Friday, March 03, 2006

Enough Already!

[[P O L I T I C S]] * How quickly Americans have gone from dismissing the impeachment of George W. Bush as unreasonable and impossible, to openly discussing it as a means of curbing the astounding power grabs, brazen and continuing violations of the law (as demonstrated by the prez’s warrantless domestic spying program), and outright incompetence shown by his administration. This week’s revelation that Bush knew well in advance of his March 2003 invasion of Iraq that his public justifications for starting the war and toppling Saddam Hussein were false, and a videotape proving that he consciously misled the public when he stated, in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina, that “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” have both added to voter displeasure with Bush (evidenced in recent polls) and led some Republicans to distance themselves further from their party’s scandalized standard bearer. So has the White House’s clumsy determination to turn over shipping operations at some U.S. ports to a company wholly-owned by the government of Dubai--a Middle Eastern emirate allegedly sympathetic to terrorists. (“Dubai cannot be trusted,” charged Representative Duncan Hunter [R-California] on Thursday, as he promised to kill the ports deal.)

Garrison Keillor, best known as the genial host of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, has finally had enough. Writing this week in Salon, he remarks:
These are troubling times for all of us who love this country, as surely we all do, even the satirists. You may poke fun at your mother, but if she is belittled by others it burns your bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogant stupidity, and you want to let the air out of him and mail him home flat. You hear young people talk about America as if it’s all over, and you trust that this is only them talking tough. And then you read the paper and realize the country is led by a man who isn’t paying attention, and you hope that somebody will poke him. Or put a sign on his desk that says, “Try Much Harder.” ...

The peaceful lagoon that is the White House is designed for the comfort of a vulnerable man. Perfectly understandable, but not what is needed now. The U.S. Constitution provides a simple ultimate way to hold him to account for war crimes and the failure to attend to the country’s defense. Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence.
However, a more powerful endorsement of the prez’s impeachment and removal from office is delivered by soon-to-retire Harper’s magazine editor Lewis H. Lapham. Unfortunately, only part of his March cover story is available online, so you’ll have to buy the issue to read the entire thing. But it’s worth the price. In that essay, Lapham begins by recalling what seemed like a futile effort, made last December by Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan), to launch a congressional investigation of Bush’s Iraq war rationale and subsequent related actions. Accompany the resolution was a 182-page report, assembled by Conyers’ staff, that “describes the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq as the perpetration of a crime against the American people.” For those of us who weren’t keeping close track of the ins and outrages committed by the Bush White House during the fast-paced run-up to the Iraq invasion, this is a sad assemblage of perfidies. As the editor opines:
The Conyers report doesn’t lack for further instances of the administration’s misconduct, all of them noted in the press over the last three years--misuse of government funds, violation of the Geneva Conventions, holding without trial and subjecting to torture individuals arbitrarily designated as “enemy combatants,” etc.--but conspiracy to commit fraud would seem reason enough to warrant the President’s impeachment. Before reading the report, I wouldn’t have expected to find myself thinking that such a course of action was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don’t know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man. We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country’s good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world’s evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation’s wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies. In a word, a criminal--known to be armed and shown to be dangerous. Under the three-strike rule available to the courts in California, judges sentence people to life in jail for having stolen from Wal-Mart a set of golf clubs or a child’s tricycle. Who then calls strikes on President Bush, and how many more does he get before being sent down on waivers to one of the Texas Prison Leagues?
From there, Lapham recalls the slow, below-the-radar progress of impeachment discussion, leading up to a statement made in January by U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) on ABC-TV’s This Week. Asked by host George Stephanopoulus whether a finding that the prez had exceeded his legal or constitutional authority in approving the domestic surveillance program should bring serious consequences, Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “Impeachment is a remedy. After impeachment, you could have a criminal prosecution, but the principal remedy, George, under our society is to pay a political price.” Lapham comments:
Would that it were so. The Bush Administration doesn’t believe in the theory of parliamentary government, much less in the notion of paying political prices. Its agents prefer to the more frugal and efficient practice of stealing elections, gagging the voice of the Democratic minority in Congress, slandering people who presume to doubt either its wisdom or its virtue, conducting the business of government behind closed doors, along with its Bibles and its pet Bismarcks in soundproof rooms. Of the off chance that any God-fearing citizen didn’t know what to expect, the President clarified the position in late December and again in early January, responding to what he clearly regarded as annoying questions about his directive to the NSA. Yes, he had told the NSA [National Security Agency] to take precautions, had done so more than once, would do so again. That was his job, to defend the American people; in time of war the Constitution gave him the right to do as he pleased, so did the act of Congress passed on September 14, 2001, three days after the loss of the World Trade Center. The fact that he was compelled to address the subject was “shameful,” impertinent, and unpatriotic on the part of the reporter who inquired about “unchecked executive power” and ascribed to him “some kind of dictatorial position ... which I strongly reject.” Such questions also were dangerous, apt to bring on more terrorist attacks in the manner of 9/11. The latter point was repeatedly reinforced by Vice President Cheney, who firmly reminded audiences in New York and Washington--audiences composed primarily of lobbyists for the country’s media syndicates and weapons manufacturers--that we live in a dangerous world, demanding a robust executive authority in the White House to ward off the forces of moral anarchy and social chaos.

