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.