The reality-based community takes a dive

Still At Large

The refusal by Democrats in Congress to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney represents a monumental political and public diplomacy failure, trumping even their inability to offer more than half-assed opposition to the continuing occupation of Iraq. Michelle Obama recently said that “the world will look at America differently” if her husband is elected president; maybe so, for a few minutes, but then the world will tire of gazing upon Obama’s chocolatey goodness and start looking again at our behavior. If we want to change the perception of this country then we need to reject the actions that shaped the perception and at least make an attempt to hold the perpetrators accountable, a duty that Obama and most of the other candidates, like their lily-livered colleagues among the Congressional leadership, regularly shirk.

Bush and Cheney have broken the law consistently throughout their reign, often openly, and to the great detriment of our own country and others; when they obey it, they do so more as a matter of convenience than from any fealty to it or any fear of retribution. They’re pleased to use the legislature to achieve their ends when they can — as when Congress obligingly immunized administration personnel from prosecution under the War Crimes Act — and to ignore it when they can’t. Former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith explains the dynamic as described to him by Dick Cheney’s current number two, torture maven David Addington: “We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop.” They have, and that larger force has not materialized — and the administration have been at pains to ensure that the force, if it ever arrives, won’t do so in the person of the courts — and the result is a constitutional republic with its framework intact and its guts eviscerated. There is only one remedy, and that’s impeachment.

The arguments advanced against impeachment by Congressional Democrats and their supporters, who number far too many among professed liberal commentators and bloggers, are weak at best: impeachment would take too long and distract from other legislative business, and conviction is all but impossible. But impeachment proceedings would take only a few months — some of the crimes are so blatant that almost no investigation is necessary — the Congressional business from which impeachment would distract consists of little more than either enabling or ineffectually opposing the administration, and the only guarantee of a failure to convict is the failure to impeach: things sometimes look different at the end of the process than at the beginning. Ask Dick Nixon.

Even absent conviction and removal from office, impeachment would serve a large purpose on the public diplomacy front by graphically illustrating that at least some of America’s elected officials abhor lawless governance. Among the administration’s more blatant illegal acts is the wholesale dismantling of Iraq’s legal code under the Coalition Provisional Authority, something flatly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. had no authority (beyond what accrues to the party with the biggest guns) to privatize Iraq’s national industries or to immunize mercenaries, such as the Blackwater men who massacred Iraqi civilians in September, from prosecution under Iraqi law (a travesty compounded by the State Department’s promise of immunity from prosecution in the U.S.). An Obama vote to convict the president on that charge would do far, far more to cast the country in a new light before the rest of the world than would the darkness of his skin on the inauguration platform.

On the domestic front, impeachment proceedings would serve up a codified accounting of the administration’s behavior, something that the short attention span of the press, with its momentary focus upon and abandonment of scandals as they surface and then fade, discourages. Although the process needn’t last more than perhaps three or four months, that would be three or four months during which the specific crimes and the administration’s record in general would dominate the news. The process would educate voters and provide Democrats with a rallying point that their leadership seems incapable of providing otherwise.

Along with the occupation-related violations of the Geneva Conventions, the administration’s impeachable crimes including violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), something the president himself has acknowledged. Impeaching him on that charge would have the beneficial effect of discouraging Democrats from giving away the store on modifications of the Act, and might discourage people such as Senate intelligence committee chairman Jay Rockefeller from continuing to push for immunity for phone companies that broke the law at the administration’s behest.

The list of other impeachable acts, some obvious and some not so, is long. Seizing an American citizen and holding him for years without charges or counsel, as the administration did with Jose Padilla, is illegal — an act that strikes at the heart of constitutional governance. Kidnapping and torture is illegal. And even though no Congress will ever indict a president on this charge, so is launching a war of aggression.

Addington’s formulation — “push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop” — perfectly illustrates the administration’s soul. They have no inherent respect for law, or the constitution, or any recognizable morality. Their standard for what they can legitimately do is what they can get away with.

