Even with the statements by presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that the Democratic majority will not pursue impeachment, the issue is still buzzing about the nation. I have very mixed feelings about it myself, but I have come to the conclusion that it would be unwise to go down that road.
Read more... My political awakening was the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1974. I watched a steady parade of witnesses detail the disregard for the rule of law shown by the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Nixon famously said that, because he was President, anything he did was legal. Nixon resigned because it was clear that the House would vote to impeach, and quite likely that the Senate would then vote to remove him from office. His crimes were obstruction of justice, violating the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, and willfully disobeying Congressional subpoenas.
Bill Clinton, like Andrew Johnson before him, was impeached but not removed from office. (Impeachment is analogous to indictment; removal is the punishment for conviction.) In both of those cases, the charges were motivated far more by political spite than by any actual malfeasance. Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury, both of which are serious crimes, but the Republican Party engineered the circumstances for nakedly partisan purposes. Further, the Republican Supreme Court assisted in engineering the partisan witch-hunt by ruling, incomprehensibly, that allowing the Paula Jones lawsuit to proceed while Clinton was in office would not "place unacceptable burdens on the President that will hamper the performance of his official duties" and that it would not "generate a large volume of politically motivated harassing and frivolous litigation." Even though the ruling was unanimous, it was promptly contradicted by reality on both counts.
Johnson was impeached for trying to force out his Secretary of War without the approval of the Senate, in violation of a new law, passed over Johnson's veto, which required Senate approval to remove anyone who had been confirmed by the Senate. There again, the impeachment was an entirely partisan political machination.
I do believe, quite firmly and earnestly, that President George W. Bush is in fact guilty of far worse crimes than Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton combined. Bush lied to get us into a war of choice which he sold as a war of necessity. He has ignored the Constitution, engaging in illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens without court supervision — one of the very things for which Nixon was about to be impeached — and detaining U.S. citizens in secret without access to courts. He has at the least turned a blind eye (with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge) to treatment of detainees that constitutes torture under established U.S. judicial precedents from World War II. He has committed numerous war crimes. He is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst President ever in the history of the United States, worse than Harding, Hoover, Buchanan and Pierce combined.
However, the question must be what benefit and detriment would the nation get from impeachment. For the remainder of his Presidency, Bush will be limited by the Democrats' control of both houses of Congress. If that impediment proves ineffective at reining in his grotesque arrogations of power, then he should be impeached. However, the impeachment process would likely take at least the better part of a year, and would cast the Democrats in much the same negative light as the Republicans' efforts against Clinton, despite the obvious difference in the legitimacy of the charges. It would cast a terrible pall over the 2008 campaign, and probably throw the White House to the Republicans for at least another 4 years.
In a sense, impeaching Bush now would be analogous to Bush's own decision to topple Saddam Hussein: Saddam was thoroughly contained by various measures including the No-Fly Zones, and removing him by a military invasion has proved to be a disaster, by any measure not worth the cost in lives or dollars; likewise, Bush will be contained by the Congress — at least better contained than he was by the Republican lackeys — and removing him could easily do more harm than good.
Besides that, you would have to impeach both Bush and Cheney, because no one in their right mind wants to see President Dick Cheney, even for five minutes. Unless you phased the impeachments to allow time for an appointed successor, that would leave you with President Nancy Pelosi, and the nation would not stand for that unless the case was so compelling that the people were virtually unanimous in demanding Bush's removal at any cost. I think Pelosi would be a far better President than either Bush or Cheney, but then again, I say the same thing about my friend's cat.
While impeachment and removal would be just and fair to Bush, and while it would be emotionally cathartic for Democrats, the cost to the nation is too high, until and unless Bush makes another decisive blunder.
Technorati tags: BushImpeachment, Oversight