I recently attended a raucous town hall meeting in Brooklyn, billed as an end-the-war event. As it turned out, 90% of the questions were about impeachment, not the war(s). Three U.S. Congress members attended: Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner and Yvette Clarke. Nadler and Weiner expressed a view on the politics of 2008 that showed me 2004 still rules in the halls of Congress. They have not fully digested 2006, let alone 2008. So I took another stab at explaining impeachment to them in a long letter to Nancy Pelosi (odd format, I know, but I like the personal approach). I tried to review the impeachment arguments in a 2008 context, hoping to crack their 2004 lens. My support for impeachment is based on policy and principle more than electoral politics, but the total concentration on politics at the town meeting made me think more deeply about what the focus of electoral politics in 2008 should be. Part 1, posted yesterday, was a review of the policy aspects for and against impeachment. Part 2 is my take on impeachment politics 2008, below.
I recently attended a raucous town hall meeting in Brooklyn, billed as an end-the-war event. As it turned out, 90% of the questions were about impeachment, not the war(s). Three U.S. Congress members attended: Jerrold Nadler, Anthony Weiner and Yvette Clarke. Rep. Clarke had already signed on as a co-sponsor of the Kucinich impeachment resolution, so she was let off with cheers.
The focus was on Reps Nadler and Weiner, who stuck to their position against impeachment under very tough pressure. Their arguments were adamant and repetitious, even canned – clearly the party line had been laid down, and they were sticking to it, Republican fashion. At one point, Nadler and Weiner agreed that Bush and Cheney were guilty of impeachable acts – but that was not the point. To them, everything boiled down to ELECT MORE DEMOCRATS in 2008, and the only place to get more Democrats is in blue dog territory, bad for impeachment, so progressive Democrats MUST oppose impeachment. That’s it. All of it.
Update: This town meeting took place before the November 6th vote on the Kucinich Resolution, which was referred back to the Judiciary Committee with 87 Democratic votes (86 + Kucinich). The motion to kill the resolution was defeated primarily by Republicans intending to embarrass the House leadership, but the 87 Democratic votes probably represent real support for impeachment. Nadler voted Yea, to kill it. Weiner and Clarke voted No. Since the resolution came to the floor with 22 co-sponsors, this strange parliamentary maneuver resulted in quadrupling the public support in Congress for impeachment. Not bad, Rep. Kucinich. Since then, Rep. Wexler, a member of the Judiciary Committee, has called for impeachment hearings. There may be some life after all in this moldy old Constitutional safeguard.
Back at the town meeting, the views Nadler and Weiner expressed on the politics of 2008 showed me that 2004 still rules in the halls of Congress. They have not fully digested 2006, let alone 2008. So I took another stab at explaining impeachment to them in a long letter to Nancy Pelosi (odd format, I know, but I like the personal approach). I tried to review the impeachment arguments in a 2008 context, hoping to crack their 2004 lens. My support for impeachment is based on policy and principle more than electoral politics, but the total concentration on politics at the town meeting made me think more deeply about what the focus of electoral politics in 2008 should be. Part 1, posted yesterday, was a review of the policy aspects for and against impeachment. Part 2 is my take on impeachment politics 2008, below.
Part 2 – Impeachment Politics.
My conviction is that impeachment is the principled, righteous response to the war, corruption, and incompetence of the Bush Administration. Our laws have not been faithfully executed; our Constitutional safeguards have not been respected. High crimes and misdemeanors have been committed. It is that simple.
Nevertheless, given the depth of hostility our leadership is heaping on impeachment, I have tried to understand the anti-impeachment positions, as outlined in Part 1. What I have not addressed so far is the politics of impeachment going forward into 2008.
