Monday, July 23, 2007

At least she's trying something - UPDATED

So Cindy Sheehan has threatened to run for Nancy Pelosi's House seat if she doesn't push impeachment against Dubya, and now she is starting to make good on parts of her threat by coming to Washington. For my part, I say bravo. I may not agree with every single thing Sheehan has done, but she is doing something, which is more than most can say.

And what sort of response does she get? Not at all surprisingly, the press is quite lukewarm to the idea of impeachment, as are many Democrats, and nobody really seems to understand the situation (although they are more than happy to lecture the rest of us.) USA Today's DeWayne Wickham offers a primer on "the politics of impeachment" (h/t to War Room):
Like Pelosi — and just about every other Democrat in the House of Representatives — Sheehan wants Bush to withdraw American forces from the sectarian quagmire that rages in Iraq. But unlike Pelosi, Sheehan doesn't seem to understand the politics of impeachment.

While Democrats have the simple majority that is needed to adopt articles of impeachment against Bush, assuming the vast majority of House Democrats would support such a move, the 49 Senate Democrats and the two independents who are aligned with them fall far short of the 67 votes needed in that body to convict Bush of an impeachable offense. In fact, not a single Republican senator has shown any willingness to support a move to impeach Bush, the GOP's titular head.

If Pelosi did push the House to impeach the president, Congress would plunge into an even deeper partisan divide and there would be little hope of a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq before the president's fate is decided.
First of all, there have been a mere two successful impeachments in U.S. history (Nixon doesn't count), and no president has ever been removed from office after an impeachment. To speak of understanding the "politics of impeachment" is to ignore the almost total lack of precedent in this endeavor. Wickham acknowledges that there are probably enough votes in the House to impeach Bush (and/or Cheney), but states (correctly) that there are not enough votes for the 2/3 majority needed in the Senate to actually remove him/them from office. Moral of the story: if you can't win, don't try.

This of course runs counter to just about anything one would teach a child, so why is it okay for American politics? The Repubs had to have known in 1998 that there would not be enough votes in the Senate to remove Clinton from office, but they did it anyway. If lying about a blow job and trying to cover up lying about a blow job were enough to merit impeachment less than nine years ago, even without the likelihood of a conviction, why is impeachment off the table now? The most difficult part for the House Judiciary Committee ought to be which scandal to choose. Then, make the Repubs explain why these guys shouldn't be impeached and removed.

But is the Clinton impeachment debacle really something we should want to repeat? Wickham goes on:
The Republican effort to impeach President Clinton dragged on for four months from October 1998 to February 1999 — a time during which much of Congress' other business virtually came to a halt.

So why should Pelosi lead House Democrats into that political bog?

If Sheehan's goal is to end the war, and not just drag Bush into an impeachment process that he would likely win, she should set her sights on the House and Senate Republicans who are thwarting the efforts of Democrats to enact legislation that would force the president to accept a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

If it's an election fight she wants, Sheehan and her supporters should take on those Republicans. But, instead, Sheehan threatens to rain friendly fire down upon Pelosi, a leader of the anti-war forces on Capitol Hill.

That doesn't make sense.
Yes, it does make sense, and I will tell you why in a second. But first of all, what other business will be neglected during an impeachment drive? As a corollary to that question, is Sheehan's main goal to end the war? I haven't asked her, and I don't think Wickham has either. This is bigger than the Iraq occupation (not so much "war") nowadays. It is becoming a question about what sort of nation we want to be, and whether we really want the sorts of freedoms and liberties we have supposedly stood for to remain. Congress is tasked, in part, with acting as a check on the power of the executive, so what possible business could be more important than setting the balance of powers straight? Wickham continues:
Impeachment should be treated as a serious matter — and not a means of settling political scores. It shouldn't be used to resolve a policy dispute. As misguided as I think the president was in ordering an invasion of Iraq — and as wrong as I think he is to keep U.S. troops immersed in Iraq's civil war — I don't think his bad acts rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
The irony of using language about "settling political scores" notwithstanding (unless you really believe the Clinton impeachment was about a love of truth and honesty over all), the very fabric of our democracy, as shown through the transparency of our government and the accountability of our leaders, is much, much more than a "policy dispute." This administration has gone farther perhaps than ever before in asserting near-absolute power without oversight, and the people have responded quite vehemently against such moves.

So why does it make sense to put the pressure on Pelosi? Because Bush is the scorpion in the fable. He is accountable for his actions (at least morally), but he will never change. His administration has shown, time and again, that they will act in the interests of themselves and their cronies, and they will piss on your boots and tell you it is raining lemonade for as long as they are allowed to do so. Nothing is going to change that. Pelosi and the Democrats have been given a chance to do something, and if they cannot do it, why even have an opposition party? The Democrats have controlled Congress for six months now, and if they can't get the job done, maybe someone else can. If booting out the Democratic leadership means unrestrained Repub rule for the foreseeable future, well, that is the bed America has made. The Republicans are not going to change--in their minds, 2000 and 2004 taught them that Americans love showers of lemonade. Whether the Repubs shape the future of this country or simply fade away (like they so richly deserve to do) is in the hands of the people America hired to stop them.

So, Mr. Wickham, I suppose you would have us trying to unseat more Republicans in the next election, or staging more protests, or something. In other words, you would have us fiddle while the city burns. I don't believe America voted the way they did in 2006 so that changes could be made in 2008. And I do not believe that Congress can get into much of a "deeper partisan divide" than they already are, so what are the Democrats waiting for?

I sincerely hope that the big question in 2008 is not why members of Congress chose to waste their time on an impeachment effort, but why so many other members instead chose to allow our democracy to slip away.

UPDATE I - A very good summary of what I'm worried about can be found here.

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