Ron Suskind introduced the term “reality-based community” to the general public a bit more than three years ago in a New York Times Magazine story about what Suskind calls “the faith-based presidency.” Here’s what a senior Bush aide, later identified as Karl Rove, told Suskind.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

At the time, many of those who believed themselves to be part of that reality-based community seized upon the expression and scoffed at the anonymous aide’s hubris. The truth, though, is that Rove was right and we, all of us, are still running behind the curve. The results of a governing philosophy based upon a judicious mix of Friedrich Hayek, Friedrich Nietzsche and Carlos Castaneda have been predictably ugly, but the administration continues to act and the rest of us continue to react.

The broader truth is that most of us who righteously donned the reality-based mantle aren’t even among the people Rove had in mind. We didn’t, and to a great extent still don’t, count: his concern was (and is) a much smaller community, the few hundred members of Congress, the courts and the press whose reactions to administration behavior dictate how much this epic gang of thieves and thugs can get away with.

So far, the answer is “everything;” they really have created their own reality. They’ve expanded the range of acceptable governmental behavior to include torture, law-breaking and massive corruption. The current spectacle of an attorney general nominee who refused to take a position against torture and was still handily confirmed is proof of that. The spectacle of Alberto Gonzales leaving the justice department in anything but leg irons is proof of that.

More than a million Americans hit the streets in a futile effort to forestall the invasion of Iraq. It may as well have never happened: a few press figures, the Judith Millers and Tim Russerts and Joe Kleins and the like, saw fit to ignore the popular sentiment where they could, marginalize it where they couldn’t and drown it in reported lies and phony intelligence for good measure.

The voting public has rejected the occupation of Iraq. The results of the 2006 mid-term elections reflected that rejection, and opposition to our presence there has only solidified since. Yet only now are Congressional Democrats coalescing around an effort to defund the war.

Rockefeller, who is leading the charge to forgive AT&T and Verizon and the rest for committing wholesale violations of your privacy and the law, says that the corporations oughtn’t to be punished for simply doing in good faith what the administration asked of them. Why? In part because, and I’m not making this up, future administrations may require their cooperation in future law-breaking endeavors: Rockefeller says that “this president is only going to be in office for another year or so, while the fight against terrorism will go on, perhaps for decades. Even as we hold government officials accountable for mistakes or wrongdoing — through the courts, congressional investigations and the electoral process — we must preserve the cooperation of private industry for the next president, and for every one who follows.”

But of course Rockefeller and, unanimously, his party leaders are doing anything but “hold government officials accountable for mistakes or wrongdoing”. With Bush’s electoral “accountability moment” long past, with the courts almost invariably bowing before the national security card, the only remedy for a felonious president is impeachment.

And even if Democrats weren’t colluding, sometimes passively and sometimes actively, with the administration; even if they had been and were doing their level best to hold government officials accountable, they would still have a positive duty to impeach. They swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Anyone who takes that oath remotely to heart has no other option than to impeach, and the “reality-based community” has been woefully silent on that score — not uniformly, of course, but enough so to warrant a rant.

The constitution is meaningless unless our rulers pay a price for raping it. Until they do, we are no longer a democracy.

19 thoughts on “The reality-based community takes a dive”

  1. It’s significant that, despite the slew of impeachable offenses and the overwhelmingly convincing evidence against Bush and Cheney, the best arguments those opposed to impeachment can come up with are “Congress has more important things to do” and “impeachment would fail anyway.”

    It’s significant that in this constitutional republic, possessed of a fundamental constitutional process that is aimed directly at reinforcing the notion that we are indeed a constitutional republic, such weak arguments against validating the rule of law can carry the day.

    The success of these pathetic excuses shows how little Congress cares about the Constitution – and how little it actually knows about the Constitution, and thus how little meaning the Constitution has for members of Congress. Their focus is not on the Constitution or the rule of law but on their electability, and to that end their campaign finances.

    That these weak arguments can stop impeachment in its tracks also demonstrate vividly the failure of the news media to do their constitutional duty. Their failure is even worse than that of Congress because, as the founders realized, those in government are prone to abuses of power, and the founders recognized how dependent the Constitution’s viability is upon the performance of journalism. Journalists should be leading the charge for impeachment instead of nodding their heads sagely in agreement with politicians for whom impeachment is both too scary and too definite a stand to take.

