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12/18/2005

Impeach Bush

Surprisingly, the sentiment regarding the potential impeachment of George W. Bush and/or other members of his administration is mixed among the left-of-center blogerati. While Brad DeLong routinely ends his posts with what has become something of a catchphrase - "Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now." - Nicholas Beaudrot and Amanda Marcotte have just come out against impeachment. Beaudrot:
I think that the Clinton impeachment has raised the bar for what ought to be an impeachable offense. Politically, if the opposition party calls for every President's head, we will have turned what ought to have been a very solemn process into nothing more than a political tool.

...So right now, I'm inclined to think the best tactic is to call for a censure of the President and an end to warrantless domestic spying. Censure would show that the Democratic party is above the idea of turning impeachment into exercise in partisan sniping ... While I think this is the right idea politically, I reserve judgement on whether or not the President's blatant violation of the law in the apparent belief that he is acting in his power as Commander-in-Chief constitutes an impeachable offense.
The last sentence is rather shocking; if illegally spying on US citizens isn't an impeachable offense, what the hell is? I think he's being much, much too blase about this. Plus, I don't understand how Clinton's impeachment raised the bar; the more natural conclusion would be that it lowered it. But even ignoring that, impeaching Bush for his many crimes would be about as solemn a process as one could imagine. The point of impeachment isn't to score political points for Democrats; it's to hold a criminal accountable for his actions. Its justification is deontological, not consequentialist. We have a duty to prosecute Bush for his crimes.

Amanda thinks the Democrats should avoid impeachment because of the possibility of backlash:
despite the fact that the warrantless domestic spying thing is probably an impeachable offense, that's a tactic that the Democrats need to avoid like the plague. Writing that sentence caused me to scream in pain and writhe on the floor because believe you and me, nothing would make me happier at this moment in time that seeing the Shrub finally get the smackdown he seriously deserves. But it's a no-win situation for the Democrats.

There's exactly zero chance that calls for impeachment will get fairly portrayed/understood by the public as a genuine outraged response to criminal behavior. After Clinton, impeachment is a tool that is going to be regarded as nothing more than partisan bullying ... calls for impeachment are going to be reflexively understood by the public as partisan revenge for the Clinton debacle...

I'm barely able to type, it pains me so much to say this. But reality must win over--even if it were possible to get Bush impeached, and it's not, it would be a nightmare for the Democrats' image. Just politically speaking, Bush's sudden unpopularity is a windfall for the Democrats and this is not the time to blow it by seeming overeager.
The problem is that opinion polls indicate that the public would want the Democrats to impeach Bush if he deserved it. Democrats too often make the puzzling mistake of avoiding what most people want them to do because they are convinced that it would be political suicide. People want the Democrats to fight the Republicans - to be, yes, partisan, if it means standing up to the GOP that has run roughshod over the rights and welfare of the American people.

It's enough to make me wonder if Democrats shouldn't stop 'strategizing' altogether and just start doing the right thing, considering how notoriously bad Democrats are at strategizing (remember how 'electable' Kerry was?). Many of my comrades on the left seem plagued by a strange type of self-doubt which convinces them that anything they want to do is bound to be unpopular. I don't know why this is; perhaps too many of us have internalized the right-wing meme that the electorate is much more conservative than we are, I don't know.

The fact of the matter is that we don't know what the results of a push for impeachment would be. We just don't know. There's no way to tell; the Clinton impeachment, for many reasons, is not an appropriate precedent. Given this type of uncertainty, Democrats all too often assume that the worst will happen, that our efforts will inevitably backfire. But why? When has this ever happened? Is it possible? Of course. But there's no reason to suppose it's any more likely than not.

Whether or not impeachment could ever succeed is a different question. But the Democrats actually have an obligation to impeach, because this administration deserves it. Now, if we knew that the consequences of doing so would be disastrous, we might have cause to relieve the Dems of this obligation. But considering that there's no particular reason to suppose that the consequences will be bad at all, much less disastrous, the obligation remains in full effect.

Criminals must be punished; declining to bring them to justice because the reaction might be negative is not an option, except in the most dire of circumstances. The Democrats have a responsibility to uphold the duties of their office, and to obey the will of the people. So impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.


UPDATE: Lindsay Beyerstein argues, correctly, that Clinton's impeachment is irrelevant to Bush's potential impeachment, as far as raising or lowering any bars: "Presidents deserve to be rebuked for high crimes, regardless of the fate of their predecessors." Yup.

...Lindsay adds, in her comment section:
An impeachment is like an indictment. People who have a lot of evidence against them deserve to be indicted. Whether their cases are heard before a grand jury (or the Senate) shouldn't depend on whether it's expeditious to enforce the law in this particular case.

George W. Bush is an American who broke the law and broadcast his confession to millions of viewers. He violated the law, and probably the Constitution as well. We can't just let that go. If we did, we'd be admitting exactly what Bush is claiming: That the president is above the law.
Exactly.

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