On Constitution Day


The talk on the weekend of Sept. 16-17 at Camp Democracy in the shadow of the Washington Monument on the National Mall was of impeaching the president–and of looming war with Iran.

I spoke on the morning of Sept. 17, along with John Nichols of the Nation, David Green of Hofstra, former federal prosecutor and author Elizabeth de la Vega, and long time anti-war activist Marcus Raskin. Later, in the afternoon, a second group of people spoke on the same topic, including veteran former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Jennifer van Bergen (who first exposed Bush’s secret “signing statements”), Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild, and former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY).

It was Holtzman who stole the show, with the former member of the House impeachment panel that drew up impeachment articles against Richard Nixon noting that one of those three articles was for spying on American citizens. Holtzman, who has a new book out on impeachment herself (The Impeachment of George W. Bush,), said that when she and the other’s on that committee–Democrats and Republicans alike–unanimously voted out those articles, which led to Nixon’s resignation from office, “I thought we had protected the Constitution for generations to come.”

And yet, scarcely one generation later, the threat of presidential abuse of power is back, inclulding the same crime of illegal spying–this time more seriously than before.

Holtzmen observed that when Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to produce the tape recordings that the government had learned had been made in the Oval Office, after some hesitation, he agreed, and his fate was sealed. This time, she suggested ominously, Bush and his gang might decide to ignore orders from the Supreme Court.

That, everyone agrees, would be the moment when tyranny–the very thing that the Founding Fathers feared most, and that was their motive in including an impeachment clause in the Constitution–would be upon us.

As the NLG’s Mike Avery noted, at that point, the only remaining recourses for the American People would be impeachment, or Thomas Jefferson’s other remedy: “revolution.”

Speaking of arms, Ray McGovern announced at the session the electrifying, if not wholly unexpected news that Naval officers had notified his organization of former intelligence officers aboutr secret orders that had gone out for a Naval battle group to set sail immediately for the Persian Gulf, with a planned ETA off the coast of Iran of Oct. 21–less than three weeks before Election Day. (McGovern, before he resigned in disgust during the Bush first term of office, had been in charge of threat assessment at the CIA.)

“It would appear,” one well-connected Washington source informed me after hearing about the Naval maneuvers, “that the Bush administration’s internal polling is telling them that they are in serious trouble in November and that they are getting desperate.”

Maybe so. If Bush and his gang cannot get all their crimes retroactively approved by the current compliant Republican Congress, he and Cheney, fearing impeachment and war crimes prosecution, may have decided to go with a “Hail Mary” strategy–an aerial bombardment of Iran’s nuclear facilities just before Election Day designed to rally Americans once more around the already abased and abused Flag.

This time, though, such a desperate, jingoistic strategy may not work. In fact, if such an act of unprovoked war leads Iran to unleash Shi’ia militias in Iraq against American forces, it will lead to an exponential increase in American casualties at a time that Americans are massively turning against that war.

The potential for an attack on Iran to become a new Tet is probably as great or greater than the likelihood of its rallying the public around an already widely discredited president and war.

Crucial in determining which way things would go is how Democrats respond to news of a new war in the offing. If they run true to form and start cheering for more war, they will have nailed the coffin shut on the Democratic Party as a functioning political organization. If they finally stand up against this abuse of American power and say no to yet another Bush war, the end to this nightmare could be in sight.

And which way the Democrats react will depend on what the American people do between now and any new Bush war.

As McGovern said darkly, “We have only seven weeks to act to stop this from happening.”

* * *

Impeachment Talk: What Are the Democrats Afraid Of?

NOTE: I gave a version of this speech on Sunday morning at Camp Democracy, on the National Block, just over a block from the White House.

If the Democratic Party manages to gain at least 15 seats in the House of Representatives this November, the party’s leadership, and its leaders in the House, will face a crisis.

Almost certainly, and in short order, some member–perhaps a newly elected first-term Democrat full of spit and vinegar–will introduce a bill of impeachment, which will go straight to a House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).

Rep. Conyers, who has a new book out, The Constitution in Crisis, that lays out in detail many of this president’s impeachable crimes and Constitutional transgressions, will unquestionably want to hold impeachment hearings on that bill, and any others that would likely follow it (there are currently 39 members of a House “impeachment caucus” iinclluding Conyers).

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who would be the Speaker of a Democratic House, has vowed that if Democrats win the lower house of Congress, “impeachment will be off the table.” She and other Democratic heavyweights like Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), head of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, seem to think that impeachment is a bad strategy. They recall the Republican attempt to impeach President Bill Clinton, and how that backfired and led to seat losses for the GOP in the following election.

But Republicans were simply out to get President Clinton. They didn’t have a case of high crimes or misdemeanors to work with, only a lie about a sexual liaison with an intern, and impeaching on that petty charge understandably angered many voters (besides, Republicans did pretty well two years later!).

Democratic leaders have it all wrong when they see Bush’s impeachment as just a replay of the Clinton impeachment farce, though. Perhaps they’ve been listening too long and too fearfully to Bush’s Rasputin, Karl Rove, who has been pouring his poison into their ears, warning that campaigning in 2006 on a platform of impeaching President Bush would play into Republican hands by “energizing the Republican base.” After all, what about energizing the Democratic base, and the independent base, which calling for impeachment would surely do, given the president’s sagging popularity and mounting public anger over the Iraq quagmire?

More importantly, though, is the fact that any impeachment effort against this president would involve, not petty malfeasance or illicit sex with interns, but major issues involving the very survival of the Constitution and of tripartite government.

Campaigning Democrats should be telling voters this fall that this president lied the country into a pointless, costly war. They should be telling voters he has weakened the nation and strengthened its enemies by condoning torture. Perhaps more importantly, though, since people will argue those points, they should be saying how President Bush has undermined the Founding Fathers’ basic conception of three co-equal branches of government that check and balance each other. President Bush has for five years now claimed that as “commander in chief” in a “war” on terror, he has the power to ignore laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and even key parts of the Constitution like the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments. He has claimed that as “commander in chief” he has the power with the stroke of a pen to invalidate all or parts of laws passed by Congress–over 850 of them, in fact. He has claimed that as “commander in chief” he has the power to arbitrarily deny prisoner of war protections to people captured by U.S. forces anywhere in the world. (The Supreme Court has shot down his “commander in chief” claim with respect to POWs, and by inference, for all the other actions of the president too, and a federal judge has said Bush violated FISA–a felony.)

On the matter of the so-called signing statements alone, Democrats in Congress have no alternative but to impeach the president, unless they want to render themselves vestigial. It wouldn’t matter what progressive legislative agenda a Democratic House (or even a Democratic House and Senate) might pass; if the president could still issue signing statements invalidating such legislation without a veto, they would be unable to enact anything the president didn’t want. Even Republicans should be worried about this one, since the next president, elected in 2008, (who might well be a Democrat and even the dreaded Hillary!), could simply cite Bush and continue the practice of signing statements to ignore acts of Congress.

It’s not just that this is a winning campaign strategy. It is also important for Democrats to be talking impeachment because that’s the only way that the corporate media, which are ignoring or scoffing at the idea of impeachment, will report on the seriousness of the threat to the country posed by Bush’s assault on the Constitution. It’s also a matter of being honest with the voters.

What is Rep. Pelosi thinking? Of course Democrats will impeach this president if they win control of the House.

Besides, their oaths of office mandate that they must. High Crimes and Misdemeanors aplenty have been and are being committed by President Bush and his administration, along with treason and bribery, and the only right thing to do at this point is to hold impeachment hearings to determine what was done and to mete out the appropriate penalty: impeachment.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com




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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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