    I’ve always believed that impeachment is a necessity because it is the only right thing to do in the face of such wanton lawlessness on the part of the Bush administration. Impeachment under the Constitution was created explicitly and expressly for the kind of government we have now. Nothing is more important right now – not the war, not terrorism, not health insurance, not the economy, nothing – than ensuring that we continue to live under the rule of law in a constitutionally based democratic republic.

    If only we could also impeach journalists. They might then begin to take their jobs much more seriously.

  2. What he said.

    Brilliantly stated, both of you, a tour de force of pulling-togethers, WB, and an incisive call-to-arms uptake by Montfort…

    I assume everyone reading this already saw or read the transcript of the impeachment program on Bill Moyers show this past summer, run again during PBS pledge week. If not it’s still accessible here and further substantiates the powerful case to be made and the damning consequences of not making it for what it allows to linger in the realm of the ‘acceptable’ for future Presidencies to conceivably take as precedent:

    I was more than chagrined that the only impeachment bill in Congress so far (that I know of) only charged Cheney and only addressed matters related to Iraq (as I recall). To me, the list of Bush and Cheney’s violations of the Constitution domestically (although I haven’t taken the time to make an exhaustive list but I wish someone would — hint hint :-) You already made a great start on it, WB) is endless, as you note.

    I’m sure I know the answer to this question, given the pathetic quality of debate questioning by so-called journalists to date, but just fwiw: Has any debate ever asked the 08 nominees if they endorse impeachment proceedings?

    Late add: As partial answer to my own question, I just checked my file of debate transcripts – ahem – and here are the only references I find to impeaching (note the applause — and note Blitzer trying to silence the word), never a general question to all of them if they endorse…

    11/15/07, Las Vegas, CNN, Blitzer et al., near the end:
    topic, Iran:
    SEN. BIDEN: …If he takes the country to war in Iraq [sic – he meant Iran] without a vote of Congress, which will not exist, then he should be impeached. (Cheers, applause.)
    topic, Patriot Act:
    REP. KUCINICH: I don’t think that the first questioner’s question was really answered, about what are you going to do about this president, and for that matter the vice president, because they’re out of control and the Congress isn’t doing anything. (Applause.) I —
    MR. BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you, Congressman.
    REP. KUCINICH: It’s called impeachment, and you don’t wait. You do it now. (Cheers, applause.)
    MR. BLITZER: All right.
    REP. KUCINICH: You don’t wait. (Cheers, applause.)
    MR. BLITZER: Suzanne got — Suzanne has another question.
    REP. KUCINICH: Now. (Cheers, applause.)
    MR. BLITZER: But I want —
    REP. KUCINICH: Impeach them now.
    MR. BLITZER: — Senator Biden to go ahead and respond because you voted for the Patriot Act.,,,

    10/30/07, Philadelphia, MSNBC, Russert & Williams
    topic, Iran:
    REP. KUCINICH: …Tim [Russert], we’re here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of democracy. I want to know when this Democratic Congress is going to stand up for the Constitution and hold the president accountable with Article II, Section 4: an impeachment act. I think that our democracy is in peril. And unless the Democrats and the Congress stand up for the Constitution, we are going to lose our country.

    topic, oil energy costs:
    REP. KUCINICH: ….We have to stop the war in Iraq, bring our troops home, end the occupation, have an international security and peacekeeping force that moves in as our troops leave. We have to stop planning for war against Iran. We have to insist that we enforce the Constitution of the United States, which this president continues to violate. And again I state that the president and the vice president should be subject to impeachment. Then we can start to get control of our energy policies by rejecting this doctrine of preemption, which is not worthy of this nation.
    topic, hedge fund managers paying only 16% income tax:
    REP. KUCINICH: ….I will say it one more time: It’s time for the Democratic Party to take a position on impeachment and for the House of Representatives to move the bill that I’ve introduced.

