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THERE seems to be some misapprehension about the use of impeachment in government. Impeachment is not the absolute last resort. It is not something that is to be used only when a situation has gotten so far out of hand that it's almost a irretrievable. It is a tool to be used to keep individuals from committing breaches of public trust in the exercise of their various offices.
When our nation was founded, the founding fathers were well acquainted with the use of absolute power by despots and Kings. Europe was full of them. In forming their new government they were giving enormous power to individuals; power which could be misused if not kept in check. One of those checks was impeachment.
To get an idea of how important this was, look at the Constitution of the United States:
Article I Section 2, last paragraph
"The House of Representatives shall chuse [Sic] their Speaker and other officers, and shall have the sole power of impeachment.
Article I Section 3, the last two paragraphs,
"The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.
"Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to law."
Article II Section 2,
"...and he [the President] shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment." [my emphasis]
Article II Section 4,
"The President, Vice president, and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed form Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
We have seen a great deal of nitpicking as to what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor, but it is obvious from the context that one of the greatest high crimes and misdemeanors is a breach of public trust. Bribery is mentioned. What can we consider bribery to be? Could it be a lobbyist influencing a government official, say a Senator or a Representative, or even someone in the Executive, to give special consideration to their particular cause, in return for perhaps an all expense paid "fact-finding" trip to Monaco to study the administration of casinos, or perhaps the "gift" of a new home, or property in a beautiful scenic area, or a generous contribution to the person's campaign fund or the "charity" of their choice?
When this country was founded and the government was instituted, the representatives were to be selected from the common man. At that time it was not expected to be a growth industry for the wealthy and powerful. A man who was qualified or had good ideas was chosen by his peers to represent them in Washington. He went to Washington and he served for a term or two terms or perhaps three terms, then he returned to his home and picked up his life where he left off and continued on as an honored citizen of his community. This person was expected to truly represent his people and to work for their good, not his own, when in office. If he was found violating this trust then impeachment was a way to remove him not only from that office of trust, but from any office of trust in the United States. Impeachment is a serious step, but it's not a step to be held back or shunned until the absolute last-ditch. In recent years we've seen impeachment used as a political weapon; for instance with Clinton, who should have been quickly censured by the Senate for embarrassing himself, his family, and the United States, by acting like a damn fool. Then the business of the country should've continued on. The whole thing should have occupied no more than a few days at best. Instead it dragged on for years and millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours of government time.
A true breach of trust; a violation of the Constitution; bribery; breaking a treaty; starting a war with another country; taking of the federal treasury and passing it on to one's wealthy friends, for instance; there should be no question that these are high crimes and misdemeanors and they should be quickly punished by impeachment.
In cases where impeachment is required there should be no opportunity for resignation to avoid punishment as in Nixon's case.
If impeachable offenses have been committed, impeachment should be carried out swiftly, followed by the civil trials necessary to punish individuals. This should not be a process taking so long and being so costly that it is easier to let the miscreant keep adding breaches of trust until he finishes his term and leaves with his ill-gotten gains, than it is to correct him.
Impeachment is a major tool to keep our government honest. If impeachment, dismissal and trial loomed in the background for anyone committing a breach of public trust, the lobbying industry would dry up and public projects would be initiated only for the public good.
To make this happen, transparency must be returned to the government. Breaches of public trust are much easier when everything is classified secret and the public cannot find out what is happening to them without great difficulty. The only things classified secret in a Democracy or Republic should be things that are unquestionably of strategic value and that doesn't mean hiding the location of toxic waste dumps or power plants, or classifying the location of pork barrel "bridges to nowhere." The operation of the government must be transparent. Any citizen should be able to see where his tax money is going, and if it seems wasteful, he should be able to bring it up to his representative with the expectation that it will be looked into and followed up.
Our representatives in government should be required to read and evaluate what they are voting into law. Part of this evaluation should be to determine if the proposed law lies within the framework of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If not, it should be rejected. Hearings should be open to the public. Votes on issues should be in front of the entire House or Senate, not the largely empty chambers where votes are done late on Friday nights, so no one will notice what has been done to them until it is too late.
Congress should not be reluctant to reverse bad legislation, nor to override Presidential vetoes of good legislation. If that is done regularly, soon there will be no bad legislation. It won't be worth the time.
"I'll vote for your pork, if you'll vote for mine," should be censurable the first time and impeachable the second. Then we can get down to the question of, "Is this legislation beneficial to the people, or is it detrimental?" Then, once again, we may have "government of the people, by the people and for the people," guided by our wisely and carefully written Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Stephen M. Osborn is a freelance writer living on Camano Island in the Pacific Northwest. He is a columnist for the Populist Party website and has had a number of articles published internationally. He is an "Atomic Vet." (Operation (more...)