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1/25/2006

The anti-impeachment argument

Ezra Klein makes what I take to be the standard liberal anti-impeachment argument; it's still less than convincing.
I'm not terribly happy to see impeachment returning to the national conversation. It is, I think, a mind-boggingly bad idea. A few reasons:

• Fine, impeach. And then what? Hail to the Cheney? And Cheney gets to pick an heir for 2008, unifying the Republican Party around a fresh-faced, much-hyped successor? Why do we want that?
This part makes very little sense to me. For one thing, as long as we're making wish lists, you could impeach Cheney along with Bush. But even if you didn't, in what way would Cheney get to "pick an heir"? Does he mean by appointing someone VP? That's no guarantee of anything. I will guarantee you that in a post-impeachment environment, Republican presidential wannabes will be pushing each other to the ground to get away from this administration, not seeking to be its heir apparent.
Impeachment proceedings aren't always good politics. We on the left make a lot of noise about Newt's Wild and Crazy Prosecutorial Adventure, but we don't always mention the ass-kicking his party received in 1998, the one that led to his retirement from Congress. Proving bad faith on Bush's part is going to be mighty hard without the sort of smoking gun that proves he was deploying the NSA against personal enemies. So unless anyone knows where to find that enemy list...
A couple things. First, as Jedmunds points out, Ezra has it backwards: the GOP took some losses in '98, but that was before impeachment. The first election after impeachment was 2000, and impeachment didn't seem to hurt the GOP at all (in fact, it probably helped them, if only by scaring Gore out of running as Clinton's heir).

But even if the GOP had taken a beating after impeachment, it would be irrelevant here. The situation is totally different, and no meaningful extrapolation can be done from a sample size of one.

Plus, for Christ's sake - the majority wants Bush impeached if he wiretapped without approval, which he did. Yet Ezra's convinced impeachment will be political suicide for the Democrats?

And what's this about using the NSA against personal enemies? Why should that be the standard for impeachment? Bush's actions were illegal, whether or not he was using the NSA for personal score-settling. If he were doing that, it might be an even worse offense, but Ezra surreptitiously slides in the bizarre assumption that this is a necessary condition for impeachment, when it's not.
• It's bad for the republic if impeachment becomes a routine feature of second-terms. Yes, I know that Democrats shouldn't be limited merely because the Republican Class of 1994 proved a crop of witch-hunting demagogues, but sometimes, fair or not, someone needs to play the adult. In this case, it's us.
'Bad for the republic'? I don't think Ezra understands how serious the Bush administration's crimes are (in a sane world, Bush wouldn't be worried about impeachment; he'd be worried about being tried for war crimes at The Hague). Maybe it would be bad if impeachment became a 'routine feature' of second terms. Twice, however, does not a 'routine feature' make.

It's also worth noting that this argument has been made entirely on consequentialist grounds. But if you're not a pure utilitarian, there are obligations that exist separate from consequentialist considerations. Whether or not impeachment would be politically advantageous for the Democrats, there is a case to be made that they have a moral obligation to impeach Bush for his crimes regardless. Lindsay Beyerstein:
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.
The Democrats should impeach the bastards if they get the chance. They probably won't, but they should. It won't hurt them, it would probably help them, and it's the right thing to do.

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