Are we as a nation going to sit by and passively watch as the United States Constitution is relegated to the status of a vague reference document? Will we watch it become nothing more than bleached parchment under glass at the National Archives? Or are we going to stand up for the "living" Constitution, honor and defend it, and actively seek to restore the "checks and balances" between the co-equal branches of government?
The conventional wisdom states that the Democrats, after clawing their way into the majority of both houses of Congress, will blow it big time if they push the idea of impeaching the President, and risk losing their hard-won gains of 2006. But there is no such thing as "risk-free" politics. If they aggressively go after Bush the Democrats might lose seats in 2008, or they might gain seats, or it might be a draw. We have seen them lose elections in the past by being far too risk-averse.
The process of impeachment is slow and deliberative. The House would have to vote at least twice: once, to approve a Judiciary Committee inquiry into possible articles of impeachment; and then again to vote on each article. If the full House passed one or more of the articles there would be a trial in the Senate that could last for weeks or months. Removing Bush from office would require 67 Senate votes, which is admittedly a tall order. Yet however unlikely such an outcome might be, it would be an exercise in democracy and show the Chief Executive that he can no longer ignore the powers and prerogatives of the Judicial and Legislative branches of our government. It would send a clear message to Bush that he must stop this nonsense about "unitary executives," "signing statements," and "inherent powers."
If the House Judiciary Committee finds evidence that Bush's National Security Agency has been "data mining," and has created a vast system of surveillance that vacuums up the emails, phone calls, web behavior, hospital, IRS, and credit card records of millions of innocent Americans without a warrant from any court, the politics of impeachment could shift dramatically overnight. If such a "total information awareness" system were to be uncovered, there could be as many as thirty deeply conservative Republican members of Congress who would join with the Democrats in voting for the Judiciary Committee to explore articles of impeachment. (Even the reactionary Tom DeLay Congress had no stomach for Admiral John Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness" program.)
The Bush administration has blocked all Congressional efforts thus far to look into the NSA's spying operation, and has refused even to turn over the presidential order creating it. Even The New York Times, the "paper of record" that has served to legitimize Bush's "war on terror," routinely refers to the NSA's surveillance program as "Mr. Bush's illegal domestic spying." In addition, there is a mountain of evidence that Bush gave false information to the Senate concerning pre-war intelligence about Iraq, and that he lied to the American people about Saddam Hussein's WMDs and his links to Al Qaeda. Bush's jettisoning of the Geneva Conventions, his sanctioning of torture and secret prisons, and his jailing of people for years without due process have yet to be looked into by the Congress.
It is also conventional wisdom that the Democrats who won in 2006 were "moderate" or "conservative," and therefore would never vote to impeach Bush. But even though many of the Democrats of the class of 2006 are "conservative" on the issues of guns, gays, and god, on the Constitutional separation of powers they just might surprise you. They could join with conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats to remedy the serious problem of runaway executive powers. One thing that true-blue "conservatives" have in common whether they are Democrats or Republicans is a healthy respect for the Constitution, as well as the rights of citizens to be secure in their homes against unlawful search and seizure. (In 2004, the conservative and liberal wings of the Congress bucked the "conventional wisdom" by uniting to block the Federal Communication Commission's attempt to ram through even more consolidation of the corporate media.)
Ironically, because it serves neither party in the long run to have an all-powerful executive, impeaching Bush could bring Democrats and Republicans together in the bi-partisan defense of Constitutional "checks and balances." Republicans should be aware that someday there might be a Democratic president, and she or he might behave as arrogantly as Bush. Republicans should also be aware that if the Democrats take the White House and choose to build on the Bush precedents of the "unitary executive," an agenda that is anathema to most Republicans could be imposed on them. A basis of bipartisanship could emerge to protect the Constitution if not for anything else than for crass political reasons. A future all-powerful liberal president could set back the conservatives just as Bush for the past six years has set back the liberals. It is something for Republicans to think about who are looking to the long term, (unless they believe they will control the White House forever.)
A trial in the Senate to determine whether or not to remove Bush from office, even if it fails to win the necessary votes, would be good for the Constitution and hence the nation. It would cleanse the democracy, put the political parties in a more healthy competition over ideas and direction, and rein in a Chief Executive who is destructive and incompetent and has done great damage to our republic. People all over the world will rejoice in seeing Bush impeached, and they might begin to see the American people in a better light if we show them that we have the will to punish our little Bonaparte for the disasters he has wrought.
Today we find ourselves in a serious Constitutional crisis. The Democrats should be willing to take some political risks to honor, protect, and defend the Constitution. (It is, after all, their oath of office.) If we allow Bush to succeed in permanently altering the balance of powers between the branches, the Constitution will become a dead letter. We must avert this national tragedy regardless of the political exigencies. We, the People, must impeach President George Walker Bush.
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