Playing the Impeachment Card
Thursday 25 May 2006
All in all, the framers would probably agree that it's better to impeach too often than too seldom. If presidents can't be virtuous, they should at least be nervous.
Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan is a small and soft-spoken man. One gets the definite sense upon meeting him that here is a man who could probably have made a fortune in Hollywood, had he chosen a different direction in life, playing the role of the wise and kindly grandfather. He wound up in public service, and today - if you listen to Karl Rove and the GOP - he is easily the most terrifying man in America.
Back on May 10th, Howard Fineman wrote for MSNBC: "Then there is the attention being paid - and it's just starting - to obscure Democratic characters such as Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. As of now, only political junkies know that Conyers, an African-American and old-school liberal from Detroit, would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee if the Democrats regain control of the House. Few know that Conyers has expressed interest in holding hearings on the impeachment of the president."
A direct-mail piece from Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) popped up several days ago. In the mailer, Dole warned that unless the faithful donate money for the midterm elections, rampaging Democrats were going to, "increase your taxes, call for endless investigations, Congressional censure and maybe even impeachment of President Bush."
A Fox News online editorial acknowledges the very real possibility of a Democratic takeover of the House, and proposes several steps the Democrats should take in such an event, in order to do right by the country. "Step one," reads the Fox editorial, "would be for the Democratic leadership to definitively put to rest any loose talk of impeaching President Bush. They should say in one and two syllable words that impeachment will not happen once they are in the majority and thus take away a potential rallying cry for the beleaguered Republicans."
This may be, when all is said and done, one of the funniest moments in time in all of American political history.
Approval ratings for the Bush administration are at historic lows, and approval ratings for the Republican Congressional majority currently languish in a root-cellar beneath those historic lows. There are 159 days until the November 7th midterm elections, and the Republican majority has absolutely nothing to run on.
The economy? They say it is strong but no one believes them, and rising gas prices don't do their arguments any favors. Immigration? This is a self-inflicted brawl that has ripped a wide rift down the middle of the Republican coalition. National security? Iraq.
On top of this big three, the White House and the Republican Congressional majority are also walking around with NSA domestic spying, the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame, the now-axiomatic belief that Bush left New Orleans to die, and a half-dozen other millstones hanging around their necks.
The White House can't shed these millstones, because just about all of these catastrophes came out of 1600 Pennsylvania. The Republican Congressional majority can't shed them, because they stapled themselves to this White House a long time ago, and there are no pliers in the world large enough to extricate them from that association.
The abandonment of Congressional oversight is a lot of the reason we are in such a sorry state, and that abandonment was authored by Republicans who were stupid enough and opportunistic enough to trust that Bush and his people would lead them to the promised land of a permanent majority. This won't be forgotten by November.
Beyond that, few people are going to rise in response again to the waving of the bloody shirt of September 11. The Cunningham and Abramoff scandals continue to grow, chopping down Republicans left and right. The GOP's usual electoral strengths - morality and security - are gone, and the Republican base is abandoning them. The cupboard is just about empty.
What's left? Vote for us, or else we'll be held accountable! That's just funny.
Usually, the Republican National Committee has to roll out horror stories about mandatory abortions, the planned annihilation of every Bible in the land, and the prospect of Jack and Joe's civil union eviscerating the sanctity of millions of unhappy marriages everywhere. To be sure, these themes will be played throughout the upcoming election seasons, but clearly the GOP overmind is not confident that the masses will dance to the tune.
Thus, the warning: if the Republicans lose in November, Bush will be impeached, and the Earth will immediately thereafter hurtle into the sun. This isn't just a lot of smoke and scare-tactics, however. The Republicans are genuinely worried about what will happen if the Democrats re-take the House in November. They have ample cause for concern.
Beyond the specter of John Conyers doing an impersonation of Peter Rodino should Conyers become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee - in an interesting historical quirk, Conyers sat on the Judiciary Committee when Rodino shepherded it through drafting the three articles of impeachment against Nixon, and voted "Yes" on all three articles - lie a number of other House Democrats whose rise to a chairmanship would be devastating to the White House.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) sits on the Committee on Government Reform, and will become chairman should the Democrats re-take the House in November. Waxman, in 1998, founded the Special Investigations Division within the minority offices on this committee, "to conduct investigations into issues that are important to the minority members of the Government Reform Committee and other members of Congress."
There are more than fifty investigations that have been performed and continued to be performed by Waxman's Special Investigations Division. Among these are investigations into the torture at Abu Ghraib, Cheney's notorious energy task force meetings, a variety of Halliburton payoffs, electronic voting, the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, and the vast scandal surrounding administration abuse of Iraq intelligence and the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
There is enough meat on that bone to keep Rep. Waxman, armed with subpoena power, busy as a beaver for the foreseeable future. It is also worth noting, when considering the formidable arsenal of information Waxman can bring to bear against the Bush White House, the legacy of Dan Burton.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) became notorious as chairman of Government Reform during the Clinton administration. He fired off enough subpoenas to fill an oil tanker, almost all of them inspired by baseless and scurrilous accusations. Without actually proving much of anything, beyond the fact that subpoena power is an astonishingly large stick to hand to someone, Burton managed to keep the Clinton administration tied in knots for years.
Burton was throwing mud. Waxman will be throwing fire, if handed the opportunity. Beyond Waxman and Conyers, there will be Barney Frank chairing the House Financial Services Committee. There will be Louise Slaughter chairing the House Committee on Rules. There will be Charlie Rangel chairing the Ways and Means Committee. This list goes on, and on.
As amusing as the GOP's fear of impeachment is, the truth is that this Constitutional doomsday device is the least of their worries. Conyers does not have to impeach George W. Bush to throw a few torpedoes into the side of the Republican battleship. All he has to do, along with Waxman and the other chairs, is investigate with subpoena power. Tell the truth in public hearings with the principals under oath. Let the facts come to light in a way we have not seen for many years.
The result of this would be an even greater Democratic Congressional victory in 2008, and an incredible series of obstacles for any Republican presidential nominee to overcome. A drumbeat of truth about Iraq, Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Halliburton, Plame and all the rest of it would have every Republican who has ever uttered Bush's name in public fleeing for their lives. The long-sought permanent majority lusted after by the GOP would be transformed into a cemented minority, reminiscent of the shattered state of the Republican party in the aftermath of Watergate.
All of this only comes to pass, of course, if the Democrats re-take the House. What was considered an incredible long-shot even a few months ago has become an even-money proposition. Nothing is guaranteed by any stretch, and events may well transpire that swing the electorate back in favor of Bush and his Congressional allies. The fiasco that is electronic voting and the Help America Vote Act will stand in favor of the GOP come November, as it always has. If the Democrats want to win in November, they will have to work harder than they ever have before.
For now, it is enough to be amused by the smell of fear emanating from the GOP. This newest tactic - warning people about the potential for impeachment - begs one simple question: if they have nothing to hide, what are they afraid of? The answer, clearly, is John Conyers. He is, you'll hear soon enough, a terrifying man.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.