Another day, another impeachable offense. If this one were on a television show we'd all flip it off in disgust as too unlikely. The President phones up a hospital to demand that the ailing Attorney General (who has turned over his duties and is disoriented) admit the President's legal counsel and chief of staff so that they can ask him to sign off on an illegal spying program. The AG refuses to sign off. The acting AG, who is fully conscious but considers the program illegal, also refuses to sign off. The White House goes ahead and launches the program anyway, a program that involves the FBI, a program so dramatically illegal or offensive that the serial criminals running the Justice Department refuse to go along with it.
There is a theme that may unite this particular crime with a significant subset of the crimes of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The entire voter fraud fraud [sic] is part of an effort to harass, block, discourage, and disenfranchise Democratic voters. The U.S. attorney firings and hirings, and the demands made of them, have been aimed at hurting Democratic electoral candidates and protecting Republicans. The mathematically impossible results produced by paperless election machines have hurt Democrats and benefited Republicans. It is quite likely that the illegal spying programs authorized by Bush have been used to spy on political opponents.
Now, an illegal spying program (or two, or three) is illegal whether or not it is used to spy on political opponents. A war of aggression is a crime whether or not the nation you attack possesses weapons. Misleading and defrauding Congress is a crime whether or not you have a high IQ. Torture is illegal regardless of what any "signing statement" says. It's important not to lose the forest for the trees in all of these things, because the debate is so frequently diverted from the central question. I don't want to distract from the need for immediate accountability for known crimes by focusing on the mystery of who exactly has been spied on.
But there appears to be a pattern in several Bush-Cheney crimes of aiming to cheat at elections. This is what Watergate was about. This is what Karl Rove's career has been about. This is what has made every national election since 2000 so different from those before. We ought to expect this by looking at history, by looking at discrepancies between exit polls and official results, and by comparing the policy positions of the Republican Party to those of the American public. Elections that cannot be won must be stolen. And yet, we generally avoid the topic.
If we did talk more about certain Bush-Cheney crimes as constituting electoral politics by other means, we would come around sooner or later to the question of which of these crimes have succeeded. Just as Bush and Cheney's wars have dramatically enriched oil corporations and other war profiteers, many of their other crimes have succeeded on their own terms. Their voter harassment efforts have prevented votes from being cast. Their hirings and firings at the Department of Justice have impacted elections to their benefit. Their vote counting alone has stolen a presidential election and numerous Congressional races.
But what about the spying? Have they obtained information they are holding over the heads of political opponents? Would that explain any of the Democrats' incredible timidity? Or have they obtained information on opponents' plans that has allowed them to react preemptively? It would be worth looking for instances where that appears to be the case. A leap would be required to assume that the illegal spying programs have been the one area in which Bush and Cheney have not met with any success.
But even if the spying is aimed at political opponents, and even if it has been successful, the White House cannot possibly have dirt on every Democrat in Congress. If Bush had that kind of information, would he allow so many scandals and indictments of Republicans in Congress to go unmatched by Democratic downfalls? I think we can be confident of these three things:
--Bush and Cheney do not have any secret pull on most Democrats in Congress.
--Most Democrats in Congress know that Bush and Cheney are using a wide array of illegal methods to cheat and steal elections, with a great degree of success, without which the Democratic win in 2006 would have been significantly larger than it was.
--Most Democrats in Congress are acquiescing in attacks on their power and hoping that future elections (or at least their own individual election) can be won by a wide enough margin to defeat any chicanery.
The main reason we need impeachment is, of course, to restore limits to the offices of the presidency and vice presidency for the future. But Democrats who put electoral concerns ahead of such long-term and selfless thinking may well be mistaken on their own terms if they fail to press for impeachment. If we do not impeach, remove from office, and try these criminals in court, we will have to abandon the idea of free and fair elections from here on out. And we know where this road leads.