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Two short statements before we begin:
- This is not intended to be anything like an exhaustive list, only a beginning for a list I hope will grow like a tree with the addition of many branches connected but spreading in all directions.
- My primary purpose is to set down, as clearly as possible, some of the Principles which I believe trump all and every convenient political excuse for doing nothing or worse, doing the opposite because we can convince ourselves it’s expedient. There are such principles and it’s time we acknowledged them. (All Hail Chris Dodd!)
- My secondary purpose is to help foster the apparently near-lost notion that politics is about something greater than re-election. In a democracy, it is the ultimate expression of justice, mercy, and community. It is about organizing and then manifesting the common good. It is about resisting abuses of power, whether from corporations, the military, foreign enemies, or the government itself. What it is NOT about is its own perpetuation at the expense of democratic principles and/or social comity.
Principle 1: The Law and the Constitution
While one can certainly argue about various interpretations of parts of the Constitution, the one Truth which must be considered incontrovertible is that the Constitution is the foundation of the nation’s legal structure. Two hundred years+ of precedent and legal opinion rest on that foundation, and while it is neither desirable nor practical to cleave literally to everything in it – it is a document written by fallible men, after all – it is dangerous and potentially destructive to ignore it altogether.
Far worse is the idea that a single politician – the president – has either the authority or the power to re-write portions of it without the consent of the governed (that’s us, people). That contentious, not to say arrogant, belief is contrary to the very meaning and purpose of the document. To insist that the president can do such a thing is to insist that the president is a monarch, not a subject of the people but a dictator who can make his own laws – the very condition against which the Founding Fathers rebelled and which caused them to write the Constitution in the first place.
The Constitution is and was from the very beginning an attempt to enshrine in law the concept that “the just powers of the executive derive from the consent of the governed” – not from the material and possibly accidental acquisition of power, whether military, financial, or political, but from the active consent of the community and its people. To maintain (much less act) otherwise is a violation of American law so breathtaking in its extremity and its contempt for the source of American society that it MUST define such a one as totally and utterly un-American. In other words, a Traitor.
There can be no compromise here. One CANNOT be at once a believer in democracy and at the same time award – or even be willing to tolerate – the assumption of monarchic powers by the executive branch (the president) and the concomitant loss of power by the legislative and judicial branches. There is room for interpretation and compromise with regard to exactly where the lines of power are drawn, but there is NO room for unilateral assumption of such power, especially by an executive so classically ignorant of democratic principles that he doesn’t even know what they are.
There can be no compromise here because to compromise about fundamental precepts is tantamount to declaring them non-operational. That in turn is tantamount to declaring that our democracy is no longer democratic because it is no longer governed by core democratic principles. It is now an autocracy with a monachic or dictatorial leader who may conduct himself by acknowledging the will of the people or in complete defiance of it, as he wishes.
In other words, that we have denounced our 230-yr-old “experiment in democracy” and gone back to empowering a functional monarchy – that we have willfully and deliberately traded our president for a king.
It may be said that the lines between one and the other are blurred, not easily defined. In many cases that may be true, but not in all. The Bush “signing statements” in which he added, like a king, codas that said he acknowledged the law but had no duty to obey it, should have sent up Red Flags all over the country. There is no ambiguity about what he was declaring, nor any confusion about what he meant: they were bald, flat-out rejections of the legislature’s power over the executive, direct and unarguable repudiations of fundamental Constitutional law. He should have been impeached for the very first one.
And even if they had been less obvious and incontrovertible than they were, they should still have occasioned an argument in the Congress – and in the press and public – over what they meant and whether they’d gone too far. There was no such argument (except in progressive blogs).
Why not? Because the so-called “opposition party” decided it wasn’t politically expedient. Despite our hopes, now that they’re in power they continue not to think so. This is simply NOT ACCEPTABLE. As pre-Nazi Germany eventually learned to its sorrow, it isn’t possible to sell out some of your core beliefs and still survive as the society you once were. You have fundamentally altered its nature with your gutting of centuries-old law in order to placate a power-hungry dictator you’re afraid of, and fear doesn’t excuse disemboweling your civilized principles simply because it’s “expedient” and “practical”.