    I have transcripts for Aug 7 (#5 at Soldier Field, Chicago, MSNBC, Olbermann), July 23 (#4, at The Citadel, CNN, Cooper), and June 3 (#2, New Hampshire, CNN, Blitzer). There was no mention of the word “impeach” in any of those 3 debates at all.

    I don’t have the other transcripts.

  3. p.s. to anyone reading here who shares all these views and feels fed up and helpless…. here’s at least one thing you can do: Download the image WB put at the top of this piece and print out an enlarged version of it and stick it in your window or on your yard or somewhere AND email the image to everyone you can think of who might do the same and so on and so on… I just did that last night, and it at least feels like something. I mean maybe a sea of Impeach posters rising in constituencies everywhere would finally wake up the media and even the Congress… It’s never too late to fight for democracy and the Constitution and see scoundrels-in-chief get their just desserts…

  4. I share the basic feelings of WB, but when many who mostly agree with his statements overall on the wrongs of Bushco ALSO think impeachment is not worth it, worries about “democracy” go much further than Congress and journalists (Time et. al.).

    The “reality” has changed and many of our fellow travellers have gone along with it. This is the true crime, perhaps, one that continues. One I fear will again next Nov., if some limited end only is perceived as a “victory.”

  5. I would like to point out, once again, that the composition of Congress (both houses) is not “Democratic” in the sense of progressive. It is, in fact, a frightened, defensive, group represented rather well last night on the Lehrer report by Jay Rockefeller who attempted to defend the Bush lie about when he learned of the gist of the NIE report on Iran. The combination of the Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats is the working majority. In the “reality based community”, that’s a reality that shouldn’t be ignored deplorable as it may be.
    Thus, the notion that the ’06 election was a vote against the war is flawed since any number of Blue Dogs and Republicans were elected at the same time that new Democrats were. The people were, no doubt, against the war but the resulting Congress was not. And let’s not even get started on the Military Commissions Act (argued today in the Supreme Court) and the FISA amendment. Or, how about the vote to designate the Revolutionary Guards of Iran as a terrorist organization? Do you really think all of those voting were ignoring their constituencies?
    In short, a plea for impeachment proceedings in the Congressional body that currently exists is tilting at windmills, whistling past the grave yards or, in the immortal words of Jim Croce, pissing into the wind.
    Never doubt my regard for you all but I had to say that.

  6. Hi, Jack. I’m not ignoring the makeup of Congress, but the difficulties don’t excuse the lack of leadership. There’s no reason whatever to think that effective leaders couldn’t bully their members as effectively as the administration has, and although I may be mistaken, I think once the process started it would enjoy considerable public support. Yes, Rockefeller and his ilk are slugs, but there’s no reason to surrender to them. It obviously is whistling past the graveyard, but my point is that there’s no actual reason it has to be: it’s a failure of leadership.

    Re: the Kyle-Lieberman vote, I think much of the public is, or was until a few days ago, as misinformed about Iran as they were about Iraq. So, no, I don’t think everyone was voting against the will of their constituents.

  7. Jack, the ’06 election was indeed a vote against the war and the Bush administration; the fact that many people didn’t have antiwar candidates to vote for from either party doesn’t change that fact, a fact born out in survey after survey of public opinion, extending even to military families.

    I know exactly what Congress is like and what the lineups are and what the chances for impeachment are. I have no illusions. None of that – what you see as practical reality – dissuades me from believing impeachment must be pursued as a matter of principle. The danger to the Constitution Bush has presented is simply too great to be ignored, and future presidents, not to mention Congresses and the public, must be put on notice that this kind of transgression is not tolerable and will be dealt with for the sake of the republic.

    And I believe that once the investigation began, the evidence would begin to mount in such volume and with such certitude that not only the public but even Congress would understand the extent to which the government has undermined the foundation of the country and would appreciate the remedy that the Constitution itself provides. There’s no better lesson in constitutional democracy than deciding to use the document in the way it was intended.

    All that’s needed to get the lesson started is courageous leadership, and the lack of it is the primary obstacle – and in these circumstances it’s a monumental failing with consequences that could make our nation a sorry execution of its blueprint.

