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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Impeachment Politics Getting Tricky

Todd Gitlin’s TPM Cafe post “Impeachment Pit” adds some common sense to the debate about the wisdom of impeaching Bush and Cheney. Gitlin concedes the strong legal case for impeachment based on the puppet’s and his master’s reckless commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, then adds “But impeachment is one those apparently golden ideas that tarnish in the bright light of day.”
Gitlin quotes from Michael Tomasky’s insightful WaPo op-ed, “The Dumbest Move the Dems Could Make,” arguing,

Impeachment is not merely a bad idea, but the single worst course of action that Democrats could possibly undertake — the only thing they could do that might, in one stroke, convert Bush from the figure of contempt and mockery he is now into one of vague sympathy.

To which Gitlin adds:

I am not blind to the satisfactions of vengeance. For obvious reasons, Bush and Cheney deserve impeachment in inverse order. But these common-sensical words immediately suggest the problem: In the real world, no political move–however symbolically beautiful, however just in intent–is without cost.
As Tomasky wrote, the present Senate is not going to convict. So the victory of any hypothetical impeachment would be Pyrrhic at best.

More could be added to Gitlin and Tomasky’s sobering arguments, including Ruy Teixeira’s point that impeachment would drain energies that could be more profitably applied to building a working Democratic majority.
All of which makes perfect sense — for now. The problem is that Bush and Cheney are so utterly devoid of integrity and respect for the Constitution that they may yet do something outrageous enough to make impeachment inevitable — or push Democrats to the brink, where they have to chose between looking like wimps or performing their constitutional duty. Ed Kilgore mentions one such scary scenario, the possibility of a preemptive strike against Iran, in his recent TDS post discussing important “Impeachment Questions.”
Here’s hoping we don’t get to that point. Things are going too well for the Democrats right now to embrace such a risky course of action. If the elephant dung hits the fan, however, the inverse of Gitlin’s aforementioned rule may become operative: political inaction can have a cost as well.

2 comments on “Impeachment Politics Getting Tricky

  1. Badger on

    Here’s the problem as I see it. I believe impeachment is doable although by no means a sure bet. It would no doubt be an almost completely partisan vote with defections on both sides but I think at the end, the “yeas” would prevail.
    However, as many others have already pointed out, conviction in the Senate is another matter. Even if every single Democrat plus the two Independents who caucus with the Democrats were to vote to convict, unless they get some Republican votes, it’s not going to happen. I don’t know that the people clamoring loudest for impeachment understand that. I’m afraid they’ll see it as just another “DLC Repug-lite” cowardly sell-out even if all the Democrats (plus Leiberman and Sanders) vote for conviction.

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  2. Albert Whited on

    I agree that from the partisan perspective of aggregating and holding power, impeachment may not be the best strategy. Undoubtedly, Rove is holding the revenge card up his sleeve that he’ll use in the media to brand Democrats petty children who are simply finding their opportunity to repay the GOP for their impeachment of Clinton. The MSM also undoubtedly would be gleeful in their punditry, ascribing all the motivations and reactions Gitlin outlines. But, isn’t such a partisan strategy just another aspect of the political cynicism by which voters are so repulsed?
    However, impeachment should not and need not be about vengeance–whether as tit-for-tat vis-a-vis WJC, or for the actual victims of the crimes of the Bush White House. Rather, as John Nichols illuminates in The Nation (8/13/07) and echoing the sentiments of Bill Moyers panelists, “…the point of impeachment is not the transitory crimes of small men but the long-term definition of great offices. …the Founders intended impeachment less as a punishment for office-holders than as a protection against the dangerous expansion of executive authority. If abuse of the system of checks and balances, lies about war, approval of illegal spying and torture, signing statements that improperly arrogate legislative powers to the executive branch, schemes to punish political foes and refusals to cooperate with Congressional inquiries are not judged as high crimes, the next President, no matter from which party, will assume the authority to exercise some or all of these ilegitimate powers.” Indeed, the partisan temptation to do so will be great, even if just as a matter of righting the wrongs done by a previous administration.
    So, the Congress has a solemn, non-partisan duty to our Constitution to execute an impeachment not only against Bush and Cheney, but also against any scoundrel, tyrant or demagogue that so abuses the powers of their offices and damages our Democracy. That the Democrats make up the majority of the Congress right now, it falls to them to muster the necessary support for those articles. But, it also falls to all MOGs to weigh the facts of these matters objectively and to acquit their Constitutional duty. To do otherwise–whether as a matter of winning elections or as a matter of partisan solidarity–is merely to succumb to political cynicism. Such may be considered complicity in the same crimes as those accused, since it is a withholding of the last instrument necessary in preserving our system of checks and balances–and in spite of Justice.
    Perhaps, then, a national civics lesson is in order, a Prophylactic for the People against the inevitable slings and arrows of the MSM, screeching of vengeance and pettiness and disloyalty in “war time” like a chorus of so many howler monkeys, a cacophony of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    Perhaps also, for this one action, all Democrats and any Republicans of conscience who would join them, should declare themselves Independents, making it clear to the People that this is an action of Our supreme legislative body performing its Constitutional duty.
    Nichols concludes, “No matter how unsucessful we may think [Bush’s] tenure has been, it will leave a mark on the Republic. If that mark is of a presidency without limit or accountability, Bush and Cheney will have changed the country far more fundamentally than any of their predecessors.”
    Here one is reminded of the legacy of Julius Caesar in the course of the Roman state. While the “noblest” Romans assassinated and buried Caesar, the fundamental mutation to tyranny that he wrought persevered. Republic became Empire. But, the Pax was a pox upon all houses. The brutality necessary for imperial rule spread from the reaches of empire back to mother Rome, where fear and poverty and oppression prevailed until the Fall.
    Are we not already seeing these same signs as we enter upon a new era of imperial executive? Are our armies not already waging an unwinnable, unending war against a shadowy enemy of ideology? Are we not already refitting our society for the paranoia of an all-seeing eye? Have we not already succumbed to a politics of effete consent?
    So, it is not enough to punish these mere men for their transgressions, though justice demands it and impeachment will accomplish it. Such ad hominem penalty is merely cutting a head from the hydra of imperialism, for another will grow back in its place. No, that imperial dragon must be slain. But it will take more than a partisan Brutus. It will take a People expressing their Will for the persistence of democratic self-governance through the only vehicle We have: the Congress. That vehicle is so much bigger in its Constitutional sense and its Democratic import than any political party. And ultimately, the members thereof must act in accordance with the Will of the People to restore balance and integrity to our great Nation.

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