In two recent polls - one in October, just before the Scooter Libby indictment, and one in January, in the wake of the domestic-spying revelations - a majority of respondents considered impeachment the proper course of action for the crimes Bush is accused of.
The emperor may not be naked, but he's down to his fig leaf.
The October poll, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs, which was commissioned by AfterDowningStreet.org, presented 1,001 U.S. adults with the 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." An astounding 50 percent agreed with the statement; 44 percent disagreed.
By comparison, the worst it ever got for Bill Clinton, according to Democrats.com, was 36 percent public support for hearings to consider impeachment and 26 percent support for actual impeachment. In other words, his removal from office never had serious public support at all, despite the X-rated media scandal-fest that filled our living rooms 24/7.
If you are among the ranks of appalled Americans who think that deceiving the country into a hellish war, countenancing torture, spying on U.S. citizens and generally bloating up with power in order to pursue a secret agenda - to hell with Congress, the U.N. and international treaties - constitute grounds for impeachment, while oral sex in the Oval Office does not, these numbers may take a moment to sink in.
We're a majority who aren't even aware of ourselves, a reluctant, subterranean force for sanity who restrain ourselves for the good of the whole. Impeachment, after all, is not only a radical measure but tainted for all time by its misuse against Clinton. We are a polite, tolerant majority who prefer to suck in our outrage and ride out the Bush administration's constitutional rampage just to show the other side how you're supposed to behave in a democracy. After all, if neither side will submit to an opposition presidency, we'll have an ungovernable country.
The problem with this point of view is in its underestimation of the extremity of the agenda of that other side and the fragility of our system of government.
How do you spot a moderate Republican? He's the one with the broken kneecaps. This is the joke I heard during the Clinton impeachment hearings, but six years later it hardly seems like a joke. The virulent Bush presidency - and its central con of endless threat, endless fear and endless war - may be the very creature our Constitution was designed to protect us against.
So the question is, how far can the polite majority be pushed? I'd like to believe that we're at our limit right now, poised on the brink of screaming enough is enough. That may be too much to hope for, but then, what do I make of the formerly mild-mannered Al Gore, the John Kerry of his day, decrying "a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution" brought on by George Bush's "shameful exercise of power"?
Speaking on Martin Luther King Day, Gore quoted the slain civil rights leader: "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."
Amen and hallelujah. The new spirit, if it is indeed rising, is more than an informed outrage at the criminal arrogance of the Bush administration. It is the spirit of democracy itself, mankind's hope, breaking the chains of the torturers.
Let the impeachment hearings begin.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
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