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The Elephant in the Room

On Monday last week, something important happened in Washington. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic representative from Cleveland, OH, who early in the primary season won some of the biggest applause lines in the Democratic presidential candidate debates, introduced 35 articles calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush for high crimes and misdemeanors.

You’d be excused if you didn’t know this happened. There was almost no reporting on the event that day or the next, which took several hours to accomplish, along with several hours Tuesday for to be read into the Congressional Record. Kucinich’s address to the House was broadcast live on C-Span. But it was not announced in advance or highlighted on the C-Span website, and there were not many news reports on the historically significant fact that articles of impeachment had been filed against the president during subsequent days.

A week later, it has still not been reported in the New York Times, the nation’s self-described “newspaper of record,” even though the Times had just days before Rep. Kucinich’s action, editorialized about the enormity of the president’s lies in tricking the country into invading Iraq—one of the crimes leading Rep. Kucinich’s long list.

A number of papers did editorialize against impeachment, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Florida Sun Sentinel—but it says something that these publications thought it more important to attack Rep. Kucinich’s action than to actually report on it as a news item.

Even the Washington Post’s news report was an example more of the sclerotic state of American journalism than of genuine reporting. It began:

“Having failed in efforts to impeach Vice President Cheney, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) escalated his battle against the administration this week by introducing 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush, using a parliamentary maneuver that will probably force a vote today.”

Any journalism student who wrote a lede like Post staff writer Ben Pershing’s in a classroom exercise would have gotten a “D” or an “F” for it. Talk about backing into a story! First of all, Kucinich hasn’t “failed” in his effort to impeach Cheney. Congress has failed to impeach our criminal vice president and regent. Technically, Kucinich’s Cheney impeachment bill is still lodged in the House Judiciary Committee, where it is now joined in political limbo by the Ohio congressman’s new Bush impeachment measure.

The unwillingness of the nation’s news media to seriously consider the need for Congress to respond to and challenge the president’s clear abuses of power—even as they themselves condemn of those abuses of power—is a blot on the journalistic profession perhaps worse, and of more lasting consequence, than their failure to act as watchdogs and critics during the run-up to the Iraq War, when they acted more as patriotic cheerleaders than as news organizations.

As impeachment advocates, including Rep. Kucinich, have pointed out, unless this president and vice president are impeached by the current Congress, any—and probably every—future president will feel empowered by unchallenged precedent to ignore laws passed by the Congress, to go to war without Congressional approval, to spy on Americans in violation of the law, to ignore court orders, to abrogate international treaties, and to lie to Congress and the American people. Unless Congress asserts its rights under Article I, it will no longer even be a co-equal branch of government, but instead will have been reduced to nothing more than a debating society.

Editorialists, while refusing to honestly report on this Constitutional crisis, have been parroting the claim of gutless and calculating Democratic Party leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in saying that with the nation at war and with a critical election approaching, there are “more pressing” matters to consider than impeachment, and that impeachment would be a “diversion.”

This is nonsense. As hundreds of American troops continue to die each quarter in a war that never should have happened, and that was launched five years ago and continued for half a decade thanks to administration lies and deception, there is nothing more important facing this nation than restoring Constitutional government and Constitutional checks and balances—something that can only be done through the Constitutional process of impeachment.

The American people instinctively know this. In polls, fully half or more of the public consistently continue to say, even at this late date, that they want the president impeached. Considering the media blackout on the issue, this is truly astonishing and even heartening. But it will take more than polls to get impeachment rolling. The public needs to start demanding that its representatives take action, on pain of being voted out of office.

I was at an anti-war forum in New Jersey last Friday evening sponsored by a group of peace activists calling themselves the Iraq Forum Organizing Team. When forum panelist Rep. Rob Andrews was asked by an audience member whether he favored impeachment and supported Rep. Kucinich’s articles of impeachment, Andrews fudged. He claimed, ingenuously, that the articles had been sent to the House Judiciary Committee for hearings, and said that he personally thought that Bush had committed an impeachable “high crime” by outing the identity of a covert agent of the CIA, Valerie Plame, and added that if the Judiciary Committee “develops a bunch of evidence” to support that charge, he would vote to impeach.

As I pointed out to the congressman, he certainly knows that that is a cheap dodge. I said that he was well aware that the way legislation moves forward in Congress is that members like himself sign on as co-sponsors of legislation they favor, and that then, and only then, those measures get hearings. Without co-sponsors, bills go to committee to be killed by inaction, which is the intention of sending Kucinich’s articles of impeachment to the committee. I said if Rep. Andrews were honestly to believe that the president might have committed any high crimes, he should either file articles of impeachment himself, or co-sign the excellent set of articles already filed by Rep. Kucinich. Instead, Andrews, like the rest of the Democrats and Republicans in the House, with the notable exception of Rep. Wexler and California Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, have avoided Kucinich’s articles like the plague.

The audience loudly applauded this condemnation of Rep. Andrews.

We are at a critical point on impeachment. The elected leadership is afraid to challenge even this unprecedentedly unpopular president, who continues to defy Senate and House subpoenas, continues to promote war and to violate laws and treaties, and who is now conspiring with his vice president to launch yet another, bigger, war against the nation of Iran.

At the end of the day, if we get to January 19 without any impeachment hearings, we may see Bush and Cheney depart Washington, we may even see a Democratic president and a Congress with a significant Democratic majority in both houses, but it will be a hollow victory.

The nation’s democracy will at that point have been left a smoking ruin.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

 

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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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