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Curbing the Imperial Presidency

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By David Swanson

While the Take Back America conference has included two self-organized and underpromoted panels on impeachment, on Wednesday it included an official panel, well promoted and in an actual room on the topic of "Curbing the Imperial Presidency."  Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta opened the event by listing endless Bush crimes and offenses, concluding that Bush recognizes few if any limitations on his power.  Congress must act, Podesta said, to oversee, review, and litigate.  (Litigate?)  This being a conference dedicated to the policies of Nancy Pelosi, impeachment is off the table.

The second speaker was Ambassador Joe Wilson.  How do we restore the balance of power, Wilson asked.  He didnt answer, though.  He told the story of his writing his NY Times op-ed, and concluded that by publishing that op-ed he had held his government accountable.  Of course, I applaud him for publishing that op-ed, but who exactly has been held accountable?  Wilson went on to win huge applause by calling Cheney a son of a b*tch.  But the son of a b*tch is still vice president. 

The third speaker should have been Rep. John Conyers, but he cancelled and sent his staffer Burt Wides to read remarks from him.  The remarks said that Congress has begun to shrink the imperial presidency.  Restoration of civil liberties, he said, tops his agenda.  Bush believes he is above the law and the Constitution.  Bush's claim of authority to ignore the law knows no bounds.  The Republican Congress just went along.  (And the Democratic Congress isn't?)  Congress will expose schemes and thwart them, inlcuding: illegal wiretapping (will hold hearings), torture (will pass yet another law banning torture), refusal of habeas corpus (will hold hearings next week).

Conyers' remarks quoted Teddy Roosevelt: "Criticizing official policies is the highest form of patriotism."  (Higher than ending them?) 

We must end the worst excesses of the imperial presidency, Conyers said.  (What about the rest of the imperial presidency?)

Joe Conason spoke next.  He started by criticizing the corporate media as cheerleaders for war.  Actually that was his whole talk.

Marcy Wheeler began by quoting Arthur Schlesinger on Nixon and the danger of NOT impeaching.  GO MARCY!!  But then she claimed it did no good, because Cheney is still here after we impeached Nixon.  (Huh?)

The first question from the audience was how can we push H Res 333 to impeach Cheney.  Wides replied that Conyers has been beseiged by calls and Emails calling for it.  He's had lengthy meetings with advisors and explored the issues a great deal and is aware of the pressure and the urgency on the part of people he meets everyday.  I've taken hundreds of calls.  There's always a weighing of the moral imperative and what the impact would be as a distraction from keeping the focus on the misdeeds (huh?), and distraction from the things in the Congressman's remarks (huh?), and he's aware that for a lot of people that comes out differently.

Wheeler claimed impeachment was not enough and could distract progressive activists as well as the Congress.

Conason said impeachment would be a dreadful mistake.  The crowd demanded to know why, and Conason claimed it would be a distraction from what the Democrats were elected to do.  But Conason advocated impeaching Alberto Gonzales, although not Cheney or Bush.

The next question was about Bush's executive order giving himself power over the whole government in the event of a catastrophe.  Wheeler replied that the president has had that power for 30 years. 

The next question was: Well, if not impeachment, what are the prospects for criminal prosecution?  Conason said that Scott Horton at Harper's believes the President, Vice President, and others will not be able to travel outside the United States after they're out of office without facing the prospect of criminal prosecution.

The next question was: what else is there short of impeachment if subpoenas can't be enforced?  And don't Republicans fear retribution from the next Democratic administration?  Conason raised the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton with the same powers Bush has seized, but suggested nothing we could do to avert that.  He said he hoped Wides would speak to what Congress can do short of impeachment.

Wides spoke but didn't have any ideas, other than trying to withold certain funds from Justice Department until it turns over subpoenaed documents, and the Senate holding up appointments until the administration obeys some laws.

Podesta actually spoke up against "hobbling the president too much," claiming that Clinton had done many great things against the will of the Congress.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
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