Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Trivialization Of Impeachment. Part Two Gutting Constitutional Protections.

Forgive me, I'm obsessed. Every once in a while a political trend or event gabs me like a pit bull and just won't let me go. Grover Norquist’s throw away line of impeaching Obama if he lets the Bush Tax Cut lapse has my head spinning.

First the possibility is utterly believable because the wingnuts would really be that petty. They really would try to nullify an Obama reelect. They really would waste the nation’s time with the political equivalent of a prolonged temper tantrum that would have a willful five year old saying “what a baby!”

It is in keeping with wingnut obsessions that they would impeach a reelected Obama for the most trivial, absurd, and ridiculous of reasons. It is in their collective DNA; they are serious jerks, and are proud of it.

The sad part of it, if it happens, is the damage such an impeachment would do to the business of government, which is to govern. You know, it’s that whole more perfect union thing, plus the ensuring domestic tranquility thing that goes with it: governing. It will be further corroded, sacrificed to the evil pagan gods of partisan politics.

Impeachment does not exist for one party or another to score political points. It does not exist to prosecute marital infidelity. It does not exist to set up a fake cowboy and scion of blue blood wealth as the Decider-in-chief. Impeachment was designed as a circuit breaker; as a check on the executive. To politicize this Constitutional fail-safe is to make it ineffective in its critical mission of checking a over-expansive executive. Impeachment  is supposed to ensure that no king reigns or rules on these shores. By trivializing impeachment, we step closer to a dictatorship, closer to authoritarian rule.

Impeachment is in a bad way. It got off to a rocky start back in Reconstruction when the Radical Republicans tried to use it against Andrew Johnson. The purely political prosecution of Johnson came within a whisker of succeeding. Johnson survived, but Impeachment got seriously dinged up. A useful tool against executive overreach become near impossible to use. The Johnson impeachment set the bar so high for success, it became a mental exercise.

Almost a century to the day, another president actually made the mental exercise a necessity.  But Nixon’s downfall actually made impeachment less likely of possibility. Only the existence of Nixon’s tapes unraveled the partisan fire wall that protected Tricky Dick from his political and personal Götterdämmerung. Nixon was so obviously had, so completely nailed by that audio, that he had to go into that good night of resignation. But think of the bar that was created. Think of the de facto standard set. No Executive would ever be as brain dead, or paranoid enough, to record every fart, burp, and hiccup that occurred in the Oval Office again. The Richard Nixon impeachment was a one off.

After the impeachment of Nixon, the Republicans had a go again. But instead of going after their own as they did way back during Reconstruction, they went after a Democrat. Bill Clinton had the bad taste to defeat Bob Dole like a rented mule, so the Elephants went for revenge. Lead by Newton Leroy Gingrich and aided by Ken Starr, they attempted to turn marital infidelity into a impeachable offense. That Newt, one year into a dalliance that finally broke his second marriage (and set up his third), lead the puritanical charge was one of the more obvious of the ironies. Neither partisan Democrats nor Independents where impressed. The whole thing played as a farce. Democrats cravenly offered up all manner of olive branches to the Republicans just to have the whole affair (pun intended) to go away. The Republicans refused because they wanted to inflict the maximum amount of political damage and the maximum of personal embarrassment to Bill Clinton. It was all about feeding their political id.

The whole Clinton kurfuffle ingrained the notion that Impeachment was nothing more than cheep political gamesmanship and political theater. It left a very bad taste in the mouth of any voter who was not a true believing Republican. That is one reason, but perhaps not the main reason that Nancy Pelosi took Impeachment “off the table” when the Democrats seized control in 2006.

With that idiot-savant move, Pelosi managed to further politicize the impeachment process. The move may have made perfect sense in the very narrow confines of the Washington bubble; but it made no sense if one is trying to check executive overreach. Few presidents deserved to be hauled before Congress to answer about high crimes and misdemeanors than did George W. Bush. The whole notion of the Unitary Executive that Bush and his acolytes pushed deserved a challenge from the legislature.

What the Bushites did under the rubric of the Unitary Executive was cringe inducing.  At home there was the massive violations of Forth and Fifth Amendment protections. Abroad Bush started a illegal war based on cherry picked intelligence inflated by outright lies. While the military drive to Baghdad was successful, and the regime was overthrown, the occupation was a mess. Iraq descended into chaos, dragging the US military into the maelstrom with it. It all came to a head in the black stain that was Abu Ghraib. That is when it became clear that our troopers were acting without any adult supervision.

Yet the Congress of 2006-2008 was not interested in any sort of accountability for Bush. They handed the president a get-out-of-jail free card in the form of FISA “reform.” They never investigated Abu Ghraib, letting some very junior grunts take all the blame in a whitewash. Congress never revisited the flimsy justification for the Iraq War. It never dragged any of Dead Eye Dick Cheney’s WIG cabal before a committee. No one was called to book for the torture regime that Bush and Cheney operated at full tilt for near five years.  Gross violations of National and International law were never investigated, never mind prosecuted. Congress abandoned it role and its prerogatives with out even a whimper; it was utterly supine.

This leaves us at the present day, with Grover Norquist suggesting that the Constitutional remedy of impeachment be used  to insure a tax policy stays in place. The absurdity of such a notion just screams at any person with more than two brain cells to rub together. Impeachment by these lights becomes a way for Republicans to engage in trivial gamesmanship against a Democratic president. It an option exclusive to the Party Of Lincoln, not to be used by the Party Of Jefferson for any reason what-so-ever. Only Democratic presidents can now be impeached; the already high bar set for Republicans (Nixon) is no longer valid. There is no behavior by a Republican president, not even mass slaughter for no discernible reason, that qualifies for impeachment. Republican presidents can run roughshod over the political and policy landscape and never be held accountable for their excesses. On the other hand, Democratic presidents  need only irritate an anti-tax extremist to qualify for investigation by the House and then trial by the Senate.

In the end such considerations delegitimize impeachment. It becomes just one more political side show. Voters will rightly see it as a stunt, a way for one political party to score points against the other. The voters will tune out the whole sorry mess no matter which party is making the accusation. This is toxic to Democracy.

Without the check of impeachment, the executive will continue to subsume and undermine both the legislature and the courts. Only the legislature can evict a Authoritarian executive from office. Only the legislature can protect the constitutional prerogatives of the courts if the executive attempts to nullify a ruling. The nine justices on the Supreme Court have no sway if the President ignores their decision. A discredited impeachment process could allow a future executive to grab true, sole, unimpeded power. He or she would become a de facto absolute monarch.

I wonder if Grover Norquist has thought this through. I wonder if he has considered how his trip down the primrose path could lead to the end of the Republic? At best, he just so focused on his trivial pursuit of enshrining the Bush tax cut that he is not seeing the forest for the trees. Maybe he is so caught up in the wingnut obsession of Obama Derangement Syndrome, that he can not think of anything else. But then again maybe he is just fine with setting up a dictatorship, as long as his guy is the dictator. I can only hope that is less than excellent notion of impeaching Obama dies on the vine because no good will come of such an action if it sees the light of day.
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