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Is Impeachment the Answer?

By Robert Parry
November 1, 2005

Washington pundits are showering George W. Bush with advice on how to “restart” his presidency, but many Americans seem more interested in whether it's possible to “terminate” his presidency, removing him and other top officials from office. It is a question asked of us often.

The conventional wisdom – virtually across Washington’s political spectrum – is that the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney is unthinkable, and without doubt, it would be extremely difficult to engineer.

But a better answer to Americans interested in holding Bush and Cheney accountable is that impeachment is possible – if enough voters want it to happen.

Say, for instance, 75 percent of voters favored impeachment and considered it a decisive issue in how they will cast their ballots. Would politicians facing such a popular groundswell risk their own jobs to save Bush and Cheney?

Or, put differently, what would happen if voters – beginning with state and local elections on Nov. 8 – rejected every Republican on the ballot? Would the public hunger for accountability begin to sink in then?

Crazy? Well, there are signs that even in Red States, Bush is becoming a drag on Republicans.

In Virginia, for instance, a Washington Post poll discovered that only 26 percent of voters said they were more likely to vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore because Bush endorsed him, while 47 percent said Bush’s endorsement was a negative, with the rest either saying it made no difference or they had no opinion. [Washington Post, Oct. 30, 2005]

So, in a state that favored Bush in 2000 and 2004, barely one in four voters see Bush’s endorsement as a plus and nearly one in two voters see it as a minus.

And what if Bush went from being a drag hindering Republican candidates to being an anchor pulling them under? What effect would that have in the congressional elections of 2006? Might the Democrats achieve more than incremental gains?

Media Needed

Yet, while a political tidal wave starting in 2005 and gaining force in 2006 would have the potential of making accountability a reality, the tougher challenge of impeaching Bush and Cheney comes from the lack of an adequate infrastructure that can make the case consistently with the American people.

Despite some bright spots for progressives – from Internet blogs to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to talk radio programs such as “The Stephanie Miller Show” and “The Randi Rhodes Show” – not nearly enough resources have been invested in media to reach enough Americans to transform the political dynamic from a general dislike of Bush into a collective decision to fire him.

Conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, still dominate the AM dial, while also holding important beachheads in TV, such as Fox News, and across dozens of print publications. Plus, the mainstream news media seems to have learned few lessons from the Bush administration’s exaggerated case for war with Iraq.

While more and more journalists acknowledge they were duped in 2002 and 2003 on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, they continue to buy into Bush’s more recent exaggerations about the threat from al-Qaeda and the dire consequences if the United States doesn’t “succeed” in Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Latest Iraq War Lies.”]

Though progressives have long prided themselves in their “grassroots organizing,” that area also seems to be lacking when it comes to focusing on a specific political issue, such as demanding Bush’s impeachment. Many of the old divisions come to the fore.

In an echo of the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000, some progressives refuse to unite behind Democratic candidates even to oust the Republican congressional majority, a change that would at least open the potential for investigating Bush’s misdeeds.

Other progressives, who e-mail us, insist that balloting is now so thoroughly rigged that engaging in the electoral process is a waste of time. Then, there are liberals who warn that talk of impeachment sounds so radical that it could offend the political center and further marginalize progressive politics.

Another argument is that it would be difficult to prove that Bush and Cheney committed specific crimes justifying impeachment under the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The Impeachment Case

Though there’s some truth to all these concerns, there are counter-arguments as well.

While the Founders didn’t spell out exactly what they meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors,” certainly such offenses as violating U.S. treaty commitments – like the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Charter – could be regarded as impeachable offenses.

Bush and Cheney also have presided over an administration that bent the rules on torture and tolerated the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity as part of a broader strategy to silence dissent as the nation was led to war under false pretenses. Without doubt, Bush and Cheney either participated in these acts or had oversight responsibilities.

Similarly, Bush and Cheney could be faulted for the crony-driven incompetence in handling natural disasters and the mismanagement of the federal budget, taking it from record surpluses to record deficits. Widespread malfeasance in office could well be regarded as an impeachable offense.

In response to the tactical concerns about impeachment, it could be argued that holding Bush accountable would give momentum – and immediacy – to a political reform movement that otherwise might drift as it awaits the traditional electoral cycles.

One of the reasons for today’s Republican dominance is that conservative operatives have long understood that modern politics has morphed into a year-in-year-out, day-in-day-out struggle, not a process that gears up for a few months once every two or four years.

Over the past three decades, the Right has spent billions of dollars building a political/media machine that never rests.

So, when Republicans were defeated in 1992, they didn’t withdraw and wait for the next election cycle. They turned to their expanding media apparatus, especially talk radio, to go on the offensive against the new Clinton administration.

That aggressive strategy paid huge dividends in 1994 when the Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress and solidified conservative dominance over large swaths of the American countryside, now known as the Red States.

Meanwhile, the progressive community largely ignored the need to build a counter-media-infrastructure that could compete with the conservative message machine. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Left’s Media Miscalculation.”]

Today, a focus on holding Bush and Cheney accountable could act as a catalyst for increasing the number of media outlets and supporting the creation of journalistic content that could compete with the Right’s media machine.

Then, even if Bush and Cheney do struggle to the end of their terms in 2009, the chances would be much less that their policies would survive them.

By standing up now, the American people also could say to the world that when the U.S. political system went awry – when an administration invaded another country under false pretenses and when the White House winked at torture – the people didn’t treat such transgressions as business as usual.

Indeed, if impeachment at least is put on the table, the American people could point to how they demanded accountability from those responsible and did all they could to set things right.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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