10 March 2007


[Instead of catching up on schoolwork, I spent a couple of hours last week jotting down my thoughts on impeachment. I then decided to post them here. I hope some reader finds them interesting. If not, accept my apologies.]

Democrats around the country are pushing Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Their arguments, as best I can determine, are that Bush and Cheney are doing a terrible (even heinous) job, and that their conduct in the lead-up to the Iraq war (during which they misled the American public regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as well as Iraq’s links to terrorists) constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

As an active Democrat who was against the war from the beginning and who believes that the Bush administration actively sought to mislead the American public, let me explain why I believe impeachment is a bad idea.

First, I choose not to dwell on practical considerations like the utter impossibility of the U.S. Senate actually convicting the president. Resting on these practical impediments to impeachment was one of the main excuses Democrats in office gave for not supporting impeachment while the Republicans were in power, but such excuses leave them on shaky ground when those impediments are removed - for example, when Congress changes hands. I also dislike using practical excuses because if someone is really deserving of impeachment, I believe Congress has a duty to attempt to impeach them, even if the chances of success are slim.
I will also leave aside political calculations, which members of Congress should not (indeed, cannot) completely discount but which I believe are secondary issues. I do not think that mainstream Americans support impeachment and I think they will punish Democrats for the effort, but again if it is truly the right thing to do, then Congress should at least contemplate risking political losses in order to protect the Constitution.

Instead, I focus on whether impeaching Bush and Cheney is the right thing to do. As I mentioned above, I generally believe that they misled the American public regarding WMDs and Iraq’s ties to terrorist organizations, and even if I did not believe the allegations, I would assume them to be true for the purpose of this argument.

Impeachment is a grave matter. It is fundamentally anti-democratic – it removes someone from office who was elected and placed there by the people. Supporters of impeachment might argue that Bush wasn’t properly elected; while such claims might have some force regarding the 2000 election, Bush absolutely won the 2004 popular vote and allegations that that election was stolen are, to me, far more speculative. Even considering those elections, however, I believe that our democracy needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Impeachment, if used sparingly, strengthens democracy because it removes from office those who have committed crimes against the state. If used too often, it weakens democracy by crowding out political debate and demeaning the will of the people.

In a democracy, political questions, even the most contentious ones, should be resolved peacefully in accordance with accepted procedures. We accept elections as legitimate and then allow our elected officials to combat each other, within the rules given to them by the Constitution. Impeachment isn’t designed to be one of the tools for partisan combat; it is for removing someone who has strayed outside the Constitution’s order by violating the laws of the state.

As an example, I believe the impeachment of President Clinton was one of the most shameful political spectacles I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, he technically committed the crime of perjury, but that was to cover up an affair, and could hardly be considered a crime against the state. My missive, therefore, is not only targeted at those who seek Bush’s impeachment; it is very much targeted at those who sought Clinton’s impeachment as well.

The Clinton impeachment has led indirectly to the Bush impeachment movement, precisely because the Republicans of the late 1990s brought impeachment into the fold as a partisan political weapon. Before Democrats scream at the unfairness of Republicans using impeachment and Democrats not being able to respond in kind, they should recall that Republicans, while they were able to distract Clinton severely, never removed him from office and, indeed, suffered electorally for their witchhunt. (I realize that this position is open to debate.) Clinton, in the end, was able to complete his term in office with a long and distinguished list of accomplishments. So if Democrats decide not to push for impeachment, they should not be too worried about the Republicans having secured some political advantage that the Democrats are unable to secure.

But even if the Republicans had gained substantial political benefits from impeaching Clinton, I still believe that current Democrats (indeed, all current politicians) have a duty to strengthen our political institutions, not weaken them.

Impeachment is a distressing prospect for Americans as a democratic (small D) people. By their nature, they rally behind people who win elections, and are willing to support them, even if they themselves did not vote for the candidate. The 2000 election furnishes a good example of this – a certain segment of the population simply wanted the electoral uncertainty to end, even if that meant placing a person for whom they did not vote into office. This support is not a totally bad thing (as long as it does not become blind obeisance), because it indicates a faith in the democratic institution of the popular vote to decide the legitimate ruler. Democracy is based upon trust. We must trust the electorate to select candidates who will govern in a competent manner, and the electorate must also be able to trust the people whom they elect.

The breach of this trust is, coincidentally, the crux of the “impeach Bush” argument – he betrayed the trust of the American people. I submit, however, that this breach, which I agree occurred, should not be remedied by a partisan political impeachment. I believe that the proper remedy, and the one which is occurring right now, is for the American people to punish those who betrayed their trust by withdrawing electoral support. This is the nature of a functioning democracy – if a candidate fails to deliver on promises, or makes assertions that are later proved false, the American people can withdraw their political support.

This political correction is as great a deterrent as impeachment in terms of forcing candidates to stick to their word. My own personal observation of the Bush presidency is that its single greatest preoccupation, certainly through the 2004 election, has been maximizing electoral gains. Preserving in the electorate the power to punish officials for lying is the best we can do to ensure truthfulness in a democratic society.

I would also like to address one argument I have heard regarding impeachment – that, no matter what else it means, at least it will remove these men from office, and certain policy benefits will accrue from that result. It is true that policies would change following a double impeachment, although the ensuing chaos and power vacuum would have serious, unpredictable, negative implications as many federal programs would be thrown into states of flux, and, likely, paralysis. But more fundamentally, I reject the results-based argument because it is not proper to abuse the constitutional process of impeachment to arrive at politically favorable results. Instead, impeachment is an extraordinary remedy that should only be employed when the constitutional order must be protected from crimes committed in office. If it remains part of our mainstream partisan political culture, our democracy as a whole is weakened. In the long run, impeachment deprives the American people of their right to be served by those whom they elect, and thus threatens their ability to determine what direction they want society to take. I can think of very few interests that supersede our interest as a democratic society to govern ourselves.

1 comment:

Provident 360 said...

Revelation 13:5 - Are we in this 42 month period?