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[Washington Babylon]

Keep Your Politics Out of My Impeachment

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I came late to the piece by Michael Tomasky in last Sunday’s Washington Post that argues against the impeachment of President Bush or Vice President Cheney–or even discussion of the possibility—on the grounds that it would be bad for liberals and the Democratic Party. “[T]he I-word is being tossed about pretty freely in some left-leaning circles these days,” Tomasky writes. “Today, my e-mail inbox bubbles with notices of fresh and scandalous counts just waiting to be added to the bill of indictment.”
Tomasky, who at one point labels the pro-impeachment crowd as “the [Cindy] Sheehan camp,” argues that impeachment is “not merely a bad idea, but the single worst course of action that Democrats could possibly undertake,” and would badly harm the party’s “otherwise excellent chances for winning congressional seats and the White House in 2008.”

Let’s assume for the moment that Tomasky is right in arguing that pushing for impeachment is a political loser (and I’m not sure that’s correct given what polls on the issue show). But Mike, even if that’s true, should the decision on this matter be based on whether impeachment is good for the Democratic Party and liberals? Shouldn’t the relevant question here be whether the president committed high crimes and misdemeanors—grounds for impeachment under the constitution?

There are other arguments I have with the Post piece. Tomasky acknowledges that Republicans didn’t suffer politically when they impeached President Bill Clinton in 1999 and even “retained control of both houses of Congress” in the following year’s election. But he says the reverse would happen now because the Republicans are ruthless whereas “defensive Democrats” are always quick to scamper back to the safety of “bland [political] terrain.” So maybe the Democrats should be more like the Republicans instead of following Tomasky’s advice and scurrying back to bland terrain.

He also says with alarm that the country is evenly split on the question of impeachment, and predicts a bloody fight if impeachment goes forward. “Do we really want to drag the country through that?” he asks. “The thought of it—months of rancor, name-calling and mud-slinging that would almost certainly end in defeat for the impeachers—depresses me beyond words.” I would expect (and hope) that the 2008 elections will be filled with rancor, name-calling and mud-slinging. Should the Democrats spare the country that and just concede defeat now?

Finally, Tomasky blasts the administration, writing, “Bush and Cheney—and conservatism in general—have wrecked our civic institutions and darkened our civic impulses. Nothing is beyond politicization . . . When everything is subordinate to politics, civic institutions and impulses suffer.” But the whole crux of Tomasky’s argument is that in the case of impeachment, everything should be subordinate to a politics, specifically an analysis of what’s best for the Democratic Party.

In the end, impeachment should be pursued if Bush violated the constitution and put aside if he did not. No one knows for sure what the political consequences of that course would be but that’s not the fundamental question. And here’s one thing we do know: when the Democrats decided not to seek the impeachment of President Reagan following the Iran/contra affair, the result was the weakening congressional branch and enablement of the all-powerful executive as practiced under George W. Bush.

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