Impeachment: A Duty, Not an Option
Editor’s Note: Washington's "conventional wisdom" holds that the idea of impeaching George W. Bush is a non-starter, a pipe dream, so beyond the possible that it's not worth even discussing. But there is another way to look at it, that impeachment is the only hope for restoring the democratic Republic envisioned by the Founders.
In this guest essay, journalist Carla Binion argues why the impossible may be the necessary:George W. Bush and Dick Cheney deceived Congress and the American people into supporting their unlawful invasion of Iraq. Their abuse of power continues. They should be impeached, not for partisan reasons, but to maintain our constitutional system and to deter future leaders from abusing power.
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. discussed Richard Nixon's expansion and abuse of presidential power in "The Imperial Presidency." Schlesinger said the question of impeachment "was more than whether Congress and the people wanted to deal with the particular iniquities of the Nixon administration. It was whether they wished to rein in the runaway Presidency."
Today's runaway Presidency is far from reined in. Bush and Cheney are emboldened by the fact that they've managed to get away with the high crime of lying to Congress in order to dupe the nation into war. They keep escalating the conflict, peddling the same distortions and propaganda they've used all along.
Bush and Cheney function as kings. This isn't what America's founders had in mind.
The United States of America was born during the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. America was conceived by a learned generation angry with power-mad absolute rulers. On the eve of the country's birth, as popular outrage bubbled to the surface, Great Britain's King George III and monarchs of other nations were above the law. An adage at the time was "the king can do no wrong."
Since the Middle Ages, in order to safeguard their rights, English barons asserted that kings should abide by the rule of law. These barons pushed for a representative system -- government by consent of the people. They worked up agreements such as the Magna Carta to protect themselves from potentially repressive monarchs. The feudal idea that monarchs must obey the law and cooperate with their subjects helped set the stage for our own representative form of government with its limits on executive power.
Enlightenment-era philosophers stirred the fire. British political philosopher John Locke, French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau and others denounced the "divine right of kings" and the all-powerful, unaccountable monarchy. They wrote that government should gain power only with the consent of the governed and that any government should be replaced if it failed to guarantee basic liberties for the governed. Both Locke and Rousseau thought the relationship between rulers and the ruled should be regulated by contract.
The U. S. Constitution is a document of that kind, a contract between government and the governed. The Declaration of Independence, though more about our founding principles than legality, also reflects Enlightenment philosophers' views. The Declaration says: "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed." It echoes Locke's idea that the people should depose leaders if they fail to protect basic liberties.
Regarding citizens' right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the Declaration states: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government."
John Keane writes in Tom Paine: A Political Life: "The whole point of the Revolutionary struggle against the British had been to establish in constitutional form the principle that unchecked power corrupts both decision-makers and decision takers, whereas publicly checked power enables bad governors and bad policies to be revoked."
Keane refers to Tom Paine's statement that the American revolutionaries had battled for periodic elections "not only for the purpose of giving the people, in their elective character, the opportunity of showing their approbation of those who have acted right, by re-electing them, and rejecting those who have acted wrong; but also for the purpose of correcting the wrong (where any wrong has been done) of a former legislature."
In the 2006 elections, the American people showed their approval of officials who acted right by re-electing them and rejected those who acted wrongly. Our votes were, as Paine's commentary suggests, "for the purpose of correcting the wrong of a former [Republican-dominated, rubber stamp] legislature." Among other concerns, the recent elections were a public mandate opposing the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
As public outrage against the Iraq fiasco increases, Bush and Cheney fend off our representative congressional critics, claiming they're trying to override the judgment of current military commanders in Iraq. However, the Bush/Cheney team rejected advice of countless military and intelligence professionals from the start of the Iraq invasion, seeking only information supporting their ideology and dismissing any contradictory facts.
Any member of Congress who still doubts the Bush administration deliberately fixed the intelligence and knowingly misled the nation to attack Iraq should read the ample evidence in this article: http://democracyrising.us/content/view/245/164/
The article was written in 2005, before the mid-term elections, when Republicans dominated Congress and yielded to Bush's every demand. Now that we have a Democratic majority in Congress, there is no excuse for our Democratic representatives to shirk their responsibility to hold official investigations looking toward impeachment.
As this nation was being founded, at the North Carolina Constitutional convention, James Iredell, who later became a U. S. Supreme Court Justice, stated that a President "must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate." Iredell said a President "is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives."
He added that a President is also culpable "if it should appear that he has not given full information, but has concealed important intelligence when he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have considered to had the true state of things been disclosed to them." [J. Elliot, "Debates in the Several State Conventions on Adoption of the Federal Constitution, As Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787 (Washington: 1836), vol. 4 at 127.]
To recap -- A President should be punished if he gives false information to the Senate and conceals significant intelligence, causing Congress to enter into an injurious situation they wouldn't have entered if the full truth had been disclosed. What punishment would be effective and essentially corrective? It wouldn't be enough for such a President to merely say the words "I'm accountable." True accountability has concrete consequences, such as impeachment and removal from office.
In his above-referenced book, Arthur Schlesinger said he thought Nixon's impeachment was a necessity.
"If the Nixon White House escaped the legal consequences of its illegal behavior," said Schlesinger, "why would future Presidents and their associates not suppose themselves entitled to do what the Nixon White House had done? Only condign punishment would restore popular faith in the Presidency and deter future Presidents from illegal conduct - so long, at least, as Watergate remained a vivid memory."
