July 25, 2007

A crossroads: Up until this week, I have been skeptical of calls for the impeachment of the President. I felt that the system had been abused by the GOP during the second term of President Clinton, and still feel that Congress should be loath to overturn the results of a national election. Without substantial bipartisan support, impeachment seemed a frivolous pursuit, a masturbatory gesture without substance.

Impeaching the Vice President has seemed to be the wiser course; Dick Cheney is ever more unpopular than George Bush, has abused his power (which is even more galling, since the Constitution does not grant him any power to abuse), led a shadow government which combined ideological cupidity in pursuit of destructive ends with an unforgivable reliance on an incompetent cabal, and blatantly obstructed justice during the Valerie Plame investigation. Besides, even Republicans in Congress have come to realize what a cancer Cheney is, and the temptation to permit the President to choose his replacement before the 2008 election might swing the necessary members of the minority to make his removal a possibility.

Impeaching George Bush is another thing entirely. Democrats, remembering how badly the 1998 impeachment debacle backfired on the GOP (which included the loss of sufficient seats in the Senate to give the Democrats a majority in 2001), have been understandably reluctant to do anything which might rally the public around an historically unpopular President, so even the most rudimentary steps required to begin an impeachment inquiry have been avoided so far.

That must end. Now.

Congress must go on record and reclaim its historical prerogatives, both as a check on abusive executive branch authority, and as the voice of the people in challenging an aggressive tyrant. It must be the position of the Democratic leadership in the House that an impeachment inquiry commence immediately, against both the President and Vice President. This must not be a partisan endeavor; Republicans in Congress who see this as a "power grab" by the Democrats should appeased, either by having the current Congressional leadership stepping aside from the Presidential succession in favor of the Secretary of State, or by electing a Republican Speaker on the eve of a removal vote in the Senate.

Certainly, it should already be clear to enough members of the GOP that the same powers and the same abuses that this Administration has exercised can also be wielded by Democrats. If nothing is done now, it may be too late to reign in the Presidency two years hence, whether that position is held by Hillary or Mitt, Thompson or Obama. And as anyone who has studied government and public policy can tell you, liberal policies favoring an expanded government tend to be more permanent. The same means used to stonewall inquiry into Cheney's energy taskforce can also be utilized in favor of national health care, or making tax rates more progressive.

Another blogger put it even more plainer today:
Though other events in recent months and years have had graver consequences in themselves, I'm not sure I've seen a more open, casual or brazen display of the attitude that the body of rules which our whole system is built on just don't apply to this White House.

Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the constitution, acting as though not just the law but the constitution itself, which is the fundamental law from which all the statutes gain their force and legitimacy, doesn't apply to them.

If that is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed.

Whether because of prudence and pragmatism or mere intellectual inertia, I still have the same opinion on the big question: impeachment. But I think we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country.
--Josh Marshall

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