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The Crucible of Impeachment: If Not Now, When?

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"When once a republic is corrupted there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption . . . every other correction is either useless or a new evil." --Thomas Jefferson If Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota were unable to remain in office because of health reasons, his replacement would be appointed by the state's Republican governor, effectively returning control of the Senate to the GOP and Dick Cheney. Initially, the thought of losing the precious 51-49 margin in the Senate disturbed me. But when I remembered that Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the new Democratic Speaker of the House, said that impeachment is "a waste of time" and "is off the table," I thought, so what if the Dems do lose the Senate. It's back-scratching politics as usual in Washington regardless. How is it possible that a member of Congress can say it is "a waste of time" to impeach a president who has lied-under oath of office-to justify invading a nonbelligerent country, conspired to torture prisoners and to strip them of their constitutional rights, illegally spied on American citizens, violated international treaties against aggressive war and treatment of POW's, and, quite possibly, is complicit in treason and war profiteering? Think Valerie Plame and Halliburton! Rabbi Hillel asked of a different time and circumstance, "If not now, when?" Precisely. When? What will it take short of fellatio in the Oval Office for politicians to show some spine and stop hiding behind self-serving excuses: "we don't want to be seen as vindictive" or "it would be political suicide" or "let the electorate 'impeach' him at the polls" or "the country needs to move on" or "we need to do things for the country . . . blah, blah, blah?" How much more egregious does the abuse of power have to be-can it be-before members of Congress take seriously their oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic?" The Constitution is barely seven paragraphs old before the founding fathers gave the people's elected representatives the power to impeach the president and whomever in the executive branch for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Unfortunately, they could not give their descendents' representatives the political-dare I say the moral-guts to use that power. What better, more patriotic, thing can an elected representative do for the country than to temper the Constitution and, consequently, the Republic itself in the crucible of impeachment when it is so obviously warranted? David Corn of The Nation was only half right when he said that impeachment is an extreme action. He should have said it is an extremely rare action, which has been used only nine times in the history of the nation. But the Framers never intended impeachment to be either extreme or rare. It was meant to be used forcefully and unapologetically and as often as necessary to check the excesses of power or wanton corruption of the temporary occupants of the White House. That it has been so rarely used has led us to the unconscionable level of abuse by the Bush administration. They proceed as though they have nothing to fear, as if the Constitution is powerless to hold them accountable. It is this lack of fear that is sounding the death knell of our democracy; the final taps at the twilight of the Republic. John Nichols, author of The Genius of Impeachment writes, "The founders of the American experiment, who expressed deep fears about the corruption of elections and the elected, saw in impeachment not a challenge to democracy but a tool for its rejuvenation in those periods when decay would set in." We cannot hope to rejuvenate a decaying democracy unless we have the fortitude to endure the unpleasant political process of impeachment. Citizens will be pit one against the other, tempers will flare, friends will disagree and scream, issues will be discussed and debated, pundits will pontificate, and the talking heads will incite while politicians monitor the direction of the wind. If, in the end, elected representatives still lack the political spine to see the impeachment process to its conclusion, the nation will have passed through the crucible and fear it less and be more willing and quick to light the fire under the caldron . . . to the peril of the abusing power. Our Republic was forged in the crucible of a revolution and strengthened in the crucible of a civil war. The blood and the gold of past generations were mixed in the caldron to that end. This generation should expect to offer no less. But if not now, when?
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Biography: Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience (www.mwcnews.net). His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI.
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