Of course, we don't live in a parliamentary democracy, so we're still stuck with the same megalomaniacal leader, even though the control of the Congress appears to be passing to the opposition party. (As of this writing, the new House will be firmly in the hands of the Democrats by a bigger margin than the current House is in the hands of Republicans, and the Senate appears headed towards Democratic control also, albeit by the narrowest of margins: 1 Lieberman.)
So the question is: what next?
We're already hearing a lot from the mainstream media about how this was all about voters wanting less extremism and more civility in government.
This was about voters who have had it with neocon imperialist militarism, had it with government lying, had it with corruption, and had it with campaign tactics that equate opposition to the president with support for terrorism.
We'll also be hearing a lot about how a change of 30 or 32 seats in the House from one party to another is no big deal.
Nonsense! Not only is it a big deal by historical standards--it is an especially big deal given the historically unprecedented extreme to which the Republicans in control of state legislatures had gerrymandered districts over the last decade to insure their candidates' re-election. It is also an unusually big turnover to occur at a time when the nation has over 160,000 troops tied down in bitter fighting in two countries--Iraq and Afghanistan. To have the public undercut the president at such a time is an extraordinary act by the voters, who normally tend towards jingoistic support of presidents when American troops are dying.
Of course it's true that some of the Democrats who will be replacing Republican office-holders are conservative (some are liberal, too). That's not the point, though. They are almost all honorable people who entered their races as underdogs earlier this year, not expecting to win, and who ended up winning because the voting public, whether liberal or conservative, wants them to clean the Stygian Stables, which have filled up with six years with of crap and bullshit.
Now the Democratic leadership in Congress doesn't see it that way. They seem to be buying into the media illusion that what the public wants is civility in government and respect for the president. That's certainly how Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely new House majority leader, puts it (even though her home district in San Francisco voted 61 percent for an impeachment resolution).
But civility and respect are not going to get the job done.
First of all, let's consider that there are still two possibilities: one is that the two houses of Congress both go narrowly Democratic; the other is that only the House goes Democratic, while the Senate ends up more narrowly Republican, or perhaps tied, with Dick Cheney holding the tie-breaking vote as President of the Senate. In the latter two scenarios civility would be death, since Senate Republicans would be anything but civil. The only way Democrats could have any power would be by acting as obstreperously and obstructively as possible, to prevent more damage, by using their investigative power in the House to lay out the crimes of this administration as clearly as possible. If both houses of Congress end up in Democratic hands, they will be in the position to start passing legislation. But they will not be able to undo the damage caused over the past six years to the Constitution and to the nation because Bush will be able to veto their bills. Worse yet, even if they can manage in some cases to get enough Republican support on some issues to override a veto, Bush will use his "signing statement" ploy to block them, as he has already done over 800 times to legislation passed by a Republican Congress.
Clearly, in either event, the only appropriate response is for a Democratic House to initiate serious investigations into administration abuse of power, criminality, deceit and incompetence, and ultimately, to initiate impeachment proceedings.
It is perhaps wishful thinking to believe that Bush, as richly as he deserves it, will be impeached for war crimes. We can leave that to future prosecutors, either in a better post-Bush America or in other nations, since war crimes don't have a statute of limitations, and Bush has a good 20 years left in him if he manages to stay off the bottle.
That said, there are crimes and constitutional violations that even Republicans should agree call for his impeachment (and in some cases Cheney's). Among these are:
* The signing statements, in which Bush claims that as commander in chief he does not need to accept or enforce laws passed by the Congress. This is such an egregious abuse of power and undermining of the Constitution that if it is allowed to continue, with future presidents continuing the practice and citing Bush as precedent, Congress will cease to have any real constitutional function.
* The NSA warrantless spying. Democrats need to take a leadership role and demand to know what this program is all about. Clearly it's not about spying on suspected terrorists, as Bush claims, because the secret Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court judges would have no problem approving warrants for that. It has to be something so outrageous that Bush is afraid to present it to those famously accommodating judges. The case needs to be made that this is a flat-out felony and a breach of the Fourth Amendment, and that it has already been so ruled by a federal judge.
