. There are two goals for impeachment: to get the offenders out of office and to resist the normalization of outrageous behavior. The second is far more important than the first.

The fundamental question of this administration is will it be an anomaly or the definition of the new norm? We are leaning towards the latter. We have established a very dangerous precedent: that the President can blatantly and repeatedly break the law and disobey the Constitution without repercussion.

When Nancy Pelosi stated that impeachment was off the table she wrote a blank check to the administration; there is nothing they can't do. Period. Impeachment is the one and only tool we have for dealing with a runaway executive.

Every time the administration breaks the law or skirts the rules without repercussion that behavior is normalized. Spare the rod, spoil the child. At best there is some meek disagreement -- what the president did was naughty and we should send him a disapproving letter. Imprisoning and torturing US citizens without trial, without access to legal counsel and without the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus? That deserves a polite but stern missive, nothing more.

Impeachment is more than polite disagreement. Impeachment is the recognition that things have gone horribly off-track. Impeachment is the pronouncement that what the executive branch is doing is wrong, is illegal, is bad for America and is something we must fight with every available resource.

Republicans have become masters of shifting the debate in directions that suit them by tugging hard towards the extreme rather than moving towards the center. That is why Frank Gaffney writes columns arguing that speaking out against the Iraq War is a hanging offense. The extreme ideas make the slightly less extreme ideas seem reasonable by comparison. The discussion moves from "speaking up against an unjust war is something officials are morally required to do" to "maybe speaking up against a war isn't quite a hanging offense but it sure is awful!" And hence we get stuck with oft-repeated tripe that doing the right thing is "hurting morale" and "against the troops" and "providing aid and comfort to the enemy." The spectrum, as defined by the endpoints, has been shifted.

When was the last time you heard a Democrat say that Bush should be hung for his misdeeds? If speaking out against a war is a hanging offense then certainly lying about the reasons for a disastrous war is one as well. Disobeying laws passed by Congress and using executive orders to effectively write legislation must likewise be a capital crime. Denying US citizens the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus should be an invitation to beheading.

Compared to those options impeachment looks downright moderate. Even a failed impeachment attempt is a win in that it places executive scandal and incompetence back into the realm of impeachable offenses. That is the bigger picture that many impeachment foes miss: whether impeachment succeeds or fails at removing criminals from office it succeeds in the larger sense of drawing the lines more towards the side of lawfulness and accountability.

If as President you willfully violate the Constitution we will do everything in our power to stop you. That is the message we should be sending. The message itself is powerful regardless of the outcome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree that impeachment is the only solution and that this administration may become the norm. I guess what I've realized about extremes are only extreme when it hasn't happened yet or only a speculation. Once it does happen, it doesn't seem as one had speculated. I wonder if the Soviet Union still existed, would this administration, and even the last, over surveil the population and would the population have accepted it.

Just trying to get through one of their scandals is like a full-time job.

Cheers. Great comment on the topic of impeachment.