Unfortunately, the entire debate is based on a false premise--a deceptive idea spilling into the media from the GOP spin machine faster than oil from the Exxon Valdiz. Democrats need to be careful not to get caught up in this slick deception because if we do, the risk will be a loss of our moral clarity--which is our single greatest asset heading into 2006 and 2008.
So, with this in mind...I'm for censure and impeachment of President Bush, and you should be, too.
The big idea behind the so-called debate ("...should we censure or impeach?") is that one of these actions will actually lead to political gain for President Bush and the Republican Party.
This idea is false.
For Republicans, this falsehood is being intentionally foisted on the American people out of desperation. For Democrats, the falsehood is being accepted mistakenly for a variety of reasons.
For Republicans, their political prospects in 2006 are in serious trouble for three key political areas: security, leadership, and spending. These are not just 'any old' set of political issues, but the foundation of political success for the GOP over the past two election cycles.
Desperate to reverse their fortunes, the Republicans have launched a centralized effort to attack the Democrats. No doubt this was always their plan for 2006 and 2008, but it now seems that the 'Dubai Port Scandal' has forced them to move their slime up schedule by a few months.
And so, the Republicans have launched a full-out PR campaign to say that the efforts by Democrats to censure and impeach the President will 'weaken' our national security--distract America from the war against terrorists. Americans see this for exactly what it is: Desperate PR in an attempt to rescue the sinking GOP party.
Americans know that what threatens American security is the Iraq war and the efforts to impeach and censure the President are efforts by the American people to get rid of the very leaders endangering this nation.
Now, the Democrats for their part are seeing a different logic, although it is also problematic.
Democrats in Congress are addicted to old polls. They are looking at the historic poll numbers from the last round of impeachment waged against President Clinton and seeing that after the whole mess was over, an impeached President Clinton came up in the polls. In the face of all this, cautious Democrats in Congress believe that an impeachment measure will--ultimately--benefit the President who will be seen sypathetically by an American public with a distaste for such hard-hitting politics.
This reading of history against the present situation by Democrats is not correct.
Impeachment In Context
The key is to see that when Americans talk about impeachment they are in fact talking about Iraq and about Katrina and about Abramoff and About FISA and about the budget deficit.
Impeachment as it is being used in current debate is not referencing the Constitutional process whereby the House initiates and the Senate carries out a trial of the President. Instead, impeachment is being used in the vernacular to mean, in simple terms: Throw the bum out.
More specifically, impeachment is being used by Americans as part of this general formula:
[Throw the bum out] because of [issue]
This takes the form of the following general statements that are implicit and explicit in every call for impeachment of President Bush currently rising up from the American public:
Throw the bum out because of the War in Iraq.
Throw the bum out because of the Katrina debacle.
Throw the bum out because of his out of control spending.
Throw the bum out because of domestic spying.
Throw the bum out because of his lying to Congress.
Throw the bum out because of his violations of the law.
In other words, every time the public talks about impeachment, they are actually not being distracted from other topics. They are focusing on them.
To date, the most engaged the public has been in every topic that matters have been the calls for impeachment. But even more specifically, these calls for impeachment have focused in many cases on the war and the President's violation of the law in the Domestic spying scandal. We need only look at the impeachment resolutions to see that they are not distractions.
For example, consider the call for impeachment passed by the Board of Selectmen in Newfane, Vermont, which is indicative of what these calls for impeachment look like across the country:
ARTICLE 29: We the voters of Newfane would like Town Meeting, March 2006, to consider the following resolution:
Whereas George W. Bush has:
1. Misled the nation about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;
2. Misled the nation about ties between Iraq and Al Quaeda;
3. Used these falsehoods to lead our nation into war unsupported by international law;
4. Not told the truth about American policy with respect to the use of torture; and
5. Has directed the government to engage in domestic spying, in direct contravention of U.S. law.
Therefore, the voters of the town of Newfane ask that our representative to the U.S. House of Representatives file articles of impeachment to remove him from office.
(the entire list of articles can be read here)
Keep in mind, these are local Selectmen and Selectwomen in a small town in Vermont who meet once a year to discuss issues like the cost of repairing chuck holes in sidewalk pavement. In this semi-regular moment of local government, these citizens chose to focus their attention on the performance of the President of the United States in the areas of foreign policy and domestic security. This is not distraction. This is engagement.
Censure Is An Extension Of Impeachment
In this context, Russ Feingold's move to censure the President is just an extension of the formula that we find repeated over and over again in town halls across America.
Senator Feingold, perhaps more than any other Senator, takes his inspiration from listening to his constituents, in endless listening sessions with Wisconsin voters. The censure measure, in this respect, must be seen not as an act of distraction, but as the product of a Senator who is very 'in tune' with the people of his state picking up on an increased chatter on the core issues of Iraq and the NSA scandal.
What the Feingold censure measure shares with the calls for impeachment, in other words, is that they are both ways that the American public are now talking about the war and the leadership of the President.
The more the public talks about impeachment, in other words, the more they are calling for a change in America's national security policy, in our foreign policy, in our approach to defense at home. The more Americans talk about censure, the more they are calling for a change in leadership in the White House.
Neither the calls for impeachment nor the call for censure will lead to political gains for the Republicans. Both movements can only result in gains for the American public.
In this situation, Democrats will likely gain the most by demonstrating that they too believe that the change the American public is calling for is good for the country. Democrats will stand to gain the most by supporting both censure and impeachment.
If Democrats have moments of self doubt, this is understandable. These are turbulent times, none of us has a crystal ball, and nobody wants to be blamed for a potential mistake.
But just as Russ Feingold who steels his spine by listening to the focus and insight of his constituents, other Democrats in Congress should ease their worries by listening to the actual words of their constituents, not to the meta-demographic analysis of polsters. Maybe if the Democrats start looking to their constituents for more inspriation they will be able to stand up and say, with conviction and strength: "I'm for censure & impeachment, and you should be, too."