It has become painfully clear to anyone that follows Beltway politics, that principle almost never rules the day. With a few notable exceptions -- such as Russ Feingold’s brave opposition to the Patriot Act, or his motion to censure the President -- today’s politicians won’t so much as sneeze without checking with their advisors to see what the political consequences may be.
It is this tendency, at least in part, that prompted many Democrats to cave on crucial issues: such as voting to give Bush authority to invade Iraq in 2002, or to vote for the Military Commissions Act (I’m looking at you Sherrod Brown). This cautious and weak behavior was on display last week when both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton needed a full day to decide if they could say homosexuality is not immoral.
This approach no doubt has been behind the Democrats inability to seriously approach the issue of impeachment. For most on the left it seems like a no brainier. Bush, and members of his administration, have unambiguously committed several impeachable offenses: manipulating intelligence to go to war, abuse of power with the excessive use signing statements, institutionalizing torture, spying on Americans, outing a CIA agent and firing federal prosecutors for political gain.
The simple role of Congress in providing a check on executive power should be enough, but the Democrats have shown time and time again that are less concerned with protecting the Constitution than they are with winning elections. So it is this spirit that I make the case for impeachment through the lens of cold political calculation.
Impeachment is not merely your Constitutional duty, but also a tactically wise political move. There is far more to gain by trying, even if it ends in failure, then by “running out the clock” and waiting for the nightmare to come to a painful conclusion. Impeachment will strengthen the party and its prospects for the future, rather than diminish it.
Polls, though few in number, show that a good portion of the country is open to impeachment. 42 percent of Americans said they would support impeaching the president “if it were proved that he had misled the nation about his reasons for going to War in Iraq,” according to a Zogby poll done in June. This is substantially higher than public support for the Clinton impeachment.
According to an LA Times/Bloomberg poll from early last year, 39 percent of the country would consider it an impeachable offense "[i]f a congressional investigation finds that George W. Bush broke the law when he authorized government agencies to use electronic surveillance to monitor American citizens without a court warrant." The poll also concluded that 57 percent of Americans wants Congress to "hold hearings to investigate the legality” of the NSA program.
To go further back, we learn that in late 2005 50 percent of those polled by IPSOS, agreed with the following statement: "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him."
And since these polls were done trust in President Bush has dwindled dramatically. His approval ratings have plummeted, support for the war has evaporated, and further scandals (including one resulting in conviction ) have filled the news hole. The public is angry; there is every reason to believe that support for impeachment has only risen along with this anger.
Moreover, those who are opposed or unsure about impeachment, may well be convinced if the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration are laid out to the public everyday.
Sure the Republicans may fend off the attack President Bush may well remain in office until Jan. 2009 anyway. But the endeavor would still be a huge success: it would enlighten the American people, and permanently put the horrible misdeeds of the President and his cohorts into the congressional record. And it goes without saying that the grassroots base of the party would be energized by the process.
Can you even envision a scenario in which an on-the-fence voter would feel more compelled to vote Republican in 2008 out of anger at the Democrats for using this maneuver? History certainly would not add credence to that theory. In the case of Clinton, the Republicans did quite swimmingly in the following elections, earning a monolithic voice in government after repeated successes in 2000, 2002 and 2004. The first presidential election after the Nixon resignation was a victory by Jimmy Carter. And even going back to the 19th century, it was again the opposition party that won the presidency following the Andrew Johnson impeachment proceedings.
Some argue that this would serve as a “distraction” and prevent Democrats from pursuing other goals. However, between Bush’s veto power, and a closely divided senate, bold legislation is doomed to fail anyway -- especially given Joe Lieberman’s love affair with the GOP.
The case for impeachment is sound, and the path is clear. Not only is impeachment the moral responsibility of the Congress -- but it is also a pragmatic political maneuver. The Democrats in Congress have a chance to strengthen the party and the country.
Will they take advantage of the opportunity?