At some point, if you don’t draw a line in the sand and declare “this far but no further” you become a dictator-enabler, an anti-democrat. A Traitor. You may hem and haw and delay until the question is no longer debatable, but when that moment is reached you MUST stand and fight or be accounted a coward, a sell-out, a Traitor to democracy. If you do not, then you and your party – the party that goes along with you – MUST be rejected by democrats because you have betrayed everything they stand for and allied yourself with monarchists who want to return kings to their thrones and send the people packing back to the fetid serfdom from which they emerged 250 years ago.
One CANNOT be a democrat – or a Democrat – if one believes in or supports or aids the reinstitution of monarchy. That ought to be self-explanatory. That it isn’t any more is one of the great sadnesses of Bush’s sad reign.
England is a land with a long sad history of brutal, stupid, and outright crazy kings, so it’s not perhaps unusual that a Brit should see more clearly than we do how monarchical George Bush has made America. Last week in the Nation, Simon Prentis laid it on the line.
To those of us here in Britain, there is an Orwellian edge to the news that George Bush is invoking executive privilege to protect his policies from Congressional investigation. Just like that scene in Animal Farm, when the newly liberated animals start to believe that some are more equal than others, it sounds like the President of the United States has reverted to the divine right of kings.
Actually, it’s more like the divine right of emperors but why quibble. The supposed divinity of emperors rests on the supposed divinity of kings, one simply an extension of the other. Prentis’ basic point is dead on: while the corporatocracy and its conservative handmaidens want to return America to the Glory Days of the Robber Barons after the Civil War, Bush and his right-wing enablers have pushed the clock even further back – to before the Revolution, before Washington and Jefferson and Adams, when America was ruled by a monarch who threw people in jail whenever he felt like it for any reason or no reason at all, when the Colonies were vassals of an unstable, very sick king (porphyry, they say, which afflicts its sufferers with fits that resemble insanity not a little) and who had no political representation and were subject to arbitrary punishments and ludicrous laws.
For some reason, we still, 230 years later, have Tories – monarchists – in our midst, and two of them are running the country. Prentis asks, “Wasn’t that something you guys fought so hard to escape from?” and the ironic echo of the question bounces between the walls of conscience like the condemnation of a friend betrayed. Yes, we did. And now we have finally turned against our beginnings, our founders, and our tradition by allowing a self-appointed, self-anointed king to build himself a throne in our very capital.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
In the days since Rahm Emanuel’s phone orgy, Democratic support for Bush/neocon policies in Iraq has strengthened and at least one Rep, Jerry McNerney from California, has already reversed his position. Now comes news via Think Progress of a second: Washington’s Brian Baird.
Baird was one of the few Dem Reps who voted against the invasion originally but has been relatively quiet about his opposition to the occupation since. Now that he is supporting the surge, though, as TP put it, “there doesn’t appear to be a camera or microphone that Baird will refuse to speak to.” And most of them are right-wing outlets – Tucker Carlson and the National Review, for instance.
Baird, nationally an unknown, is suddenly in the limelight, his turnaround trumpeted all over the media, after several years of all-but-invisible opposition. And all it took was a single phone call from Rahm.
Tell me again that the Democratic support of Bush, from economic policy to trade policy to foreign policy to illegal surveillance is the result of individual consciences or the Fear Factor.
One more slightly related observation:
There seems to be an argument developing in the progressive blogosphere about impeachment that has nothing to do with whether or not there’s a case or whether or not Bush/Cheney deserve to be impeached and thrown out of office. That’s pretty much a given on which everyone agrees. The argument is over practicalities vs moral imperatives.
Digby, as far as I can tell, started it three weeks ago with a post arguing that impeachment couldn’t work because there was no clear crime around which to center it.
First, I’ve never seen specific high crimes that could get voted out of the House (Elizabeth Holzman is dreaming if she thinks her charges could ever get a majority vote — the national security questions are going nowhere without a lot more information which we won’t get while Bush is in office, and the torture question was rendered pretty much moot by that “bi-partisan” military commissions act travesty.)
