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Impeachment Votes_ God or Bad for Vermont?

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 While Vermonters are still debating whether or not to
impeach the President and/or the Vice President, some
have claimed that the debate itself is bad for our
image as a state. Those who worry about opinions like
Bill O’Reilly’s are afraid that this somehow plays
into the image so carefully crafted by the right wing
extremists who demonized Howard Dean and characterized
Vermont as nothing more than a haven for lattes,
Birkenstocks and radicals.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The
impeachment votes that have swept through Vermont town
meetings are indicative of our storied tradition of a
state of active citizens with a clear understanding of
the duties that citizenship requires. Throughout our
history Vermonters have tackled issues of national and
international scope, ranging from defying the fugitive
slave laws before the civil war, to effectively
declaring war on Hitler’s Germany weeks before the
American government did so. Impeachment is no
different and Vermonters have conducted this debate in
a manner that has led to a greater understanding of
Constitutional issues by many Americans from outside
as well as in our state.
The call for impeachment, contrary to what some would
have you believe, is not based upon hatred, or even
dislike of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
While there is no doubt that many Americans do not
like these men, impeachment is not a variation of a
popularity contest. And for those who fear that
Vermont’s association with impeachment efforts will
taint the state as being “far left” or radical, I
would posit that we are a conservative movement. While
the Bush administration’s attempts to change the
constitutional balance of powers by establishing a
unitary executive branch of government is radical,
following the proscribed constitutional remedy for
such a breach, impeachment, is an act of conservation.
To declare himself to be above the law, as the
President has blatantly done in his signing statements
is both radical and unconstitutional. Calling on
Congress to investigate these actions is an act of
conservatism. To expect our representatives to honor
their oaths of office to defend and uphold the
constitution is an act of citizenship, neither left
nor right.
Any populace that is willing to mount a defense of
the Constitution that governs its Republic is a
populace that sets an example in civics for the rest
of the nation. America looks to Vermont and sees an
example of engaged and informed debate. While talk
show hosts are screaming at their guests to “shut up”
in what passes for political discourse today,
Vermonters have shown how community members can have
passionate disagreements unfold in public forums
without a loss of civility, and without having a
negative impact on community life outside of the Town
Hall. In my town of Newfane, where the public
impeachment debate began over a year ago, there have
been no negative repercussions and participation and
support of town government is as robust as ever.
If citizens begin to think that the larger questions
of governance are outside of their purview, they are
taking the first step towards a loss of meaningful
citizenship. An analysis of our Congressional and
state representatives quickly shows that they have no
special gifts or insights that make them any more
qualified than most other Vermonters to be deciding
important questions of the day.
If we are not interested in being sheep, following
wherever our master’s whim may lead, then we have an
obligation to pay attention to our governing
institutions and the historic precedents that have
guided them. Town meeting votes on impeachment have
shown that Vermonters are engaged, informed and take
their duties as citizens seriously. When the central
argument of any question is based on a clear reading
and understanding of the Constitution, then that
question is doing us a favor by sharpening our
insights. When the rest of America looks to Vermont,
it may agree or disagree with our conclusions, but it
can only respect a state where the burning issues of
the day include something more than the latest
finalist on “American
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Dan Dewalt is a musician/woodworker/teacher who authored the Newfane impeachment resolution passed at March 2006 town meetings.
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