Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tomgram: David Swanson, The Impeachment Moment

If you've been around long enough, you've lived through moments -- there were a couple of striking ones in the Vietnam era -- when all the collective, practical wisdom of pundits and policy makers about what is possible in this world seems to fall away and suddenly the previously inconceivable enters the mainstream. The next thing you know, it's a commonplace and everybody is proudly ready to take credit for making it so. That was the case when it came to the issue of the impeachment of Richard Nixon back in 1973. Will it, in the near future, be true again when it comes to George W. Bush (and Dick Cheney)?

In the last years, impeachment has been the all-American solution that could not speak its name in the vicinity of Washington DC or anywhere in the mainstream media, even as support for it grew among Americans generally. But we may be at the edge of a new moment, judging by the ever-unfolding Mark Foley affair, the ensuing turmoil in the Republican Party, the muffling of the presidential voice, the latest polls, and even a threatened reversal in oil prices. So it se! ems the perfect moment at Tomdispatch for David Swanson, who last wrote about "trophy photos" in Iraq, but has put his prodigious energies into the issue of impeachment, to take up the subject. Tom

Impeachment Anyone?

The Case for Taking the Tape Off Our Mouths
By David Swanson

[This piece is based on seven new books on impeachment, all briefly discussed in a final note.]

Never before has the system of government established by the U.S. Constitution been as seriously threatened; never before has the built-in remedy for the sort of threat we face been as badly needed; never before have we had as good an opportunity to use that remedy exactly as it was intended.

Congress has never impeached a President and removed him from office. Once, with Richard M. Nixon, impeachment proceedings forced a resignation. Twice, with Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, impeachment proceedings led to acquittals. On a few other occasions, Congressional efforts to advance articles of impeachment have had legal and political results. These have always benefited the political party that advanced impeachment. This was even true in the case of the Republicans' unpopular impeachment of Clinton, during which the Republicans lost far fewer seats than the norm for a majority party at that point in its tenure. Two years later, they lost seats in the Senate, which had acquitted, but maintained their strength in the House, with representatives who had led the impeachment charge winning big. (This point -- little noted but important indeed -- was made to me recently by John Nichols, author of the forthcoming book, The Genius of Impeachment.)

In every past case, impeachment efforts were driven by members of Congress or other Washington political players, sometimes with support from the media. The public got behind Nixon's impeachment, but only after the proceedings had revealed massive presidential crimes. The public never got behind Clinton's impeachment, despite saturation news coverage and widespread support among political power players. In the case of George W. Bush's impeachment, with the media and both parties in Congress opposed to it, public support is just about all there is -- so far.

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