  8. Uh, the invasion of Iraq itself was an illegal war of aggression which alone merits Bush, Cheney and their co-conspirators being shipped off to the Hague to answer for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Any of the endless crimes they’ve committed since within Iraq are simply war crimes within the massive war crime that was the invasion itself.

  9. Whether it was part of the plan or not, an effect of the Clinton impeachment was to innoculate the next president. The Clinton impeachment was so blatantly partisan, and so exhaustively disruptive to business in Washington, that many Americans simply don’t ever want to see it again. Said Americans were left with the notion that ANY impeachment is going to be a partisan dirty trick, hence the endless repetition in the rightwing noise machine of the mantra, “it’s just Bush hatred.” With the constitutional tool of impeachment neutered, Cheney and Bush were free to wreak havoc, and have done exactly that. Shame on the spineless Democrats, the lemming GOPers, and the craven, lazy media that prizes access above all else (as the Scooter Libby case so clearly demonstrated).

  10. id rather a real criminal trial be held and they spend the rest of their lives in jail.

  11. Jay Rockefeller seems to miss the point as well as the impeachment nay-sayers – things that are illegal should be addressed BY A JUDGE. That’s where the “judge” part comes in – if you have broken the law “in good faith”, then you should be able to argue a good case that you should be treated with leniency.

    The case the Supreme Court just ruled on is good example. A fellow who dealt Ecstasy got out of the business, cleaned up, and started an honest business. When other dealers were busted he was implicated, but the judge took note of the circumstances and gave him 3 years probation. The appeals court (haven’t checked but I assume Bushite) cried with neocon hate that “you can’t forgive!” and forced prison time. The Supreme Court ruled against the appeals court 7-2 (with professional haters Alito and Thomas dissenting) and said “hey, trial judges are there for a reason”.

    The same law needs to apply to telecoms as Ecstasy dealers: bring your heinie to court and prove your actions. No pre-emptive pardons from well-compensated legislators; let the system work. Haul them in, and the judiciary decide. Separation of powers, what a concept! If the telecoms were just fighting terrorism – and fighting it quite poorly, since the Quest incident showed this started 9 months BEFORE 9-11 – then bring those well-paid telecom lawyers in and let them plead. If it’s all on the up-and-up, hey, no sweat, justice will prevail.

    Of course, that justice might just prevail is actually what the telecoms are scared of. Perhaps they should have asked for that “get out of jail free” card a little bit harder. Even the Bible goes to great length to demonstrate how a land purchase by Abraham was legally binding, because as Kenneth Davis notes in Don’t Know Much About The Bible, faith is great but a contract works better in court.

    If, in the future, some President needs telecoms to break the law, then hand out the “get out of jail free” cards, but let a court of law made the judgement. It’s bad enough these folks have rolled back the New Deal – rolling back the Magna Carta is too much.

  12. Excellent post. I would just add a few more great benefits of impeachment:

    1) Massively increased powers of discovery as Congress was able to subpoena and compel testimony from anyone they want to under oath. Does anyone doubt that there is a mountain of incriminating facts just waiting to be exposed?

    2) Even if Congress ended up voting not to impeach, the benefits of increased discovery would still be great, getting many more facts out on the table for history to judge, even if Congress decides to abdicate its responsibility.

    3) There is also a badly needed deterrent effect that would result from impeachment.

    4) Regardless of whether or not impeachment could be achieved before Bush’s presidency is over, all of the benefits of 1) 2) and 3) would still accrue.

  13. Howdy to all you Avedon-inspired Atriots, and Avedon, if you’re around, thanks for the nod. I should note that I wrote this before the Washington Post provided us all with at least a partial explanation of Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to impeach—doesn’t change the sentiment, but does add some context.

  14. Impeachment is the opiate of the activists

    That you leap to impeachment as the first thing to do in this situation shows that you are a true believer in the state religion, the worship of the President of the United States as if he were some sort of god-emperor who embodies the state in his august person. Our god-emperor has proven to be a bad person who has done bad things, and for the Leader, the Chosen One who embodies our country, to be impure, casts a stain on us all, a stain that will only be removed if we sacrifice the failed god on the smoking alter of impeachment. You don’t seem to want us to return to a republic, but to some dank theocracy, just with a new god-emperor ascending a throne cleansed by the blood sacrifice of his predecessor. Foregive me if I take a pass on that.

