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Why Haven't They Impeached Bush (and Cheney) Yet?

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After a year of running around flogging my book The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), I’ve had to give a lot of thought to a question I have gotten over and over from radio hosts to ordinary people concerned about the fate of the country and our Constitution. The question: Why haven’t the Democrats already impeached the president for all these crimes, abuses of power and assaults of the Constitution?

I used to chalk it up to cowardice, but I’m no longer happy with that answer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may be a politician’s politician, but she hasn’t lacked for courage. She has, for example, always been ready to stand for taking a tough line on civil liberties in China, when the corporatocracy has been pressing the government to cozy up to China.

It’s also hard to buy the idea that so many progressive members of the House--people like John Conyers (D-Mich.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Chakka Fattah (D-Penna.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)--all of whom clearly understand the nature of the president’s crimes, could be afraid to submit bills of impeachment--indeed that all the progressive members of the Democratic Party in the House are so afraid to take a stand on impeachment that not one has dared to submit an impeachment bill. (Only Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) has taken that step, and she waited until she had already been voted out of office and then filed her impeachment bill in the last week of the 109th Congress.)

That said, there are some things I do know.

First of all, there are members of Congress who understand that the president should be impeached. Chief among these is Rep. Conyers. Back in the last Congress, Conyers, as ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee--the committee that would hold impeachment hearings if a bill of impeachment were submitted--held unofficial hearings into some of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors, which resulted in a book, George W. Bush Versus the U.S. Constitution: The Downing Street Memos and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, Coverups in the Iraq War and Illegal Domestic Spying. The book is a clear call for impeachment. Conyers also filed a bill in the 109th Congress which called for creation of a “select committee” to investigate possible impeachable crimes by the Bush administration. It ultimately boasted 39 co-sponsors, including Reps. Rangel, Fattah and Waters.

I also know that midway through the 2006 election year, Rep. Pelosi began telling reporters, at every opportunity, that if Democrats were elected to a majority in the House in the November election, there would be no impeachment effort--impeachment, in her words, would be “off the table.”

And so it has been, at least inside the Beltway. And not only has it been put off the table--Pelosi and the party leadership have been actively working behind the scenes in an unconscionable effort to undermine grassroots campaigns to put it back on, via state legislative resolutions. In both New Mexico and Washington state, Democratic party leaders from Washington have put the screws on local legislative leaders to keep the issue of impeachment from even making it to an open floor debate in a legislative chamber. Clearly, progressive members of Congress have also been pressured not to submit impeachment bills.

In part, I think this is all happening because Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership have bought the Republican Party’s spin--that impeachment would be “good for Republicans” because it would allegedly “energize the Republican base” that supports President Bush no matter what. Maybe that is technically true, but that base is less than 30 percent of the voting public, and it ignores that fact that impeachment would also energize the Democratic, progressive base, and might well also energize the libertarian base, all of which collectively would far outnumber any possible energized reactionary base.

This leads me to what I think is the real reason the Democratic leadership is opposing impeachment--a reason I find thoroughly disgusting and unworthy of the party of Roosevelt.

I believe that Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), Howard Dean and the rest of the leaders of the Democratic Party, have concluded that the Republican Party and the Bush administration have so screwed up that they have lost the support of the majority of Americans, and that all Democrats need to do to win the White House and a bigger margin in the House and Senate in 2008 is to let them continue to screw up, aided by selective Congressional investigations designed to further embarrass them.

While Pelosi has talked grandly about passing a progressive agenda of bills in the 110th Congress, the Democrats know that they cannot pass any meaningful progressive legislation. Their majority in both houses is razor thin and could never survive a veto, and even if they could, by watering down their bills, lure enough Republican votes to override a veto, President Bush would invalidate any bill that made significant change or reform by just issuing one of his unconstitutional and illegal “signing statements” asserting that as commander in chief in the war on terror he doesn’t have to adhere to the Constitution.

So what Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid plan to do is pass legislation that they know won’t go into law, like the minimum wage bill, or global warming laws, and then go to the voters in 2008 saying, “We would have gotten these bills into law, if only we had more Democrats in the Congress, or a Democratic president.”

They’re doing the same thing with the war. If Democrats wanted to end the war, they could do so immediately by refusing to pass a supplemental funding measure to support it, but they don’t want to do this. It’s not that they fear being called unpatriotic--hell, with 70 percent of the public wanting the war to end immediately, nobody would fault Congress for pulling the plug. Even the troops who are stuck over there wouldn't be upset to see the funding that keeps them there terminated. But ending the war would leave the Democrats without their best issue going into the 2008 national election: Bush’s war. So instead of ending the war, they vote to oppose it, but then continue to fund it. (Rep. Emanuel has actually said publicly that it would be good for Democrats if the war were to continue through November 2008.)

It’s a supremely cynical campaign ploy, and it’s also behind the strategy of keeping impeachment “off the table.”

If Bush were impeached, and witnesses began getting called in under oath to expose his and Vice President Dick Cheney’s lies and deceit in tricking the nation into war, his illegal NSA spying activities, his obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame outing investigation, his authorization of torture, his obstruction of efforts to combat global warming, his criminal failure to provide troops with armor or to plan for an Iraq occupation or to respond to the disaster in New Orleans, and his usurpation of the powers of Congress and the Judiciary in invalidating over 1200 laws passed by the Congress, it would almost certainly lead to his (and Cheney’s) removal from office and to a prompt end to the war.

Then where would Democrats be?

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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