This is Part 2. For Part 1, click here.
The Last Chance Democracy Café
Episode 36.2: Speaking the Forbidden Word: Impeachment
by Steven C. Day
Sometimes you do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes you do what’s right because it’s the smart thing to do.
And sometimes, when you do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, it later turns out unexpectedly to have also been damn smart.
The question of what’s right and of what’s smart, in terms of how Democrats should respond to Bush’s deceit over Iraq, was the topic of the evening at the large round table.
But first, it is an absolute prerequisite to any intelligent discussion of the current mess in Iraq that the following be clearly understood:
“Sometimes you are just screwed.”
So says Professor Juan Cole, in a May 25, 2005 post in his indispensable blog, Informed Comment. Cole’s point: Whatever we do from this point on, we’re already screwed in Iraq. So stop demanding that he (and other war critics) come up with solutions for how we can get out of the current mess in a reasonably painless fashion.
There is no solution.
We can’t stay: Because if we do the resentment over our presence will just feed the rebellion; and in any case, the war is bankrupting us and destroying our armed forces.
We can’t leave (though we will have to): Because if we do go, the country will likely descend into civil war and wide scale ethnic slaughter, for which, obviously, we will bear much blame. This would also throw a part of the world that’s critical to our national interests into chaos.
We can’t just turn the whole thing over to the UN: We poisoned the water of that possible oasis long ago, and now that we’ve completely mucked everything up in Iraq, not to mention offended our traditional allies (Freedom Fries anyone?), there’s absolutely no chance other nations are going to be willing to commit large numbers of troops to bail us out. In fact, just the opposite is happening now, as the few allies we did have are starting to pack up and head for home.
“Sometimes you are just screwed.”
Not screwed in the sense the nation is going to fall into the ocean, of course; but in the sense that Iraq will almost certainly end up being America’s worst self-inflicted wound since Vietnam. Hell, it already is. And the really scary thing, of course, is given the degree to which both Afghanistan and Iraq are becoming breeding grounds for terrorism, and the extraordinary anger the war has generated against the U.S. in the Islamic world, it doesn’t take an overactive imagination to come up with scenarios in which the long term outcome for America in the current debacle could end up being much worse than with Vietnam.
As things stand now, the worst case scenario in Iraq itself is wide scale ethnic conflict and civil war, with our woefully undermanned troops caught in the middle.
The best case scenario is that eventually, years down the road, after tremendous loss of life and waste of treasure, a reasonably stable Iraq will emerge from the rubble, but in the form of an at least quasi theocratic state joined at the hip with Iran, our principal regional adversary.
“Sometimes you are just screwed.”
And the only real question that remains, other than when we will finally leave and how big a price we will ultimately have to pay for this blunder, is whether there will ever be any sort of accountability.
The weather conditions outside The Last Chance Democracy Café had changed dramatically over the last hour: Gone were the angry dark clouds, so prominent earlier, no doubt blown away by the prevailing winds and delivered to the suburban and rock-solid-Republican communities immediately to our East: One can only hope that enough rain fell there to mature both their gardens and their politics.
As it happened, this change in the weather corresponded perfectly with the change in Horace’s mood: The explosive anger, so prominently on display earlier, was largely gone now — replaced by an affable sadness. And besides, gluttony was the business of the hour. Molly had just delivered the goodies. And Horace was eyeing his first spoonful of Rapture Stew, a dish, according to the café’s menu, which is “so good Jesus may return early just to get a bowl!”
Tom had ordered our Dick Cheney Catfish, “So fresh it sneers at you from the plate!” Winston and Zach were both chowing down on Liberal Burgers, while I pecked away at my Chickenhawk Caesar Salad, hold the Caesar (I had just started my 17th diet so far this year).
Between bites of burger, Winston asked Horace the question I’m sure was on everyone’s mind, “So what exactly got you so charged up today?” His tone of voice was matter of fact.
Horace poked at his stew with his spoon like a child trying to avoid eating his vegetables. “I should apologize . . .” he began.
Winston cut him off. “Are you one of those people who think Howard Dean should apologize every time he says something other than one of the pre approved Beltway snorisms?” he asked sternly.
“Of course not!”
“Good. Then try to set a good example for him by not offering to apologize for telling the truth, which, my friend, is all you did. The question is: What got you so charged up?”
Horace hesitated for a moment. I don’t think he was trying to keep anything secret. He was just embarrassed about losing his temper, and would have preferred the conversation move elsewhere.
