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The Case for Not Waiting Out This Presidency

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It’s almost too apparent to compare current refusals-to-submit of the Bush-Cheney White House with the bad old days of Richard Nixon stonewalling similar inquiry. Both used ‘executive privilege’ as an excuse to ward off the evil minions who would do them dirt—dastardly organizations like the House of Representatives, the Senate and the courts.

Both stood in front of the cameras, fighting to sound logical in the face of confused, disconnected and garbled argument. Both had Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld in their administrations; young zealots under Nixon and harnessed again as old experienced hands under Bush. Both had their arrogant positions denied in the courts and both sought to circumvent the courts in their last days of desperate decline. Both ultimately came up against Congress, as the founding fathers require, to be checked and balanced.

Impeachment, which is now on everyone’s table except Nancy Pelosi’s, has been brilliantly put into focus by John Nichols. John is the author of The Genius of Impeachment and recently the guest of Bill Moyers on PBS. Moyers devoted a full hour to the subject and Nichols makes the point that we have wrongly stated the case;

    “Impeachment is not a constitutional crisis, impeachment is the cure for a constitutional crisis.”

Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment. Bush thinks he can ride it out and fully intends to do so. But this president has been wrong in virtually every judgment he has made over the course of his six and a half years in office.

The circle wasn’t properly closed on Nixon and that was a mistake that must not be made again. Congress felt the need to try him even after he resigned, but President Ford was perhaps too quick with a pardon and the point became moot. That necessary constitutional circle hasn’t even been drawn on Bush-Cheney.

Cheney says he isn’t liable to oversight because he’s not of the executive and not of the legislative, although he occupies an office in each and the Constitution has named his office as executive. Absurd on the face of it, but law is not law until and unless it is enforced.

Bush claims the Attorney General’s Office may not prosecute any purported crime that has its source within privileged discussion. Not surprisingly, all discussion of all issues falls under his definition of executive privilege and thus an entire two-term presidency is (in his view) exempt from oversight.

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Naming every document ‘secret’ has also served to obstruct the courts when Bush has been challenged. Clinton (1995) classified 3.5 million documents secret, compared to a stunning 14.2 million by Bush in 2005 alone.

Constitutional crisis is not only at the door, it’s scratching and howling to be recognized. Those who claim country has suffered too much are dead wrong—the country hasn’t suffered nearly enough to make it fully understand the depth and seriousness of crimes unpunished. Each and every illegal grab of yet more presidential power accrues to the next presidency. That president may well take a benign position, but the additional powers will have been cast in stone by precedent—unchallenged precedent. Death by a thousand small cuts.

Don't look to Congress for redress. Congress is (and has always been) feckless in time of need, dithering, fretting and sucking its thumb when bold action was called for. Not its fault. The storied halls of compromise and conceit, of deal-making and delay, of payola and pride were designed to be the modifier rather than the cure for every flamboyance. The House and Senate are two stomachs of the ruminating legislative cow, munching away within the green pastures of rabid right and liberal left.

Legislation is thus made a cud, regurgitated repeatedly, to be chewed again. That’s the congressional job. Chew and occasionally be milked of special-interest cream.

Public opinion will impeach this crew and regardless of my former argument, public opinion has begun to swing. Opinion is prescient in that it isn’t the war that’s turned their head, but Scooter Libby’s commuted sentence. Libby and Valerie Plame are but a tiny piece of mismanagement compared to the debacle in Iraq, but they are the right piece, the correct piece, the kiss-my-ass and stick-it-in-your ear piece.

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Misleading America into war was a regrettable failure of judgment, but bad choices are hardly impeachable. Bad choices are paid for at election time, not in the judicial chamber of a more-than-equally complicit Senate. Impeachment is reserved for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ neither of which are defined as bad choices.

Put the war aside in perspective. The arrogant and deceitful run-up to the war is less important than some of the crimes committed in the pursuit of that war. The president and vice-president are potentially guilty of actual high crimes, according to this partial listing from http://www.impeachbush.org ;

·       Instituting a secret and illegal wiretapping and spying operation against the people of the United States through the National Security Agency.

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http://www.jim-freeman.com
Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
 

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