Today Watergate has become a faded memory, and this country has lost the lessons we should have absorbed from the Nixon impeachment. One of the repercussions of our willing forgetfulness is that after Nixon, three other Presidents (Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush) committed serious abuses of power involving U.S. foreign policy.
Reagan's and GHW Bush's abuses centered mainly on Iran-contra. In January 2000, I wrote a four-part series on Iran-contra (links given below) and I've decided to review some of that information here, since there are relevant similarities between the way the Iran-contra participants circumvented the Constitution and the current unconstitutional behavior of the Bush/Cheney administration.
The primary sources for my Iran-contra series were the "Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-contra Affair," published by the New York Times, and two PBS Frontline broadcasts with journalist Bill Moyers, one that aired in 1987 and another in 1990. As mentioned in the series, Americans might have found the Iran-contra affair more interesting if it had been more aptly named. It should have been called the "Republicans Undermine the Constitution" scandal.
As Bill Moyers said of Iran-contra, "The basic constitutional issues still have not been confronted. Can a President, on his own, wage a war that Congress opposes? And how are we the people to hold our leaders accountable if we are kept in the dark about their deeds? What happened in Iran-contra was nothing less than the systematic disregard for democracy itself. It was in effect a coup, a spirit at odds with liberty. Officials who boasted of themselves as men of the Constitution showed utter contempt for the law. They had the money and power to do what they wanted, the guile to hide their tracks, and the arrogance to simply declare what they did was legal."
In 2007, the same constitutional issues still haven't been confronted. George W. Bush waged war with Iraq "on his own" in that he didn't accurately inform members of Congress about his reasons or intentions. Bush has kept the public in the dark about his deeds, has shown systematic disregard for democracy itself and utter contempt for the law, in a spirit at odds with liberty.
He has had the guile to hide his tracks and the arrogance to simply declare what he did was legal. Congress's failure to impeach the Iran-contra participants sent a distinct message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and the message was that they could also ignore the rule of law and the Constitution.
Just as the Bush team justifies its actions by exaggerating the threat of terrorism and misrepresenting the real nature of that threat, the Reagan administration over-hyped the threat of communism in Central America. Reagan's CIA Director William Casey ran disinformation programs aimed at convincing Congress and the public they faced perpetual danger from external threats. For an American president to use scare tactics to manipulate public opinion is virtually anti-American.
In the PBS series mentioned above, Bill Moyers said, "The people who wrote the Constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him is to shred the distinction that makes us different. In the end, not only our values but also our methods separate us from the enemies of freedom in the world. The decisions that we make are inherent in the methods that produce them. An open society can not survive a secret government."
We have a secret government operating today, one that sold us the Iraq invasion based on deception. The Bush administration's decision to conduct and continue the Iraq war has endangered our national security by draining our military's strength, bleeding our national budget and ruining our reputation around the world. Our national security is threatened when other world leaders no longer trust this nation's leadership.
The reasons we haven't yet rectified Bush's and Cheney's ongoing power abuses in the Iraq affair are similar to reasons our system of government didn't self-correct during Iran-contra. In both cases, our system of checks and balances failed us.
There were at least four reasons the Reagan administration managed to cloak their misdeeds and evade accountability:
· Congress did not do its job.
· The media did not do its job.
· The White House, the Justice Department, and the CIA, stalled, stonewalled, destroyed evidence and served as their own judge and jury, and
· The American people could not play a meaningful role, because we were kept in the dark.
In my four-part series I explain those reasons and the particulars of Iran-contra in detail, and I include specifics regarding the cover-up, methods of propaganda and evidence that George H. W. Bush wasn't "out of the loop" as he claimed. The details are worth reviewing for a more complete picture of the parallels between Iran-contra and the current situation in Iraq.
The Iraq intervention has also been compared with the war in Vietnam. On March 18, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy spoke against U.S. policy in Vietnam. His critique could apply to the Iraq affair today. He said, "We are entitled to ask - we are required to ask - how many more men, how many more lives, how much more destruction will be asked, to provide the military victory that is always just around the corner, to pour into this bottomless pit of our dreams?"
Kennedy added, "But this question the administration does not and cannot answer. It has no answer - none but the ever-expanding use of military force and the lives of our brave soldiers, in a conflict where military force has failed to solve anything in the past…It is long past time to ask: what is this war doing to us? Of course it is costing us money - fully one-fourth of our federal budget - but that is the smallest price we pay. The cost is in our young men, the tens of thousands of their lives cut off forever. The cost is in our world position - in neutrals and allies alike, every day more baffled by and estranged from a policy they can not understand."
Kennedy concluded, "Higher yet is the price we pay in our innermost lives, and in the spirit of our country…The costs of the war's present course far outweigh anything we can reasonably hope to gain by it, for ourselves or for the people of Vietnam." ("The American Reader: Words That Made A Nation," edited by Diane Ravitch, HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.)
In order to learn from history rather than repeat past mistakes, and to give our current national situation context, it helps to remember the lessons of Vietnam, Nixon's imperial Presidency, the Iran-contra affair and a period when monarchs were above the law - the era that gave birth to our Constitution.
When evaluated in the context of all these events, Bush's runaway Presidency, his administration's crimes against the people of this country and the repercussions of those actions appear so egregious that impeachment isn't merely Congress's option, but its constitutional duty.
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