I do not clutch my pearls and feel faint if a Republican shouts that impeaching Bush is just partisan revenge for the Clinton impeachment. The obvious answer to that is to present the facts – in the form of impeachment hearings. Anyone who professes not to see the difference between covering up a tawdry dalliance and sabotaging democracy is part of the hardcore opposition, not worth arguing with. Still, politics is more than partisan slime, and impeachment does factor into political strategizing. As I see it, impeachment would have a positive effect for Democrats in the political campaigns of 2008. This is why:
**One new feature of the 2008 political season has received little attention in political commentary. It is the unprecedented length of time between the presidential primaries (January-March) and the actual nomination (August), a period of four to six months before the official campaign begins. This is usually a lean time financially, when spending for the primaries is past, but general election spending cannot begin. Democrats usually use this time to mend the divisions created during the primary season. For the public, it is a lull in the political season.
**This "lull" represents a target of opportunity for the Republicans. If, as Karl Rove predicted, Republicans have a major scandal waiting in the wings, this is their time to release it. The Democrats will have already chosen their candidate; it will be too late to vote for the second in line. As noted, this is a tight time for money, and an effective rebuttal to a scandalous revelation at this time would have to be national, very costly. Also, this is usually a dry spell for the news media, where celebrity and conflict matter so much more than issues. Even an anemic little scandal could go on and on in the media, yielding maximum benefit for the Republicans. In our current politics, scandal is the supreme distraction. This target of opportunity affects the presidential nominee most, but to a smaller extent it is true for Democratic nominees all down the federal-state-local slate. (All this applies to Republicans as well, but Republicans don’t seem to lose sleep worrying about Democratic dirty tricks.)
**Distraction fits perfectly into another predictable element of Republican strategy, to make George Bush disappear. A Republican campaign of 2008 will surely be about how bad the Democrats are and how great Ronald Reagan was. GWB will not have a chapter in the Republican playbook. The GOP will be the party of "change" – that’s change from the "Do-Nothing Democrat Congress." This will be true of Republican congressional candidates as well as the presidential candidate. Congressional Republicans in every state will be attacking Democrats, hiding their own pro-Bush voting records.
**So, putting these pieces together, to counter the Republican strategy scenario,
o Democrats need to fill a hole in the campaign timeline
o with something that is bigger than day-to-day politics,
o something that deflates the smears against Democrats, and that
o keeps the wrongdoing of the Bush administration front and center in the voters’ minds.
Perhaps other remedies might fit this description, but only one occurs to me: Impeachment Hearings. As noted, the corporate media reacts primarily to conflict and celebrity, not issues. Impeachment rises above legal and administrative minutiae; it is High Conflict, and its focus is Celebrity. The media will follow it. Impeachment will capture the public’s attention. In every Congressional district, the Democrat can campaign on Republicans’ uncritical support of the Bush agenda. Most damaging, if the process should, goddess willing, go as far as a full House vote, every Republican incumbent will be saddled with a dilemma, to support impeachment or Bush.
Impeachment is not an impediment to Democrats’ success; impeachment may be the one thing Republicans cannot ignore or hide or lie or slime away. Impeachment can steal the march on Republicans in the media and make their tricks look like attempts to distract people from the exercise of justice.
Finally (and first), there is us. The American public. We do not loathe impeachment, or yearn to see Republicans and Democrats holding hands and crooning love songs. We want results. For me it is not just that the polls show a majority of us favoring impeachment. It is my own experience of leafleting and petitioning and just wearing an IMPEACH THEM button. Anywhere I go, people brighten and express their agreement at the mention of impeachment. Yes, activists love it, but so do nonpolitical inactive people. Impeachment may be a bete noir to the political elite, but it is a winning, or at least intriguing idea with most of the public.
Do not listen to the consultants and pundits, Speaker Pelosi. Trust us. Trust your instinct that, at least this one time, taking a chance on us will pay off. It is time to live up to the "small d" rhetoric you espouse in your speeches. Speaker Pelosi, unleash the Judiciary Committee, and begin impeachment hearings.
P.S. With impeachment, Democrats could throw a bone to the Hillary-haters out there, because if George Bush and Richard Cheney should be impeached and removed from office, it would be impossible for Hillary Clinton to become the first female President of the United States. Just a thought.
"The prospect of an impeachment inquiry by the House judiciary committee would concentrate the minds of the president and vice president wonderfully on obeying rather than sabotaging the Constitution." Bruce Fein, http://www.slate.com/...