Talking impeachment in 2006
This feels a little like one of those on-again, off-again celebrity trysts, but, as we begin the year 2006, it is becoming increasingly clear that, for a majority of Americans, the presidency of George Bush Jr. can't be over too soon.
The trouble is, W was just inaugurated a year ago this month. He has three years still to go.
That may help to explain why, as we enter the new year, it is suddenly acceptable to use the "I" word: impeachment. While we're still a fair distance away from the thing itself, it seems safe to say you can count on hearing more about impeaching this president and, perhaps, such cronies of his as Messers Cheney and Rumsfeld, in the months ahead.
The reasons for this are numerous and have been building up since it was discovered that the administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq - the imminent threat of Saddam's WMD and his supposed alliance with the Sept. 11 terrorists - were really just excuses for picking a fight the Bush Administration had been spoiling for from the moment it was awarded office by the Supreme Court in 2000.
But the tipping point, the event that brought the "I" word out of the closet where it had been hanging with Monica Lewinsky's blue dress since 1998, was the president's admission in December that he had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign phone calls of American citizens without seeking warrants to do so. Not only did Bush admit doing this - a clear violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a law passed in 1978 - he defiantly asserted that he would keep on doing it for as long as his so-called War on Terror continues.
One of the problems with this, of course, is that Bush himself has said the War on Terror is unlike any other war. Terror, like crime, will be with us for as long as people have it in them to do bad things to their neighbors. Declaring war on terror is like declaring war on the human condition. We will never know if or when such a war is won. And calling it a war does not give George Bush Jr. - or any other politician - the right to break the law or put himself above the bounds set by the Constitution.
So we now have a president who has broken a clearly articulated law, admitted it and said he'll keep doing it. As former Nixon aide John Dean (who said he thought Bush was ripe for impeachment for presenting false information to the Congress and the American people as early as 2004) recently put it, George Bush may be the first president to ever willingly admit to an impeachable offense.
In other words, Bush has thrown down a gauntlet. Jonathan Schell has described the situation this way: "The deeper challenge ... is whether the country wants to embrace the new form of government he is creating by executive fiat or to continue with the old constitutional form ... If Congress accepts his usurpation of its legislative power, they will be no Congress and might as well stop meeting."
U.S. Rep. John Conyers from Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has taken action. In the past few weeks, Conyers has drafted three resolutions that propose censuring President Bush and Vice President Cheney and would create a select committee to investigate the administration's alleged crimes and misdemeanors in order to make recommendations regarding grounds for impeachment.
The first of these resolutions, House Resolution 635, asks that Congress create a select committee to investigate whether Bush and Co. made moves to invade Iraq before receiving congressional authorization, manipulated pre-war intelligence, encouraged the use of torture in Iraq and elsewhere and used their positions to strike against critics of the war.
The second resolution, H.R. 636, calls on Congress to censure the president for these offenses, and Conyers' third resolution, H.R. 637, would censure Cheney.
On Jan. 7, town hall meetings will take place across the country intended to rally public support for the Conyers resolutions. The meetings will also publicize a report prepared by the Judiciary Committee's Democratic staff, "The Constitution in Crisis: Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Cover-Ups in the War in Iraq."
You can download a copy at the Web site www.censurebush.org.
This is only the beginning. As long as Bush's party controls both the Senate and the House, it will be hard for movements that impugn the president to gain the kind of traction necessary to build a bill of impeachment. But three years is a long time and 2006 is an election year. A recent Zogby poll shows that 53 percent of Americans believe that impeachment is warranted if Bush has been dishonest about Iraq. The president's credibility and the arrogance of his administration could be issues that tip the balance of power in one or both legislative branches next November.
In the meantime, the president had better steer clear of White House interns. As history suggests, deception, manipulation and torture are troublesome, but if Bush is caught having sex in the Oval Office, all bets against impeachment are off.