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Tomasky on Impeachment: The Dumbest Advice the Democrats Have Ever Gotten

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By Dave Lindorff

Over 15 months after publishing our “indignant” book on the reasons that President George W. Bush has to be impeached (“The Case for Impeachment,” published in May of 2006), it’s nice to finally be mentioned in the Washington Post. That publication had to date ignored our book, despite its having been published by a mainstream publisher (St. Martin’s Press), and despite its having sold 20,000 copies in hardcover without a single mainstream review anywhere in the country (it’s now out in paperback).

That sales history alone should have alerted writers like Michael Tomasky, a mainstream Democratic liberal with American Prospect magazine (another publication that continues to black out our book) that something is going on out there in the grassroots.

But somehow, Tomasky still doesn’t get it.

As he wrote in his August 5 Washington Post article, the case for impeachment, on the facts, is clear:

"As Dave Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky argue in their indignant book The Case for Impeachment, the bill of indictment goes far beyond Bush's grave lies about Iraq. There's also the arrest and detention without trial of U.S. citizens, the violation of international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions at the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the 'blatant violation’ of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment 'by secretly authorizing secret warrantless spying on thousands of American citizens by the National Security Agency.'"

Tomasky might have gone on to also mention Bush’s 1200 signing statements, which he has used to invalidate hundreds of laws passed by Congress, in “blatant violation” of the basic Constitutional principle of separation of powers, and in express violation of Articles I and II of the Constitution (which state clearly that, respectively, the legislative function is the express and exclusive responsibility of the Congress, and that the job of the executive is to enact that legislation and not to not enact it!). He might also have mentioned obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame outing case, and also conspiracy to violate the law against outing undercover operatives, conspiracy to subvert the electoral process, failure to obey his oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution, lying to the American people, lying to Congress, and, as former Nixon impeachment panelist Elizabeth Holtzman argues, criminal negligence for a variety of things, including failure to plan for the inevitable post-invasion occupation of Iraq, failure to provide adequate armor to American troops, and failure to respond to the disaster in New Orleans.

Even this long list does not cover all of the president’s and vice-president’s crimes (Cheney should probably also be impeached for war profiteering), and yet Tomasky then insists that, despite this clear record of high crimes and misdemeanors, on the political front, impeachment would be the “worst course of action the Democrats could possibly take.”

On the basis of absolutely no evidence, and even after acknowledging that the most recent polling on the subject finds 54 percent of Americans to favor Cheney’s impeachment and 45 percent to favor Bush’s impeachment, Tomasky argues that impeachment would somehow hurt Democrats in 2008, divide the country, and, finally, not succeed.

If Democrats in the House had listened to people like Tomasky back in 1974, president Nixon would have finished out his second term of office, and no doubt would have gone far towards establishing the same kind of draconian dictatorial presidency that Bush and Cheney are well on the way to establishing now. Because they went ahead and held impeachment hearings on a president who two years earlier had won re-election by a landslide, leading to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace, Democrats went on to make record gains in Congress in 1976, and they captured the presidency.

On the other hand, Democrats did listen to Tomasky-like voices in the late ‘80s, and declined to impeach President Reagan for his illegal role in the Iran-Contra scandal. The result? They paid for that cowardice by losing the election in 1988.

There are two key reasons why Tomasky is wrong—why indeed his call to avoid impeachment is “the dumbest move the Democrats could make.”

First, impeaching Bush and Cheney is not a matter of Democratic strategy and partisanship. It is a matter of defending the Constitution and the republic against an unprecedented threat. It is a matter of the members of Congress acting in accordance with their oaths of office, which call on them to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Impeaching this administration is what the American public wants Congress to do. In the face of a media black-out, or of mainstream media ridicule of the idea of impeachment, a majority of Americans—Democrats, independents and even many Republican--nonetheless knows better and wants these men impeached. Without even having good access to information about the grim details of the president’s and vice president’s crimes, and with the pundits like Tomasky and O’Reilly in full negative mode, the American people know a threat to their country when they see it.

And second, impeachment is a process, not an action. It was the hearings on impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, televised and presented to the American people live, unmediated by glib corporate reporters, that convinced the American people and the politicians in Congress that Nixon deserved to be impeached. While there was great public skepticism about impeachment at the start of those hearings, when only 25 members of the House signed on, by the end of the hearings, the public was in favor, and three articles of impeachment were voted out of the committee, all of them with Republican support, and one of them by unanimous vote. It was the hearings, and the resulting wave of public revulsion against Nixon, that led Republican leaders to go to the president and tell him that he had to resign or he would lose the impeachment vote in the House, and that he would lose a trial in the Senate, and probably even end up in jail.

Tomasky has to know that the same thing is even more likely to occurf in the case of an impeachment hearing into the crimes of Bush and Cheney—crimes which are far more serious and more far-reaching than those of Richard Nixon.

It doesn’t matter that Democrats have only a narrow margin in the House and a razor-thin majority in the Senate (no one, before impeachment hearings began, thought there was a chance that the Senate, with some 40 Republican members at the time, would ever oust Nixon in an impeachment trial either). What matters is standing up to the wholesale destruction of Constitutional government that is taking place under Bush and Cheney.

The real question is not the one posed by Tomasky about whether impeachment is “good for the Democrats”; it is what will be left of America and our Constitution if Bush and Cheney are not impeached before they leave office in January 2009.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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