Betraying Thomas Jefferson


The enemies of the Constitution are growing in number and are to be found now, not just in the White House and the Congress, but also in state capitals, from Washington to Vermont.

Not only do we have a president and vice president who are almost daily undermining and rending at the fabric of the Constitution. Not only do we have Democratic Party leaders actively barring the party’s elected representatives from standing up to the president by submitting bills of impeachment, as called for in the Constitution.

We now have Democratic Party leaders in state legislatures betraying Founder Thomas Jefferson, by sabotaging grassroots efforts to get joint legislative resolutions passed demanding the start of impeachment proceedings in the House.

Thomas Jefferson, a complex and personally deeply conflicted human being was, as a philosopher of government, incredibly prescient. Not only did he foresee the critical need for a section laying out the inalienable rights of man in the nation’s founding document. He also understood the concept of a “beltway bubble” long before there were even paved roads, much less interstate highway beltways.

Jefferson understood that a monomaniacal and unprincipled president, particularly in time of war or national crisis, could intimidate members of Congress-particularly a weak Congress riven by political rivalries-and prevent that body from going forward with impeachment. He understood that members of Congress themselves, remote geographically and politically from their constituents, could eventually become so isolated they would fail to act in accordance with the wishes of the voters who sent them to Washington. That’s why Jefferson came up with an alternative way of initiating impeachment proceedings, in addition to the standard Constitutionally-prescribed method of having a House member submit an impeachment bill. His solution, laid out in his Manual of the Rules of the House, was to allow a joint resolution by any state’s legislature calling for impeachment to also require the House to initiate impeachment.

Over the past year, there have been grassroots campaigns underway in at least 10 states to get such resolutions passed.

Unfortunately, the Democratic leaders of a number of state legislatures, working in collusion with, or at the direction of even more craven Democratic Party leaders in Washington, are undermining Jefferson, and are sabotaging his carefully crafted mechanism for defending and protecting the Constitution and ensuring the survival of democratic freedoms.

In New Mexico, Democratic leaders in the state senate, after earlier voting in favor of an impeachment resolution, suddenly turned around and defeated a procedural effort to bring an impeachment resolution to the floor for a vote, effectively killing the measure. A similar effort was made by party leaders in the Washington State Senate, though a second effort to get that bill, Senate 8016, to a floor vote will be made tomorrow (Friday).

In Vermont, where 38 town meetings in March all voted out impeachment resolutions, and called on the state’s legislature to pass an impeachment resolution, the Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate are apparently blocking attempts to move a resolution to a floor vote (where it would likely pass).

In each case, there is evidence that Congressional leaders in Washington, often with the assistance of members of each state’s own Congressional delegation, have been leaning on Democratic legislative leaders in the statehouses, to pressure them to kill the impeachment resolutions.

This tactic represents a grotesque betrayal of Thomas Jefferson, who expressly saw the state legislative resolution route to impeachment as a way of letting the public, at the state level, send a message to Congress, not the other way around. By squelching such efforts from Washington, the Democratic Party is using top-down power to undermine the popular will.

Polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of Americans, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats, want to see the president impeached and brought up on charges for lying to put the country into an illegal war, for illegally ordering the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without a warrant, for abusing power by invalidating acts of Congress, for ordering torture, for covering up the outing of a CIA undercover agent, and for myriad other crimes. Yet the Democratic Party leadership has decided that it is in the Democratic Party’s short-term interest to ignore these dangerous assaults on the Republic and the Constitution. The thinking among party leaders is that by laying low and doing little, Democrats can reap gains in the 2008 national election.

Maybe they’re right about that. Maybe they’re not. But impeachment in any case is not about partisan gain. It is a process mandated by the Constitution when freedom is under threat. Every member of Congress took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution from attack by enemies foreign and domestic.

We all know that the Bush administration is wrecking the Constitution, and that it is trying to turn the presidency into an all-powerful dictatorship.

In the face of that assault, the national Democratic Party, far from standing up for the Constitution and for democracy, is proving to be an abettor in the crime.

Now state party leaders are showing themselves to be just as craven and cowardly.

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

He can be reached at:



CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.