But realizing, no doubt, that Winston wasn’t going to give up, he finally answered, “It was the press conference.”
“The recent one in the Rose Garden?”
Horace said yes. “Just before coming here I read an article I had downloaded a few days ago . . . I think it was from Salon. The author reminded me of something . . . something that hadn’t hit me full force before: He pointed out that not once during that news conference . . . which, after all, lasted almost an entire hour, did any reporter ask Bush a question about the Downing Street Memo. Not one damn question.”
“Fucking amazing,” someone said. I don’t remember who, but it could easily have been any of us.
Horace sighed loudly. “The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I mean, for the love of Pete, just a few years back all it took was for any right wing nut to offer up any ludicrous accusation against Bill Clinton and Katy bar the door. You could bet the farm that almost overnight the media would be in a full scale feeding frenzy.”
As a brief aside, here’s a little song I wrote about the major media’s Clinton “scandal” obsession back when it was happening. Let’s all sing it together:
The rumor bone’s connected to the Drudge bone,
the Drudge bone’s connected to the Rush bone,
the Rush bone’s connected to the Fox bone,
the Fox bone’s connected to the NY Post bone,
the NY Post’s bone’s connected to the pundit bone,
the pundit bone’s connected to the major media bone.
Now hear the word of the Lord.
“But what do we find when we zoom ahead a few years and look at what’s happening now?” continued Horace. “And make no mistake, viewed by any objective standard we’re looking at a presidential scandal of historic proportions? This isn’t about some two bit Arkansas land deal, or a politician lying about a blow job; no, today we’re talking about one of the most serious breaches of trust imaginable . . . an American president deliberately deceiving both Congress and the American people in order to lead the nation into an utterly unnecessary and ultimately disastrous war. And what does the press do?”
“They yawn,” said Winston. “Then they go back to work on their next blockbuster report about the Missing Bride or Michael Jackson. Hell, my guess is that Edward R. Murrow gave up on spinning in his grave over the sorry state of American journalism years ago, and, instead, simply packed up his casket and moved to another country.”
Most readers of The Last Chance Democracy Café are, of course, well familiar with the Downing Street Memo (now sometimes called the Downing Street Minutes), even if most Americans aren’t. Briefly described, the Memo is a set of minutes from a 2002 British cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair that prove beyond any fair debate that George W. Bush defrauded the American people in leading us into the War in Iraq.
Here is the blockbuster paragraph, as first reported by the Times of London,
“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
So there, as they say, you have it: Bush had already decided to go to war, had selected the false rationales for that war and was in the process of “fixing” intelligence to justify those false rationales — all months before he admitted his true intentions to either the Congress or the American people, and at a time when he continued to publicly insist that he was doing everything possible to avoid war.
We had pretty well already known all this, of course, but here was the proof positive.
The Downing Street Memo isn’t just a smoking gun: It’s a DNA match, a confession, a positive fingerprint match and an eye witness identification all rolled up into one.
And, of course, this particular memo is only one of the recent revelations. We also have the report from the Times of London that “The RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war.” And then there’s the even more recent report from the same news source establishing that in July of 2002 British ministers were warned that Britain was committed to taking part in an American led invasion of Iraq, and that it would be “necessary to create conditions” to make such an attack legal.
One wonders what will be coming in tomorrow’s Times of London? And for that matter, what won’t be coming in the U.S. media.
Zach had apparently decided it was time to get to the point: He looked at Horace and asked, “Earlier when you were, well, you know . . .”
“Ranting like a madman?” said Horace.
“ . . . Yeah, something like that,” smiled Zach. “Anyway, you said that you were sick and tired of all the talk . . . tired of liberals just complaining about Bush, instead of taking action to try and do something about it, right?”
“Well, what have we been doing here for the last two hours . . . ?”
“. . . Talking and complaining.”
“And you haven’t really said anything yet about what action we should take, I mean . . .”
Horace grinned. “So you want me to follow my own advice, huh?”
“I think the phrase is put up or shut up,” snickered Tom.
“No offense,” Zach quickly added, “but I was just wondering what sort of action you had in mind.”
Horace slapped him on the back. “Sounds like a fair request to me: So here goes: What I want is for rank-and-file Democrats to start pushing as hard as we can to get a minimum of at least 50, but better yet 100, of our representatives in Congress to sign whatever it is they have to sign in order to call for an investigation into the impeachment of the President of the United States. As far as I’m concerned, Bush committed one of the worst crimes ever committed by any political leader in the history of the nation, and the media keeps acting like it’s no big deal. Well, it is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. And to simply ignore it is a sin.”
