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"To Impeach or Not to Impeach"

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Message Jayne Stahl
While sitting in a hot tub earlier this evening, I wondered how Will Shakespeare might revise Hamlet's soliloquy were he to have written the play today, especially in light of all the recent talk about impeachment. Being a first-rate wordsmith, Will would, no doubt, want to know every possible meaning for the word used, so in his honor, I rummaged through my Random House dictionary, and this is what I came up with:

"impeach (vt ) 1) to accuse (a public official) before an appropriate tribunal of misconduct in office. 2) to challenge the credibility of 3) to bring an accusation against 4) to call in question; cast an imputation upon"

All of the above sound plausible, when thinking about the current administration, but nowhere in the verb does it say anything about eviction, or ousting from office,

so it's off to the noun then,

"impeachment" 1) the impeaching of a public official before an appropriate tribunal 2) (in Congress. or state legislature) the presentation of formal charges against a public official by the lower house; trial to be before the upper house. 2) (in Congress. or state legislature) the presentation of formal charges against a public official by the lower house; trial to be before the upper house.

Look for the common denominator in definitions of both the verb and the noun:
"before an appropriate tribunal ."

As you know, the Constitution provides for the removal, from office, of an elected official under Article I, Sections 2 and 3, and states: "the President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

A compelling question arises: where is this "appropriate tribunal?" The framers of the Constitution could have never imagined anything like Mark Foley, Tom DeLay, the Contract on America by Newt Gingrich, or the likes of Richard Nixon. But, can we hope for an appropriate tribunal after the new Congress convenes, or more of the same under a different party logo?

Moreover, why are so many people offended by the thought of bringing an accusation against, calling into question, and/or presenting formal charges? If, as part of a larger investigation, it becomes clear that the actions of any public official constitute "high crimes and misdemeanors" and were, by design, intended to sabotage this republic, then why not go for it? But, to impeach merely for the sake of punishment is not merely archaic, but will transform a much needed remedy against abuse of power into a weapon of mass distraction.

Haven't we had enough irrelevancy in the past six years? How many children will go to bed hungry tonight because another billion dollars must be spent on securing a stronghold in the second greatest oil producing region in the world? How many hard-working American families will have to choose between paying their heating bills, or paying their rent? Can we, as a country, really afford the luxury of public flogging at a time when the average American working family is hurting more than ever before; when the disparity between rich and poor threatens to expand so as to bring civil war to our own shores?

For the nation that was home to Salem Bay, and the Puritans, this might be hard to process, but we need dialogue; we need discourse; we need inquiry; we don't need to see our elected leaders brought to their knees. That may help the constitutional scholars, but it won't do squat for a single mom who has only three-day old pasta to feed her four year old.

It's now up to Congress to become the Lost and Found for national priorities. We need for Congress to talk about keeping future executive branches from overstepping their limits. We need Congress to tackle warrantless electronic surveillance abuse by National Security Agency, those infamous signing statements, those sections of the USA Patriot Act that have yet to sunset, and to challenge the assertions of our Defense Secretary who tells us that failure in Iraq would be a catastrophe as if it were something that has yet to happen. We need for Congress to tell this president that the war is over, not to get out of Dodge. Getting out of Dodge won't assure us that we'll be any closer to getting out of Iraq.

Oh, and yes, we need to speak truth to power, but we also need to ask those Democrats who are taking control of the House, next month, that support appropriating another $150 billion in Iraq, like Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman, why they won't sign, and support, HR 4232, Congressman McGovern's bill, which will cut off all funding for the war in Iraq. We need to hold them accountable, as much as their counterparts, for every drop of blood spilled in the name of a war on terror.

We need to ask those Democrats who will be taking the reins in the Senate, next month, like incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid, why they approve of sending more troops into Baghdad under the pretext that it is just a short-term strategy.

This isn't about whether Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have brokered a deal to keep George W. Bush off the historical hot seat, this is about ensuring the highest possible scrutiny of the real issues, the ones that will still be there whether we choose to impeach or not to impeach.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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