* The outing of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame and the selective release of the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate in an effort to damage a critic--Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. This was exactly the kind of abuse of government power that led to an impeachment article being voted in the House Judiciary Committee against President Richard Nixon. Moreover, Democrats need to make the case that this attack on Wilson was motivated by a darker goal: the need to discredit someone who was exposing one of the Bush administration's gravest crimes--namely faking evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
* Lying the country into a deadly, costly and interminable war in Iraq. It is clear now that Bush knew the uranium ore story, the aluminum tubes story, the Saddam links to Al Qaeda story and the germ weapons story, were all lies. It is clear that Bush had plans to invade Iraq from before he even assumed office in 2001, that 9/11 was just a pretext to do it, and that his claims to the American people and to Congress that he wanted a "diplomatic solution" to Iraq's alleged WMD threat was a lie and a fraud. He must be impeached for this bloody travesty.
* Obstruction and lying to the Congress and the 9-11 Commission. The president, in what is an abuse of power and possibly even an act of treason, refused to provide testimony and evidence demanded by the Senate Intelligence Committee and by the 9-11 Commission, and himself refused to testify under oath or with any record being made of his answers, and had members of his administration lie to both bodies. This willful obstruction has put the nation in jeopardy, since without knowing what went wrong or even what went on before and on 9-11, there is no way to prevent another such attack. This is a clear impeachable crime.
* Bribery. For some time it was not clear whether the stench of money scandals would reach into the White House. Bush claimed he didn't even know Jack Abramoff, even as members of Congress were falling like 10-pins. Now, however, we have learned that there are myriad pictures of Abramoff and his buddy Bush together, that Abramoff visited the White House so often it was practically a second home, and that he even managed to have his own secretary move over to work for Bush's closest confident (and "brain" by some accounts) Karl Rove, the better to facilitate the money-for-favors exchanges. This is corruption on the scale of the Warren Harding administration, and it calls for impeachment, not respect. While they"re at it, Democrats in the House should also investigate the oil industry's and Halliburton's financial tentacles in the White House and Blair House.
* The Loss of New Orleans. Bush's disastrous inaction as Katrina headed for New Orleans, and his even worse inaction after the disaster was apparent, is a classic violation of the presidential oath to "take care" that the laws are faithfully administered. The president had a duty to initiate drastic emergency action that only he could authorize, and instead he campaigned, played golf and guitar, and entertained Sen. John McCain, while over a thousand Americans were allowed to die and a major US city drowned. That is a clear impeachable offense.
American voters don't want politeness. We want our country back. We have just proved to Republicans that we will punish lying and corruption. In the next election, Democrats should be on notice that we will also punish cowardice and inaction.
A great start for newly empowered Democrats would be to revoke or rephrase the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed to authorize Bush to invade Afghanistan and to pursue Al Qaeda. Bush has been claiming ever since that the 2001 AUMF made him permanent "commander in chief" in an unending "War" on Terror, with the right to ignore the courts and acts of Congress. It is clearly in Congress's power to redefine that AUMF more clearly, to make it unambiguously clear that it did not authorize the president to be generalissimo, that it was referring exclusively to combat outside the U.S., that it expects him to stay within the law and the Constitution under the resolution, and that the AUMF itself in any case has an expiration date. This is a move that even some Republicans--especially after their recent drubbing--will support.
The new Congress should also promptly revoke the military commissions law, and especially the parts that revoke habeas corpus, that grant the president and his gang retroactive immunity from prosecution for authorizing torture, and that undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, making it easier for a president to declare martial law. Again, it should be possible to get significant Republican support for this effort.
Although it doesn't deserve it, the Democratic Party has by default been given a chance in this off-year election. So far, the leadership is showing every sign of preparing to blow it.
That means it's up to us voters to make sure elected Democrats in Congress get the message, first by voting them into power, and then by riding them hard to make sure they take aggressive action to put the administration in the dock and rescue the Constitution and the country. A good start would be to go to Starting an Impeachment Movement.