Second, time is not on our side. The executive privilege claims are going to take forever to litigate. And, of course, the conservative judiciary is likely to back them, if only by helping them run out the clock. During Watergate, the judiciary committee had the work of the Washington Post to go on —- and then John Dean and the tapes — in an easily understood narrative. Ken Starr gave Henry Hyde a nice little case about dirty sex all wrapped up in a pretty little pornographic package. Nobody had to do any investigation. The job of the congress, in both cases, was pretty much just seeing if impeachment applied to acts that had already been revealed. Things moved quickly.
This requires much more original investigation, particularly on those national security issues, which are going to be very touchy subjects and nearly impossible to get evidence or testimony on.
Thomas Nephew at newsrack blog then took Digby to task, arguing that her reasons were inadequate or just plain wrong.
For all that digby has earned her many accolades over the years (including many from me), she has no business writing about Holtzman — the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives, a key participant in the House Watergate hearings, a district attorney, and a comptroller for the state of New York — as if she were some hand waving flower child from a commune somewhere. As Holtzman has argued, no one thought at first that the Nixon impeachment hearings would get as far as they did.
There are a number of highly arguable premises in the rest of digby’s post as well. For instance, much of what’s impeachable has been placed on the public record already, either by the administration itself, via ACLU and similar lawsuits, and reporting by journalists like Hersh, Priest, Marshall, and many others. More investigation and a clear constitutional discussion of what precisely does and does not merit impeachment will be good things, but there’s no need to search for even more “smoking gun” evidence when we’ve seen so many already, and found so many hot bullet casings, as it were, littered on the White House lawn. We’re also not necessarily running out of time.
eRobin at Fact-esque waded in on Digby’s side, offering a strong condemnation of Democrats as her primary reason.
I don’t operate from the position that the Congress is going to bring this President to justice. They do not have the fortitude, the imagination, the courage or the character to do it or to end the war, for that matter. Those jobs are falling to us. So I want a People’s Impeachment (capitalized to give it real heft!) that will convict these criminals in the court of public opinion where the verdict is insulated from the very serious voices of the establishment. I want Overton’s Impeachment Window moved. I want polls in favor of impeachment in the 70s – which will only happen as more and more people at the grassroots level push for it. We should keep pushing for impeachment with our friends and neighbors, get towns across the country to officially call for the same, call on Congress to impeach Abu G., make BushCo a laughing stock, weaken him at every opportunity. It’s all good. And I want something else – but to get it, I think I’ll have to step into the realm of fantasy: I want all the presidential candidates to, at every opportunity, condemn specific steps this president has taken to undermine the Constitution and to pledge to reverse them ALL on his/her first day in office. I am vastly more concerned with their reluctance to do that than I am even with BushCo’s persistance on his unconstitutional path. (from BushCo I worry that we’ll get another 9/11) The damage he’s done can be contained not only by impeachment (which would be my first choice in a reasonable world but is not in this one) but also by immediate repudiation of what he’s done over the last two terms by whoever gets elected to succeed him.
In point of fact, this argument – while substantial on both sides – is apples and oranges. Here is how Thomas ends the post I linked to above:
I don’t claim I’ve got a finely honed, prize-winning answer, but basically I think that not even trying to impeach Bush and Cheney — especially in a House and Senate with majority opposition — would say something far worse about this country, and have worse consequences, than trying and failing would.
We are the patriots in this fight. We, the people, are defending the Constitution of the United States of America — still a legacy to the world and the future, and still our best defense against criminal rogues like Bush and Cheney.
That Constitution gives us a tool called “impeachment” to fight an overreaching, scofflaw executive more concerned about his political allies, his own hide, and his claim to act without constraint, than about the country or our rights. It’s right to use this tool, we should use it, and I think indeed we must use it. Otherwise we essentially forfeit the Constitution as a dead letter — something to be studied by historians, but no longer relevant to our country, our ideals, or ourselves.
Where Digby and Rob are looking closely at the practical and political ramifications of impeachment in an age when conservatives all but own the major media, Thomas is saying none of that matters, that what’s important is standing up and refusing to let the Constitution continue to be shredded just because it’s perceived as a fight that can’t be won and may do more harm than good.