    The republican critique of what has gone so wrong in the Bush years, and only somewhat less wrong for the last two generations, is not that this particular President has misused his godlike powers, it’s that he and his post-WWII predecessors have had the legitimate, publically-exercised powers of Congress, systematically transferred to a President who is allowed to wield them behind closed doors, as his private right. The legitimate powers of Congress are sweeping, but are limited by the fact that they must be wielded by two competing committees of 100 and 435 members, respectively, who must conduct their business, the people’s business, in the open. The same sweeping powers, no longer limited by public oversight, and concentrated in one person, truly are god-like, and are completely incompatible with a republican form of government when put in one set of hands, out of the public purview.

    If you want us to get our republic back, the answer is not to impeach the President, the answer is to reduce him to his proper, Constitutionally-prescribed, impotence and irrelevance. Congress makes the laws, the President has the duty to faithfully execute them. He is the servant, Congress the master. The power of the purse allows Congress, with a simple majority vote, or even just a majority of the majority that controls the legislative agenda, not the 2/3 needed for conviction on impeachment, to remove every executive officer and employee except the President and the Vice-President, by simply not funding their positions, and to eliminate any govt program by not funding it again. These can be reconstituted at the same time, but without their Presidential appointees, and no longer under the President’s supervisory authority. He can’t commit any more crimes without his minions, and Congress could take away all his minions except Cheney. Well, I guess he and Cheney could sneak out at night to knock off convenience stores, but not having minions will definitely limit their ongoing capacity to commit crimes.

    This approach is infinitely flexible, in that Congress can get rid of programs and personnel and change lines of authority with as much selectivity and as gradually, as seems indicated by the problem each particular executive department is having from BushCo control, and by the political sensitiviy of various programs. As we have seen already with war-funding, of course any attempt to use the power of the purse will be met with a game of budgetary chicken from the President. Obviously, troops in the field was the worst possible place for Congress to start, if it had in mind a comprehensive program to reassert its Constitutional mandate to run the govt. They should start with someone like Nancy Nord, whom no one will miss if she goes splat when Bush fails to swerve aside in a game of budgetary chicken. Enough of his minions who can be safely eliminated go splat, and he’ll be forced to come up with some strategy. As Congress starts to take back the govt, dept by dept, he’ll either resign in frustration, retreat to the Oval Office and let Congress take his toys away from him, or he’ll fight, and the utter chaos created by his attempts to fight de-funding will get those 16 Republican senators you need for your impeachment idea, off the fence.

    I am not making the claim that my approach is better than yours because yours is impractical. Conviciton on impeachment actually has a better chance than Congress reasserting its authority of winning the At All Likely to Happen sweepstakes. The problem is that our present Congress does not want the govt back. It’s much easier to imagine 67 senators wanting to deep-six Dubya than even 25 of them wanting to run the govt. But at least my proposal would accomplish something besides making you feel a little better about our nations’s moral superiority for the moment. I say “for the moment” because, even if we get rid of Dubya, if all we do in the face of dictatorial powers vested de facto in the Presidency is to replace this bad emperor with a (hopefully) good emperor, then sooner or later that hope will fail, and we will see a Hitler find his way into the office. Let someone with Dubya’s malign intent, but with some of the intelligence and work ethic that he lacks, into his office as presently constituted, and then you will see some real crimes, some real stain on the honor of the United States, something that will be remembered longer and with more horror than the Third Reich.

    The problem isn’t this President, bad as he is. The problem is the Presidency. We’ll never cut it back down to its proper Constitutional size during the reign of a good emperor. Only the reign of a bad emperor has the prospect of making people consider that, compared to a republic, imperium may be an inherently bad, maladaptive, form of govt.

  15. Glen, the two points aren’t mutually exclusive. Impeachment is a constitutionally prescribed remedy for a law-breaking executive, and I think, perhaps wrongly, that it would go some distance toward restoring the balance you advocate.

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