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The I Word in the Boston Globe

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Here's an article in Sunday's Boston Globe about impeachment, followed by a letter submitted to the Globe's editor.

The 'I' word
Why a growing grassroots movement on the left wants to impeach the president -- and why Democrats in Washington don't even want to talk about it.
By Drake Bennett | June 24, 2007

FOR ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN it was the discovery, in late 2005, that the Bush administration had been monitoring Americans' phone and email conversations without warrants that convinced her that the President shouldn't be allowed to serve out the remainder of his term.

As a young congresswoman from New York, Holtzman, who now practices law in New York City, had served on the House Judiciary Committee that in 1974 adopted articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Among the charges, she points out, was that Nixon had overseen an illegal electronic surveillance program.

"Having participated in that," she says, "you don't forget it."

Today Holtzman is one of the leading voices in a small but energetic movement seeking to impeach not only President Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney. In March, the Massachusetts Democratic Party joined 13 others, in states like California, Nevada, and New Hampshire, in passing a resolution in support of impeachment. The legislatures of nearly 80 towns and cities (most in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California) have passed similar resolutions, and state legislators in 11 states have introduced impeachment bills.

But given how controversial and deeply unpopular the administration has become, it is surprising how little mainstream political traction the movement has gained. Polls show the public does not think impeachment should be a priority. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly declared impeachment to be "off the table," and even Congress's most liberal members oppose the idea. It is a sign, say many, that the nation's most vivid memories of impeachment are of the deeply divisive Clinton proceedings, not the Nixon drama that eventually allowed the country to heal.

"Somehow along the way in this country we have become really afraid of impeaching," says Darcy Sweeney, a Massachusetts coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and one of the activists who brought the impeachment resolution before the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

The only impeachment resolution currently before Congress, introduced by Ohio Congressman and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich this spring, is directed solely at Cheney, and when asked, Kucinich refuses to say whether he'd support impeaching Bush. "I'm pretty much staying focused on the effort to impeach the Vice President," he says.

At a panel at last week's Take Back America conference, an annual gathering of progressive activists and politicians, three of the Senate's most liberal members -- Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar -- flatly declared themselves against impeachment. Even Rep. John Conyers, a fierce Bush critic who in 2005 filed a bill calling for possible impeachment proceedings, has backed away from the idea -- despite the fact that his wife sponsored the Detroit city council's own unanimously approved impeachment resolution.

Most Democratic politicians and strategists see impeachment as a loser. Right now, President Bush is one of the least popular presidents in American history, and Democratic leaders don't see any point in turning him into a political martyr. Just as important, they argue, the time-consuming, rancorous debates that the process would occasion would elbow any other business off the legislative agenda, leaving the Democratic Party little to show for its return to power on Capitol Hill.

To impeachment's champions, however, these tactical arguments are worth little. What's at stake, they argue, is the Constitution itself. "I'd like to see [Bush and Cheney] tried and convicted and put behind bars," says Washington's David Swanson, co-founder of After Downing Street, an organization dedicated to doing just that. "That would be a satisfactory outcome. Not because I dislike them or think they're unpleasant people, but I don't want future presidents to think they can do these things."

The case against Bush does echo certain elements of the case against Nixon. As articulated by organizations like PDA and After Downing Street -- and as laid out in a spate of recent books by lawyers like Holtzman; John Bonifaz, a former Massachusetts Secretary of State candidate and After Downing Street co-founder; and Barbara Olshansky, who represents several Guantanamo detainees -- Bush stands accused of overseeing illegal surveillance and of lying to Congress and withholding information.

In 1973, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment charging Nixon with similar crimes -- obstructing justice and spying on and harassing political opponents -- for personal political gain. Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment.

"We felt that the Constitutional system had worked," Holtzman recalls.

But the brief the would-be impeachers bring against Bush and Cheney is more sweeping than the 1973 case against Nixon. A list of impeachable offenses listed on After Downing Street's website includes the President's "allowing his administration to condone torture," threatening the use of force against Iran, his use of presidential signing statements to revise laws passed by Congress, the dropping of cluster bombs in Iraq, and Bush's failure to take reasonable steps to protect New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

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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 and and works for the online (more...)
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