Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Chris Durang Headshot

Will Bush Ever Get His Comeuppance?

Posted: Updated:

Will this long presidency of George W. Bush ever be over?

Living through it is starting to seem like some ghastly, upsetting novel in which the hero is the country, and the president is this disturbing, pig-headed, oblivious villain who makes things worse and worse and worse.

And as with a fictional villain, I find I have a longing that he get his comeuppance -- that his villainy is codified and he's finally held accountable for what he's done.

But will that ever happen?

I need the relief of truth and justice triumphing that I experience in books and movies.

Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, after endless and stubborn cruelty against his men, is finally confronted by out-and-out mutiny by his angry officers and crew, and is set out in a little boat in the middle of the ocean. Goodbye!

Or another captain, Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, is removed from duty by his officers after his domineering incompetence and instability causes him to freeze in the middle of a serious storm. But then he challenges the officers in court and nearly succeeds in having them all court-martialed until that longed-for moment when he starts to unravel on the stand, obsessively going on about who did or didn't steal strawberries from the mess hall, all the while nervously fingering those three metal balls in his hand. And the entire courtroom falls silent, staring at him, finally seeing his craziness. I need a moment like that.

Or I need Edna May Oliver to show up and put Bush in his place, as she did with the evil Mr. Murdstone when he came to reclaim young David Copperfield to his sadistic clutches in the 1935 David Copperfield. In that film, Ms. Oliver (a treasure of a 30s character actress) listens calmly to the supercilious adult murmurings of Mr. Murdstone and his sister, and then she stands up and says she doesn't believe a word they say, and she will not hand David over to them; and she picks up a broom and chases them out of her house and down the road. And then she and Davey and her strange but benign friend Mr. Dick join hands and dance a little jig of joy. I need a moment like that too.

But will we ever have such a moment?

Of course, impeachment is the constitutional remedy.

And I understand that maybe some of the Democrats are right, and the country doesn't have the stomach for it. The people want progress, not punishment (maybe). And I also know how unlikely it is that enough Republicans (or any) would join a call for impeachment. The Republicans seem hell-bent on enabling and defending this president no matter what; a few are changing, one by one, but it's VERY slow.

But, Lord, if ever a case called for impeachment, it is this one.

I missed the recent Bill Moyers Journal program that had a discussion of impeachment, but I found a transcript of it online.

I want to quote several sections from it for those of you didn't see it or read it, for a couple of reasons.

One is because I think impeachment should remain on the table, not be removed as Ms. Pelosi declared too quickly - even if it remains only a threat, it should stay on the table. Even with his disapproval ratings at 65%, Bush seems not to have lost his self-confidence or arrogance at all.

And the second reason is because the comments on the Moyers program are passionate and articulate, and I wanted more people to read them. (Plus I think there are so many wrong-doings in the Bush administration, we get exhausted and shut down taking them in. I know I do.)

The discussion of impeachment on the program is between Moyers and his guests John Nichols of The Nation and Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official during the Reagan administration who drafted articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton. As Moyers says, Fein did so "because perjury is a legal crime. And Fein believed no one is above the law." He adds that Fein is a constitutional scholar, and has been affiliated with conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and writes a weekly column for the Washington Times and Politico.com.

(I don't think Clinton should have been impeached, by the way, though I think censure would have been appropriate because lying under oath is wrong. But somehow the constitutional language pairing "misdemeanors" with "high crimes" suggests to me that the misdemeanors are not meant to be trivial. Plus the TOPIC of his lying was private behavior, extremely unrelated to his duties to the constitution. And the obsession of the right to "get him" on something/anything was indeed part of a vast right wing conspiracy as Hilary said at the time. Did you all know Ann Coulter was involved in writing some of Paula Jones' legal briefs to sue the sitting president for his alleged sexual harassment? Which lawsuit was later thrown out as being without merit.)

Sorry, that was a sideline. Back to Moyer's program.

Both Nichols and Fein are articulate, but I'm going to quote Fein exclusively because his views are more startling since he is a conservative who is saying "enough already." And we desperately need other Republicans to face up to - and speak out about - the damage Bush and Cheney have done and are still doing. Here are selections from the discussion:

Moyers asks Fein why he thought Clinton should have been impeached, and how his behavior compares to Bush's.