“We’re at war,” the President said on December 19, “we must protect America’s secrets.”

No, the country isn’t at war, and it’s not America’s secrets that the President seeks to protect. The country is threatened by free-booting terrorists unaligned with a foreign government or an enemy army; the secrets are those of the Bush Administration, chief among them its determination to replace a democratic republic with something more safely totalitarian. The fiction of permanent war allows it to seize, in the name of the national security, the instruments of tyranny.
While acknowledging that it might be difficult for the American public to “recognize the President of the United States as a felon,” Lapham concludes that it’s Congress’ responsibility to address and remedy the abuses of a president who “believes himself somehow divinely ordained, accountable only to Jesus and the oil companies, at liberty to wave what he imagines to be the scepter of the Constitution in whatever ways he deems best.” That Congress is presently dominated by Bush’s fellow Republicans will be challenging in bringing Bush to heel; but, unlike other commentators who think it would be better to hold off debating the prez’s impeachment until after November’s midterm elections, rather than allow this matter to become an election distraction, Lapham contends that the constitutional task of “correcting the imbalances of power” between the Bush White House and Congress cannot wait. Impeachment, he notes, should be “a corrective measure, not a punishment.
It isn’t the business of the Congress to punish President Bush. Any competent court in the country could arraign the President on charges identical to those brought against the crooked executives at Enron and Tyco International (fraud, misuse of stockholder funds, manipulation of intelligence) and send him off to jail dressed in an orange jump suit. Nor is it the responsibility of Congress to sit in moral judgment; the sermons can be left to the Reverend Pat Robertson and the Yale Divinity School. It is the business of the Congress to prevent the President from doing more damage than he’s already done to the people, interests, health, well-being, safety, good name, and reputation of the United States--to cauterize the wound and stem the flows of money, stupidity, and blood.
Unfortunately, the conviction that a Republican-dominated Congress would agree to censure, impeach, or remove one of their own from the nation’s helm ignores the dysfunctionalness now being displayed on Capitol Hill. Yes, there was a time when parties and individual politicians stood for something nobler than their self-survival and advancement of divisive agendas; remember, it was only after Republicans started to call for Richard Nixon’s head that he agreed to resign, brought down by the Watergate scandal. However, those grander visions of governmental service and working for the good of all citizens are perpetuated today only by a handful of lawmakers. It might require a seismic shift of power in Congress--a decisive Democratic takeover and routing of the GOP “old guard” next November--before any attempt is made to boot Bush back to Texas. Although rumor has it that the White House is already bracing for future impeachment hearings, there’s no guarantee that voters can help precipitate such an effort. Republicans abused their authority to impeach when they went after President Bill Clinton for a personal indiscretion; Democrats aren’t likely to be as cavalier in exercising any newfound rights as the majority on Capitol Hill, if only because they won’t want to set up a back-and-forth evisceration of chief executives from alternating parties. However, the installation of a Democratic majority in Congress would likely serve to neuter Bush somewhat, and turn back the clock on civil rights and administrative wildcatting. In a country that maps out with too much red and blue, and not enough soothing purple, that might be as good a “corrective measure” as we can win right now.

LOSING CONTROL: A new Gallup poll finds not only that Bush’s approval rating has “plunged” to 38 percent (just slightly higher than a CBS News survey), but that a remarkable 59 percent of the American public believes the prez “can no longer manage the government effectively.” None of this bodes well for Republican office-seekers come November. GOP strategists were hoping that Dubya could somehow bring his job approval ratings back up into the high-40s range and regain public confidence before this year’s midterms, so that he wouldn’t be so radioactive on the campaign trail. But that is looking more and more unlikely.

FOOL ME ONCE ...: “Why are the Bush Administration poll numbers tanking?” muses the ever-pithy ReddHedd at the FireDogLake blog. “Well, in my opinion, it’s all the lying. The American public can forgive mistakes, so long as they are not done with some malignant intent. Apparently they can also overlook some incompetence, so long as they believe the President is working hard at his job. But when the public begins to think they have been lied to--repeatedly--that love goes sour. Very sour. And lately, for the Bush Administration, it’s been all about the lying.” Read on.

READ MORE:The I-Word Goes Public,” by Michelle Goldberg (Salon); “GOP Growing Increasingly Angry, Frightened by Bush’s Missteps,” by Steven Thomma and James Kuhnhenn (Kansas City Star); “Is Bush Losing His Base?” by Bruce Bartlett (The New York Times); “The Sixth-Year Swoon,” by Walter Shapiro (Salon); “The Whig Factor: Tyrant or Lapdog? History Debates What Dubya Stands for,” by Bruce Reed (Slate); “All Hat, No Cattle,” by Jane Hamsher (FireDogLake); “George the Unready,” by Paul Krugman (The New York Times); “A Deluded King and His Court Lickspittles,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “Un-Explainer in Chief,” by Howard Fineman (Newsweek); “Americans Oppose Warrantless Eavesdropping,” by Glenn Greenwald (Unclaimed Territory).

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