“It’ll never happen,” said Tom.
“Not unless we light one hell of a fire under their butts, for sure,” replied Horace. “But then, isn’t that one of the things fire is for?”
Winston said, “You know that the right wing media . . . even the mainline corporate media would have a field day.”
“They’d accuse the Democrats of being unpatriotic for attacking the president in time of war . . .”
“No doubt about it.”
Tom jumped in, “I understand your feelings, Horace . . . hell, I feel the same way myself, but I’ve got to tell you the Republicans would see it as a gift from heaven.”
“They’d scream about how the Democrats are the party of no, the party of negativity, just trying to tear down Bush instead of making constructive proposals . . .”
“You bet they would.”
Winston added, “And I’ve got to tell you, I personally doubt the public would respond favorably. My guess is the poll numbers would be solidly against impeachment.”
“At least at first, I’m sure you’re right.”
“And there isn’t one chance in a thousand that Bush would actually be removed from office,” said Tom.
“Oh, the odds are probably a lot worse than that. I’d say Winston here has a better chance of being elected the next pope than Bush has of being impeached and convicted. Besides, Bush’s downfall would hardly be a bonanza for Democrats anyway. Look at who would take over, Dick Cheney, Dennis Hastert . . . You want one of them to assume the presidency? It isn’t like there’s a Democrat waiting in the line of succession . . .”
“Actually there is,” said Tom, who I feel fairly confident is one of the very few partially inebriated people sitting in any tavern anywhere in the world at that moment who would have been capable of instantly producing the following information. “Norman Mineta,” he continued, “the Secretary of Transportation and the only Democrat in Bush’s cabinet, is 14th in the line of succession.”
“Now, that’s comforting,” said Winston in perfect deadpan.
I threw in my two cents worth. “Some people have suggested that if the Democrats were to take over Congress in 2006 and then impeach and convict both Bush and Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, as the new Speaker of the House, would become . . .”
“Yeah, and if you buy a lottery ticket you may end up being worth $300 million . . . but I wouldn’t plan my retirement on it.”
Zach looked a little perplexed. “So if there’s almost no chance that impeachment would be successful in removing Bush from office,” he asked, “and if it’s likely to hurt the Democrats politically . . . then, I mean, why do it?”
Tom snickered, “You obviously haven’t spent much time around Democrats. Shooting ourselves in the foot is one of our specialties.”
Horace grinned good-naturedly, but then bit back hard. “I’ve got to tell you, Tom, I think you’re dead wrong on this. I don’t think pursuing an impeachment investigation would be shooting ourselves in the foot at all.”
“But how can you say that,” Zach followed up, “given everything you just admitted about how the Republicans would be able to twist . . .”
“What?” Horace cut him off somewhat brusquely. “Did you think taking on the people who run the entire federal government was going to be easy?”
“Of course not.”
“Did you think it was going to be painless?”
“Good, because it won’t be. And, sure, if the Democrats in Congress were to push the impeachment issue . . . pursue it in a serious way, Bush and Company probably would have some success, at least over the short haul, in painting them as partisan attack dogs. Fine, so we take the hit.” Horace was clearly becoming irritated, not at Zach, but over the subject matter. And although it was nothing like his earlier explosion, there was a clear note of tension in his voice. “My God, where did people ever get the idea that politics, especially progressive politics, is supposed to be a risk free game . . . that the only thing that matters is for incumbents, most of whom aren’t in competitive districts anyway, to protect their own asses.”
“So it’s a principle thing,” said Zach.
“Sure it’s about principles. But I’m not asking the congressional Democrats to fall on their swords. Believe it or not, I think pushing the issue of impeachment would be a political winner for them.”
“By pushing Bush’s lies about Iraq onto the front burner. By forcing the American people to see the fraud that’s been committed against them even if, well . . . even if some would rather not see.”
Tom stepped back into the discussion. “And you really think moving for impeachment would have that effect?”
“Not if just one or two members of Congress pursued it. But if 50 or 100 did, absolutely, no doubt about it. An impeachment resolution endorsed by a large number of representatives would put the story front and center. It would become all the rage on the television news talk show circuit. And sure, the storyline, as designated by the David Broder inside the Beltway crowd, would likely be those rampaging Democrats. But it wouldn’t matter: The issue of Bush’s fraud would still be in play.”