Fein: I think he (Clinton) was setting a precedent that placed the president above the law. ... Bush's crimes are a little bit different. I think they're a little bit more worrisome than Clinton's. ... Because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress and the judiciary to superintend his assertions of power. He has claimed the authority to tell Congress they don't have any right to know what he's doing with relation to spying on American citizens, using that information in any way that he wants in contradiction to a federal statute called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He's claimed authority to say he can kidnap people, throw them into dungeons abroad, dump them out into Siberia without any political or legal accountability. These are standards that are totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law.

Moyers asks if Fein thinks the Democrats have the stomach for impeachment with an election year upcoming. And whether any Republicans would ever impeach an administration they elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. Whether political concerns would keep both parties from bringing impeachment charges.

Fein: There's always going to be a political element, Bill. But in the past, there's always been a few statesmen who have said, "You know, the political fallout doesn't concern me as much as the Constitution of the United States." We have to keep that undefiled throughout posterity 'cause if it's not [guarded by] us, it will corrode. It will disappear on the installment plan. And that has been true in the past. When we had, during Watergate, Republicans -- and remember Barry Goldwater, "Mr. Republican" - who approached the president and said, "You've got to resign." There have always been that cream who said the country is more important than my party. We don't have that anymore.

To be goody-goody for a moment (a touch half-heartedly), there ARE intelligent, somewhat moderate/centrist voices in the Republican Party. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, John Warner. I watched the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings in their entirety, and I saw senators of both parties ask him strong and tough questions.

The media claimed the senators were boring and talked too much. I disagree. They particularly liked to pick on Joe Biden as being verbose. He wasn't. He and many other senators had done impressive homework (or their staffs had), and they quizzed Alito at length about the rulings he had made, in which he almost ALWAYS sided with authority and corporations, never with the individual citizen. Alito had clearly been coached to not reveal anything; and when asked about specific topics simply refused to discuss anything that he might see in a some future case. Which meant every topic under the sun, didn't it? So in terms of what he would say, interviewing him was POINTLESS.

So some senators on both sides, in lieu of asking questions they knew wouldn't be answered, discussed at length his past rulings, and what they might imply, and if they were outside the mainstream of legal thought. And they explicated these rulings so we DID have a clear understanding of the kind of thinker and person he was. (He loves authority! People in charge know best! That's his motto.) This explication from the senators undoubtedly bored the media, who would prefer to watch temperament and anger and emotion and controversy. Hearing his ruling record discussed I guess bored them.

Anyway, I bring this up because the Republican senators Arlen Specter and Lindsay Graham asked very pointed questions about presidential powers and the limits on that branch of government and the checks and balances. (This was around their being a lot of buzz about Bush's signing statements and about his authorizing the secret warrantless wiretapping program.)

And watching Specter and Graham try to get answers from Alito, it was clear they both were disturbed by Bush's excesses of grabbing power and refusing to have any oversight. And they both seemed concerned that Alito would probably rule in favor of the executive branch each and every time, given his past rulings about authority.

So I was impressed with them both; and was glad to see they were worried about Bush as I was, at least on that issue.

Then, of course, they went ahead and voted for Alito anyway. I guess their concern for the constitution and the country was trumped by their party fealty. But must they continue not to stand up to Bush's dismantling of laws, customs and checks and balances? Might they, like in some longed-for Frank Capra movie, have a surge of conscience that the country and the constitution is more important than defending the worst president in history just because he's a Republican?

Has it not come to the point, Messrs. Specter and Graham, that this president has really gone way too far. He (and Cheney/Gollum) have pretty much eviscerated the checks and balances.

Where are the Barry Goldwaters who stood up to Nixon? The Republicans who valued the constitution more than their party.

Oh, any Republican who could be reading, look at this later quote from Fein - he says he feels it is necessary to impeach both Bush and Cheney (because their political crimes have been perpetrated in combination). But he also makes this point that SHOULD make a Republican worry:

Fein: This (impeachment action) is something that needs to set a precedent, (for) whoever occupies the White House in 2009. You do not want to have that occupant, whether it's John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani or John Edwards, to have this authority to go outside the law and say, "I am the law. I do what I want. No one else's view matters."

And for Democrats too, I believe Hilary Clinton and John Edwards and Barak Obama are 1000 times more capable and trustworthy than Bush. But still -- if they have some new laws lying around that could come in handy, might they not just leave them there?

