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Is Impeachment Really Off the Table, Nancy?

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Message Dave Wheelock
A month before taking the gavel as the next majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is under close scrutiny. To call her promise that "impeachment (of President George Bush) is off the table" a disappointment to millions of Americans is an understatement, but the old fox may yet have a semantic ace up her sleeve. While it would be a crucial mistake for Pelosi's party to fail in their legal obligation to uphold the Constitution, a greater tragedy would be if We the People sell ourselves, and democracy, short.

The legal grounds and public support for investigations of not only President George W. Bush but also Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, are substantial. Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, in her book, United States versus George W Bush Et Al, estimates at least 100 million Americans believe the president and his cronies have committed crimes in office.

For the Democrats now assuming power in Washington, talk of impeachment is not in fashion. Rather they intend (so they say) to renew a sense of dignity, respect, and trust between the two major parties that impeachment proceedings would destroy. Being effective politicians, they do not say what they really think: that any action they take against the Republican administration would be twisted into charges of "paybacks," "advantage-taking," or even portrayed as a coup, since as House Speaker Pelosi would assume the presidency in the event of departure by the president and vice president. This part they've got right, and this is exactly why democracy-loving (dare I say patriotic?) citizens need to step into the debate with our support for those who dare to live up to their responsibilities.

Pelosi and Co. score points in saying there are "more pressing" issues they want to pursue, like raising the national minimum wage and cutting interest rates on student loans. An inevitably bitter fight over impeachment, they claim, would distract Congress and create an atmosphere in which nothing constructive could be achieved. But this argument misleads rather than informs, and fails to honestly represent the grave state our democracy is in. The specter of 25 more months of presidential abuse of power holds far more potential for catastrophe at home and abroad than does a delay in passing these and other admittedly needed reforms. Sad but true, these Democrats are talking about rearranging those proverbial Titanic deck chairs.

Above all the Democrats fear losing power in 2008 if they come on too strong in the interim, but they underestimate the anger of the American public at their own peril. And this is why Nancy Pelosi slyly may have left some wiggle room. A closer examination of what she said about impeachment last May offers a hint: "I said we'd be having hearings on the war. But I don't see us going to a place of impeachment. Investigation does not equate to impeachment . . . You never know where the facts take you." Underscore that last phrase. Should investigations (which WILL proceed, on several fronts) uncover leads that gain a life of their own and lead to articles of impeachment - well, who could possibly blame Nancy?

No one can be sure what will happen if congressional investigations move us toward impeachment. Nevertheless, many of us seem to be confusing our role in a democracy with that of our elected servants. Our part is to make our preferences known, theirs is to find ways to carry them out. Meanwhile, why in the world should those of us who've consistently opposed Bush's lawlessness expend our energies explaining why impeachment is a nonstarter? Shouldn't we be supporting the institutions of democracy, which must include the threat of removal in order to survive? Remember - Nixon was not impeached; he RESIGNED under that threat.

The Bush administration has used its own brand of fear as a method of controlling the American public for six destructive years. We must not waver in dealing with the true emergency now that the November elections have provided a plausible chance of doing so. Like those who faced down the British some 230 years ago, we cannot have certainty. Therefore, we must have guts.
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Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a professional university rugby coach in Socorro, New Mexico. He holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico. His Pencil Warrior column appears in the Socorro Mountain Mail (more...)
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