Horace took a sip of beer before pushing his point forward: “Maybe it will help if I share my own little daydream on how it might play out: I like to imagine a Democrat, let’s say John Conyers, appearing on one of the Sunday news talk shows, lined up against two Republicans, say, Dennis Hastert and James Sensenbrenner. Conyers is there as a leader of the pro impeachment forces. The other two come with a very specific mission, to try to portray Conyers and the other impeachment advocates as partisan, hate driven, political hacks who are only interested in injuring Bush at all costs.”
“So why two Republicans and just one Democrat?” asked Zach.
“Haven’t you noticed? Those shows are almost always stacked at least two to one in favor of the Republicans.”
Winston grumbled, “And more often than not, the one, quote, Democrat, close quote, is someone like Joe Lieberman . . . someone who tows the administration line on Iraq.”
“But to continue with my little daydream,” said Horace, “imagine Conyers is there on the show . . . looking the two assholes who have just questioned his patriotism in the eye, when he says, ‘I’d like to ask Dennis and Jim a question, if I could: Would you folks at least agree that if, in fact, thousands of Americans were to die because a president . . . any president, deliberately and repeatedly lied to the Congress and to the American people in order to gain approval for going to war that this would be grounds for at least considering impeachment?’”
Tom looked impressed.
“I’ve got to admit that’s one killer question,” he said. “My guess is they wouldn’t dare answer it. They’d try to evade it . . . but in evading it, they probably wouldn’t look very good.”
“And the more they evaded it, the more we’d keep asking it,” said Horace.
“Why would they evade it?” asked Zach.
“Because either way they answered they’d be hung,” replied Horace. “If they said, no, it wouldn’t be grounds for even considering impeachment, they’d discredit themselves. Hell, they’d look like fools. On the other hand, if they were to answer yes, it would have the potential to profoundly change the focus of the story. The issue of impeachment would no longer be framed as a bunch of sore loser Democrats trying to get even. It would become, instead, what the lawyers call a question of fact: Did Bush lie in order to take us into war, or didn’t he? And based upon the overwhelming evidence, I believe that in the end most Americans would properly conclude that he did. And suddenly, the whole idea of impeachment wouldn’t seem ludicrous or fringe at all.”
“But would people even care?” asked Zach sullenly. “I mean, even with everything that was already known, Bush was still reelected.”
“I understand your frustration,” said Horace. “But the truth is that Bush is already very unpopular, and his handling of Iraq is even more unpopular . . . the polls prove it. But it’s all so amorphous . . . so unfocused. There’s an ocean of discontent and a growing tide of outrage out there, churning and growing more powerful every day; splashing this way and splashing that way; what’s lacking is the narrative to turn it into a full blown tsunami. A serious move toward impeachment, with questions of the type we just discussed finally being asked again and again, would bring that narrative to the surface.”
“You might just be right,” said Tom who seemed a little surprised to be finding himself saying it. “It may be worth the gamble.”
But Horace wasn’t done. And even before he spoke, I knew the substance of what he was going to say: He was going to tell us that sometimes it’s about more than politics.
”But all practical issues aside,” he started off in a slow quiet voice, “there’s another reason why the Democrats should pursue the issue of impeachment, regardless of political risk . . .”
“It’s the right thing to do, right?” offered Zach, who obviously also knew where Horace was going.
“You bet it is. Tens of thousands of people are dead because of a lie. That cries out for a response. At a bare minimum, it demands that at long last the truth finally be told, whatever the cost. Now, as a general matter, I tend to favor doing what’s politically practical instead of blindly following principle, the way, say, Ralph Nader did in 2000. I agree with Eric Alterman who often says in his blog that he doesn’t care much about principles anymore. He just cares about what works. But that still leaves open the question of what it is you are trying to make work. Are you just trying to win elections? And make no mistake: That’s incredibly important. It’s the only way we’ll ever stop the extreme right wing juggernaut that’s ruining this country. But is that really the only thing at issue when we’re talking about thousands upon thousands of people dying because of a president’s deceit?”
“I hope not,” said Zach.
“Me too,” said Horace. “Because how we answer that question today is probably going to have a lot to do with what sort of country we become tomorrow.”
When not busy managing a mythical café, Steven C. Day lives with his family in Wichita, Kansas where he has practiced law for 25 years. Contact Steven at [email protected].
© Copyright 2004, Steven C. Day. WGAw #974001