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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/16/10

Obama Was Created By Our Failure to Impeach Bush

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Remarks at the Rutherford Institute, June 16, 2010
Video of these remarks and the following Q&A posted at

I want to save most of the time we have for your questions, so I'll be brief and I'll start with a couple of questions for you. And then I want you to think of questions for me, because otherwise I'll just go on and on about what I want to talk about.

Who can tell me who said this and where they said it?
"I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation." -- President Barack Obama, asserting the illegal and unconstitutional power to make war, in a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway.

What about this one -- who and where?
"There may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. . . . As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. . . . We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified." -- President Barack Obama standing in front of the U.S. Constitution in the National Archives, a Constitution that reads "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended."

OK. One more. Who said this and where and when?
"The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always." --President Barack Obama in the Oval Office last night explaining how he'll stop the explosion that is pumping millions of gallons of oil into the ocean every day, and defend the separation of church and state.

Something is missing, I think, from the recent debate over whether Nancy Pelosi blames George W. Bush too much. Pelosi chose not to impeach Bush. Had she pursued impeachment, Bush would have been a better president as long as he remained in office, and his successor -- whether Barack Obama or someone else -- would have been far less dangerous than Obama is right now.

That Bush and Dick Cheney had reshaped the powers of the presidency was not exactly a secret. In a December 31, 2007, editorial, the New York Times faulted Bush and Cheney for kidnapping innocent people, denying justice to prisoners, torturing, murdering, circumventing US and international law, spying in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and basing their actions on "imperial fantasies." If the list of crimes had been smaller, such as robbing a liquor store and killing the clerk, the editorialists would have demanded prosecution. In this case, on the contrary, they demanded the same thing that Pelosi demanded of us, that we sit back and hope the next president would be better. But the next president was destined to enter office with the power to commit all the crimes listed above and many more, including the larger crimes of aggressive war to which the New York Times contributed so crucially.

We prosecute liquor store robbers when we can catch them, and we sometimes win convictions. Other times, the robbers get away. But we are certain that the effort, while far from perfect, deters some people from robbing liquor stores. Had Pelosi attempted to impeach George W. Bush and failed, President Obama, or whoever was president now, would have had to operate under that deterrent. And it is highly unlikely that Pelosi would have failed to win a majority in the House for impeachment, and it is unlikely that two-thirds of the Senate would not have convicted. It is also unlikely that a serious move toward impeachment and trial would not have resulted in criminal prosecution. I say this for several reasons.

1-Even with both political parties adamantly opposed to impeachment, a majority of Americans favored it. Imagine what the support would have been had impeachment hearings been held.

2-Pelosi has great powers of persuasion, including campaign dollars, media influence, positions on committees, and votes on bills and earmarks. She has won many tough fights, just usually fighting for horrible things.

3-The evidence of many of the crimes and abuses of power was and is overwhelming, and included public confessions. And impeachment and senate conviction does not even require allegation, much less proof, of a statutory crime.

4-During 2007 and 2008 when congressional committees subpoenaed witnesses to speak about executive branch abuses, those witnesses usually refused to appear. Pelosi could have begun using the Capitol Police to compel compliance, or simply allowed an impeachment committee to subpoena the White House. The first solution would have resulted in tremendous public awareness of outrageous criminal behavior. The second would have resulted in the same or in near certain impeachment, because refusal to comply with an impeachment hearing is an impeachable offense and is what President Richard Nixon was about to be impeached for when he resigned.

5-If the issue of impeachment had been raised, members of both parties would have had to support impeachment, conviction, and criminal prosecution if they wanted to be reelected. The evidence for this includes the polling already mentioned and several other indicators. Even with impeachment stripped out of our Constitution and thrown on the fire, the number one demand of Obama's supporters on his campaign website was that he keep his promise to filibuster a bill giving immunity to corporations that illegally spied for Bush. The number one demand on Obama's transition website was that he open a criminal investigation into Bush. Many Democratic-loyal organizations like the ACLU struggled with their members in order to refuse to support impeachment but began clamoring for prosecution as soon as Bush had done a full eight years' worth of damage. Imagine what the push for prosecution would have been had impeachment happened. When Congressman Alan Grayson in 2009 sent around an Email complaining that Cheney was not behind bars yet, it helped Grayson raise a half million dollars in a day. President Ford hurt his election prospects by pardoning Nixon.

6-Whether Cheney was impeached first or second, whoever served for whatever period in the oval office (and no, it would not have been Pelosi herself) would have been a more law-abiding president, and reforms coming out of this ordeal would quite likely have included barring vice presidents from executive work and restricting them, in the words of Sarah Palin, to being in charge of the Senate.

Now, some people knew about many of Bush's crimes and abuses but didn't think of them as expansions of power. Rather, they were one-time aberrations, and whether they were punished or rewarded, the office of the presidency would not be altered. The next president would refrain from the same sort of behavior because he or she wouldn't be the sadistic moron that Bush was. This was a pleasant fantasy and had a certain ring of truth to it. But how presidents behave is not determined purely by their genes and their childhoods. Bush is off at his new think tank urging them not to think too much and telling us we should shift to renewable energy. Had Congress resisted Bush the way it did Nixon, Obama could have easily been a better president than Jimmy Carter. As it is, Obama is exercising more abusive power than any other president in US history, Bush included. Which is not to say that Obama has added more new powers to the presidential tool box than Bush did, but that he has cemented in place those precariously claimed by Bush and added some new ones besides. In addition to political inertia, the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that powers used by multiple presidents become legal powers, making the Bush-Obama presidential powers more difficult to undo than they were as Bush powers alone.

We currently suffer the rule of a president who has claimed greater war powers than his predecessor, who asserted the power of aggressive war in a peace prize acceptance speech, who threw out habeas corpus standing in front of the US Constitution in the National Archives, who has claimed the powers to spy without warrant, imprison without charge, torture, murder, assassinate, occupy, and operate in unprecedented secrecy, and we think we've improved things because this president is from the other political party and speaks in complete sentences.

In my book "Daybreak" I looked at various powers Bush and Cheney had piled up to pass along to their successors. And this was very much Cheney's intention, had been his mission for decades, and you'll notice that people like John Yoo now speak very highly of Obama's willingness to abuse the same powers. The first thing I looked at was the power to make laws. Of course, it's been increasingly well-established since Jefferson's presidency that presidents tell Congress what laws to make. But Bush produced laws like the PATRIOT Act and convinced Congress to pass them without, in the case of most members, reading them. Obama has produced bills too lengthy for anyone to read, such as his healthcare bill, produced through secret presidential negotiations with the corporations affected and ongoing direction to congressional committees. No bill is brought to the floor without Obama's approval. If Obama slows down the withdrawal of troops from Iraq or sends more to Afghanistan, Congress simply picks up the tab. If Pelosi wants to crack down on reckless oil drilling, she doesn't legislate, she asks the president to please do something But none of this is entirely new.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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