“The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security…He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers…In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.” –James Madison, July 20, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention which made provision for impeachment
"There's a way to bring an end to those practices, you know: vote the bums out…That's how our system is designed." –Barack Obama, June 28, 2007, on impeachment
That’s not how our system is designed.
The promise of another election was not enough to stop an Executive from abusing power in James Madison’s opinion but unfortunately, the Democratic candidate for president, much of the Democratic Party, and its constituents find the promise to be enough. And incidentally, it has never been enough.
John Nichols describes eloquently why waiting is not “wiser” than impeachment or good enough in his book The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism (brackets added for effect):
Unfortunately, in the contemporary moment, when the point and promise of impeachment is so little understood by politicians and pundits, political pragmatism often trumps health partisan impulse to challenge an executive whose administration has spun out of control. Opposition leaders [Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers, Steny Hoyer] worried about appearing too aggressive in their affronts to a president of the competing party [George W. Bush], back away from the battlements. They counsel caution, suggesting that it is “wiser” to wait until an election, when, if their thinly veiled hopes are realized, power will be handed to them by frustrated and fearful voters [the desperate Democrats or liberals/progressives of America].
The problem with this equation, of course, is that it robs the process of the dynamism that is essential to checking and balancing the executive branch. An opposition party that “waits for the next election” is not being bipartisan, it is being politically strategic.
Nichols recalls Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez’s valiant and honorable introduction of articles of impeachment for Ronald Reagan as a result of Iran-Contra revelations in 1987. The Democrats were positioning themselves to win an election then and lost to George H.W. Bush even though he had ties to the very scandal that had led Gonzalez to introduce impeachment. Nichols rightfully states:
Pulling punches in a political battle usually results in a knockout, with the party that holds back collapsing to the mat and struggling, often for a very long time, to finally get up again.
Over two centuries since James Madison had the wherewithal to make a case for including a provision for impeachment in our nation’s Constitution, we still do not have not have men in power with the political fortitude to employ impeachment, not even after a president like Bush who surely must remind some of our dearest lawmakers of the King George we defeated in the American Revolutionary War after declaring our independence.
Impeachment is currently showing Americans how broken our two-party system is while reminding us that democracy is not a spectator sport. Impeachment is teaching Americans something about power in politics.
I’ll illuminate the situation further with a juxtaposition of the words of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers from an article on reasons why not to impeach and Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich from a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, the sole proponent behind impeachment for Cheney and Bush.
Conyers: While the majority of people in this country want Bush gone, they don't want impeachment.
Kucinich: It’s not for the Democratic Party to decide to overlook violations of US law and international law. We cannot let our political system trump the requirements of the law.
Conyers: The corporate media will slay us.