Ask Auntie Pinko
October 20, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
There is a school of thought that argues that the Democratic
Party is at present unable to present a unified, viable alternative
to the Republicans, that its strategy consists in merely waiting
(hoping) for the current Administration to implode as a consequence
of its incompetence and/or malicious, willful wrongdoing on almost
every front. This viewpoint holds that the Democratic Party is deeply
divided and therefore unable to present a coherent strategy to the
Notwithstanding the merits (or lack thereof) of this take,
it appears to me that there is one issue on which almost all Democrats
should be able to agree: Bush should be impeached. Given the current
state of affairs and the far-from-rosy prospects, my question, Auntie
Pinko, is: what on earth are Democratic members of Congress waiting
Auntie is most sympathetic to our neighbors around the world who
are impatiently waiting for the American people to "do something
about that mess!" (As a South African friend of mine put it.) Americans
who are profoundly uncomfortable with our nation's current role
as the world's Bad Neighbor - and I believe we are now a majority
- want nothing more than to do just that.
But it is a complicated process and one that cannot be implemented
overnight. Our Constitution was written by men who were deeply aware
of the perils of investing too much power in any one individual
or group. They were also concerned to prevent "the tyranny of the
majority" from denying rights, due process of law, and the guarantees
of freedom to those who dissented or differed from the majority.
They knew that the majority is not always right, and that popular
opinion is easy to sway and manipulate.
The government established by our Constitution reflects these
concerns. We are not a "pure" democracy where every issue affecting
the citizenry is determined by a majority vote of the entire citizenry
- rather, we elect representatives we hope are trustworthy and delegate
to them the power of our votes in deciding those issues. We also
"delegate up" to these representatives the responsibility of choosing
certain unelected leaders, based on the rules established by the
Constitution and our laws. And when there are conflicts among the
various branches of government, or when an individual invested with
Constitutional powers is called into serious question, the Constitution
defines processes to determine the outcome.
In the case of impeachment, let's clear up one common misapprehension
immediately: "impeachment" as defined by our Constitution is not
the same as "removal from office." Impeachment is merely the first
step of a two-part process that may or may not culminate in an official's
forcible removal from office. In the history of the United States,
no President has ever been removed from office as a result
of the impeachment process. Mr. Nixon resigned rather than face
impeachment; Mr. Johnson and Mr. Clinton were both impeached, but
neither was removed from office.
In other words, impeachment is not a magic bullet that will get
rid of Mr. Bush and start the cleanup process.
To initiate an impeachment, first the House of Representatives
must vote to formulate, and approve, articles of impeachment spelling
out the specific "high crimes and misdemeanors" of which they believe
the President guilty. The House of Representatives is decisively
controlled by the Republican Party, and such articles could never
be formulated and approved until a sufficient number of Republican
representatives indicated their willingness to break ranks and form
a majority bloc for impeachment.
Until that occurs, the efforts of Democratic representatives to
impeach Mr. Bush will be ineffective. Democratic leadership in the
House must weigh the costs of appearing ineffective, being accused
of partisan political assassination attempts, and losing any leverage
they might currently have on thousands of low-profile but important
Congressional actions, against the benefits of projecting leadership
and making a public stand from which there cannot be any retreat.
Democratic leaders in the House are unlikely to come down on the
"taking a stand" side of the equation until they are certain of
an overwhelmingly high level of support across the electorate. It
will take more than a few polls to give them such assurances.
Even if they were convinced of such support, and managed to convince
a majority of their colleagues (including many Republicans) to join
them in presenting articles of impeachment, the House of Representatives
would then have to engage in a lengthy examination process, controlled
by the Republican leadership, before finally voting upon and adopting
If they managed to get past that hurdle, the articles of impeachment
would then have to be presented to the Senate (also controlled by
the Republican Party) to try. The Senate would have to conduct a
full formal trial, and convict with a 2/3 vote, in order to find
Mr. Bush guilty of the "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Upon that finding, Mr. Bush would be automatically removed from
office and Mr. Cheney would become President. (Assuming he had not
already been impeached, as well.) The Senate could then, if they
chose, bar Mr. Bush from holding any other public office.
While many people all over the world would doubtless heave a huge
sigh of relief were this to occur, I am not at all hopeful of such
an outcome. Nor am I in the least convinced that the substitution
of Mr. Cheney or any other Constitutional officer from the current
Administration or Republican leadership of the House and Senate
would represent a positive change.
America is already deeply torn by highly emotionalized partisan
conflict, and this rift has had great negative effects at all levels
of our social fabric. It has impeded the ability of communities
to work together to address critical issues, hobbled state and local
governments from making unpopular but necessary decisions, and deprived
us of a generation of leaders who might otherwise be willing to
take risks and use their imaginations. A lengthy and viciously rancorous
impeachment process, even if it culminated in Democratic control
of the institutions of our government, would only render the nation
that much more ungovernable.
The alternative, which is to allow the nation to experience and
examine the effects of a government crippled by partisanship, greed,
incompetence and cronyism over the next three years, carries its
own risks. We might be tempted to adopt measures that would not
serve us well in the long term as "band-aids" to placate the public.
Leaving Mr. Bush and his Administration in control, even in a very
weakened state, allows them to do further damage at home and abroad-
damage that will be very difficult for their successors to mend.
I wish I could see an unambiguously "good" outcome to this. Unfortunately,
such outcomes rarely exist in politics. We will have to muddle through.
If we are lucky, Americans will finally be so disgusted with the
distortion and corruption of our political process that we will
be ready to consider making real changes: reining in the influence
of money on our elections and our elected officials, restoring public
confidence in the voting process, and re-building the balance of
power and the system of checks and balances between our branches
of government. It will take visionary and determined leadership
to accomplish this, even if the public will is present. Auntie prays
every day that such leadership emerges among my neighbors and friends
here in America. Encouragement and good wishes from our friends
abroad would be welcome, too, Carlos, and thanks for asking Auntie
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