Or maybe they won't. Maybe they'd put principle above their being tempted. Still, Fein's point is that these attack on law and checks and balances can't just be ignored and not spoken about. It cries out for impeachment. Certainly for censure, as Russ Feingold has suggested (with most in his party treating him like he's insane for suggesting it).

Did you follow the new horror Bush has concocted? It's called the Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. A google news search brings no mainstream writing on it that I can find. But sites like Truthout.org and WorldNetDaily.com have written it up. And here is the actual order on the White House site.

Quoting the WorldNetDaily article (which Keith Olbermann mentioned on his show last night), this recent July 17th executive order "empowering the federal government to freeze the assets of people who threaten Iraq's stability and its government is so broad it could be applied to any domestic opponent of the Iraq war who has assets in the U.S."

The article also quotes my new best friend, Bruce Fein (Fein, Fein, he's so fine; sorry). Fein says that the order violates the Fifth Amendment's requirement that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law; and that it "empowers the president to destroy anyone he says plays a significant risk of undermining the rehabilitation or political reform in Iraq."

Further, it is "so sweeping and broad that it permits the president to threaten virtually anybody who opposes our policy in Iraq. ... maybe you criticize Iraq and that creates political convulsions that threaten the new Iraqi constitution."

Continued Fein: "The frightening thing about this executive order is that there is no opportunity to respond. There isn't even a requirement that when the president identifies you as a tainted person whose assets can't be used that you even have to be notified. ...These are (more) fundamental violations of any precept of the rule of law than has ever been witnessed in any previous conflict, and the Iraqi war is hardly the Civil War or World War II."

Whaddya say - Bruce Fein for Attorney General?

Oh that's right, we already have an Attorney General who serves at "the pleasure of the President." And Bush is getting a lot of pleasure from him, I'm sure.

Did you see The Daily Show last night? Jon Stewart and his crew were devastatingly effective showing how ludicrous Gonzales's latest appearance was before the House Judiciary Committee on July 25. His "I cannot recall" was, as Stewart pointed out, given a global replacement of "Senator, I cannot answer the question." You know - executive privilege, classified information, blah blah.

Finally Gonzales said, "I can't answer your questions because George Bush doesn't want Congress to have any oversight of anything at any time now or in the future, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you." Well, it's not an exact quote, but close.

(Joseph A. Palermo wrote a post with the very good title of Can We Please Impeach Gonzales Now?. It was written a few days ago BEFORE Gonzales' crazy appearance yesterday, but it's still a fine idea. And here's a hot-off-the-press article from Kansas City with the title Gonzales' Deceit is a Disgrace.)

Bush, Bush, Bush. Signing statements. Pre-emptive war. Rendition. Torture. Changing the reasons we're in Iraq 100 times. Manipulating with fear. Axis of Evil. No diplomacy. Obsessed the supposed life of a blastocyst, but oblivious to and uninterested in civilian killing. Literally uninterested in it, I think.

Warrantless wiretaps, and never explaining exactly why the FISA law requiring warrants couldn't be followed. (But then that would entail discussion and democracy, rather than manipulation and framing the argument wrong and then debating that fake argument. In terms of wiretaps, the Bush-meister always says "If someone's talking on the phone to Al-Qaeda, I want to know what they're saying." Fine, but that wasn't the question: why can't you use the very accommodating FISA laws to get a warrant? Why are you just breaking the law?)

I'm sorry if this blog goes on forever, and seems unfocused. I haven't written anything in a while, and I, like Steven Weber in several of his posts (here and here), am very upset that the country may be changed beyond repair.

But I need to go to bed. (I wrote this last night.) I'll post this in the morning. (Meaning today, July 26. I think.)

And then if sometime soon, if only I can see Edna May Oliver come back from the dead, and from a worthier generation, to brandish her broom and chase those Executive Branch Miscreants out the door and down Pennsylvania Avenue. And perhaps we'll dance a jig of joy, or some of us will. And eventually, I hope that the Bush-Cheney years will be a disturbing memory looked back upon from future, more honorable times.

------------------
Belated note:

I befuddledly typed Russ Feingold's name as Feinstein two days ago, and didn't catch the mistake until someone brought it to my attention today. The honorable Senator from Wisconsin is one of the few who did NOT vote to authorize the President to invade Iraq, back in 2002. Here's a link to the smart and prescient speech he made at the time. And his last name is Feingold.