When does it make sense to impeach a sitting president? At this time in our history, it’s a reasonable question to ask.
Originally published 2004
Richard Nixon was impeached for criminal actions and attempts to interfere with the election process. Either action would probably have been grounds for impeachment, but it was probably the criminal nature of the offense that made it so abhorrent.
For President Clinton, the impeachment attempt was made on the grounds that he “lied under oath”. But he lied in response to a question he should never have been asked. Indeed, a truthful answer to that question would have destroyed his family — which is why his approval rating went up after he took the stand.
The supposed defenders of “family values” who mounted the impeachment offensive never really understood that one of the principle features of family values is preserving appearances. People who support family values aren’t stupid. They know that people stray. They also know that to keep the family together, it’s sometimes necessary to turn a blind eye or, if caught, deny, deny, deny. Left wing folks tend to see that as hypocrisy, but proponents of family values know that human beings have weaknesses, and you have to do what’s necessary to preserve the family.)
In recent years, then, we’ve had an impeachment for criminal interference in an election, and an attempted impeachment for moral turpitude. The boundary must lie somewhere between those two poles. But where? Is incompetence a reasonable basis for impeachment? What about lying to the American people? Or inciting a war that just happens to enrich ones’ friends? What are reasonable grounds to initiate impeachment proceedings?
The Governer of California was recently recalled for simply being in office at a time when the state was raped by Enron and it’s energy-utilitiy accomplices. They manufactured an energy shortage, jacked up prices, and screwed Californians left, right, and Sunday. The extortion decimated the treasury and depressed California’s economy for what may turn out to be decades. Arguably, none of this was under Governor Grey Davis’ control. He was impeached as much for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as for any other reason.
So what yardstick do we apply to a sitting president? There appears to be a litany of possible reasons. The question is: Are any of them sufficient? Or is some combination of them sufficient? After all, during President Bush’s years in the White House:
- The U.S. Military was forced to call off it’s intensive manhunt for the Osama Bin Laden — the biggest independent mass murderer in history — and instead forced to prepare for a war in a different country.
- The U.S. alienated virtually every European ally we have, plunging into an unfounded war alone.
- The U.S. did so on false pretenses, claiming weapons of mass destruction and a terrorist connection that did not, in fact, exist.
- In the debates, the President claimed that Congress was equally responsible for that decision, because they acted on the same intelligence information — while conveniently ignoring the fact that it is the responsibility of the Executive branch to provide that information, along with the evidence that the intelligence services were pressured to ignore assessments that did not support the desired result.
- The U.S. sent National Guardsmen to serve in a foreign war, despite the fact that national guardsmen volunteered to defend their nation at home, and despite the fact that the President once used the very same National Guard to avoid going to a foreign war, and then never even bothered to show up.
- The U.S. went to war saying that oil revenues would pay for the reconstruction, but the tax payer has wound up paying for most of it, anyway.
- Most of the money for the reconstruction of Iraq has been going to Dick Cheney’s old company, Haliburton, without even a bid.
- Since Iraqi oil is paying the tab, it is the U.S. taxpayer who is footing the bill.
- In four years, the U.S. turned a projected 10-year surplus of $5 trillion into a projected $5 trillion deficit—the largest deficit and the largest financial turnaround ($10 trillion) in the history of the country.
- The U.S. instituted tax cuts that favor the wealthiest people, so that the money they’re getting from this boondoggle can stay in their hands.
- The President’s party attempted to rescind the estate tax so that the money can stay in their children’s hands, and their children’s hands, in an attempt to create an aristocracy of inherited wealth.
- The U.S. claims that it can’t compensate the individuals who participated in the war, and families who have lost loved ones, because “we don’t have the money”.
In other words, we’re bankrupting the country, putting the country into foreign hands with excessive borrowing, putting ever more money into the hands of the largest corporations, cutting taxes on the wealth they generate, and shifting the tax burden to the rapidly disappearing middle class, who are quickly sinking into poverty on the basis of rising costs, disappearing jobs, and lowered wages.
(In the last election, they were even voting additional taxes on themselves to fix the potholes. If the taxes they’re currently paying aren’t covering such basic services, what are they covering?)
And that litany of abuses doesn’t even cover the environment. During the Bush administration, the U.S. has weakened air and water regulations and walked away from an agreement on global warming that was 10 years in the making. We may not notice that much difference, but our children and our children’s children will certainly pay the price. Nor does that litany cover the cost of globalization in lost jobs, longer hours, and lower wages.
So the question is this: If not this, then what, exactly, are reasonable grounds for impeachment?
Maybe there’s some reason that more than half the country decided not to vote for Kerry. Maybe they had a good reason. After all, he was a decorated veteran who volunteered to serve, volunteered to go to war, and volunteered for hazardous duty. Then, when he came back, he had the courage to tell it like it was and stand up to protest. That makes him a double hero, in my book. But I can understand that some people don’t like him for one set of actions, and others don’t like him for the opposite reasons.
After all, he’s supposed to be “consistent”. But consistency to deep inner belief (like taking care of your fellow citizens) certainly won’t do. It’s too hard to see. No. It seems that as a country we want a readily apparent surface consistency. So he should either be for war all the time, no matter what he learns in the process, or against war all the time, no matter what the reason. That’s the kind of consistency that the voting public thinks it wants, apparently—or, perhaps more accurately, that’s the kind of consistency that the Republican party propagandized the American public into believing it wants.
Or maybe voters just didn’t want to change administrations — especially in the middle of a “war”. But the fact is, we’re not at war. In Iraq, we’re in an involuntary occupation that’s supposed to be a reconstruction. As for Osama — well, an international manhunt for 3,000 people isn’t really a war, is it? Let’s see, 300 million people vs. 3,000. Some war. If it was dodgeball, it would be over in seconds.
But by selling the notion that we are somehow “at war”, the President has managed to wrap himself in a cloak of patriotism that seems to make him invulnerable to attack. But let’s assume for the moment that the voting public is right in thinking that the Democrats simply don’t have the balls to do what’s necessary, when it’s needed. (There is certainly some evidence for that view.) That would explain why a majority of voters were reluctant to change administrations.
But impeachment wouldn’t change the adminstration. Republicans would still be in charge. True, they’re a spendthrift party who have increased the deficit every time they’ve been in office over the last several decades. (It’s the Democrats who have paid it down.) But at least we know that Republicans aren’t afraid to go to war. (Of course, maybe because that’s because they profit from it. But let’s not quibble.)
When does it make sense, then, to impeach a sitting President? After all, if we don’t remove the person who has all but irreparably broken our international fences, how will we ever go about mending them?
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