I remember one rather well-known conservative commentator noting at the height of Clinton’s impeachment that if the president’s actions were enough to warrant bringing the government to a halt while this exercise in futility took place and the accusations and justifications were thrown back and forth, what would happen when something really serious occurred such as a true “high crime and misdemeanor” was committed by the president? How could we ever take the impeachment process seriously again and not see it as merely another weapon in the arsenal of partisan politics? That’s a very good question.
That comes to mind as the Plame leak case and the Downing Street memos make their way through the news cycles. There have already been calls for impeaching President Bush over his actions leading up to the war, based on the assurance that he lied about or exaggerated the facts about Iraq in order to get the war going for whatever reason — or lack of same — that he harbored.
As much as I would prefer that Mr. Bush was still the governor of Texas, I’m getting to the point where I think that the idea of impeaching him is becoming like Godwin’s Law (the argument is over when someone accuses the other of being like Hitler or Stalin). We of the left can’t raise the cudgel of impeachment in the same manner the right wing did with Clinton and then pretend to be morally or intellectually superior. In practical terms, impeachment can’t even be discussed when the House of Representatives and Senate are held by the same party as the accused unless the crime is so obvious and egregious that it would turn even the most partisan representative against his own kind. History proves that the three impeachments of presidents — Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton — were all conducted when the opposition party controlled the legislative branch. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for convincing a well-trained and disciplined — not to mention lockstepped — party such as the Republicans to turn on such a well-liked figure as Mr. Bush. They didn’t turn on Richard Nixon until the end when it was clear that he did do the crime and the party was headed for the ditch. Mr. Nixon was not that well-liked among Republicans in power in Washington, and their loyalty was strictly on a party level — as one said, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” (That’s also what FDR said about Stalin during World War II and LBJ said about the dictator of South Vietnam in 1965.) Raising the possibility of impeaching Mr. Bush at this stage only moves the argument into depicting us as the same sort of loons as went after Bill Clinton during the investigation of Whitewater.
That doesn’t mean that we should drop the matter. Far from it. The Downing Street memos raise serious questions that need to be answered. So does the Plame leak. They call for serious investigations, and I yield no ground on looking into what really went on to get us into the war in Iraq. If crimes were committed, I want to see the guilty indicted and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But if the goal is to stymie and irritate the Republicans while ignoring the serious issues that are at hand — health care, education reform, the deficit, terrorism and cultural war — we would be as guilty of the partisanship and pettiness as the wingnuts who tried to do it to Bill Clinton, and we would be about as effective. There are serious matters of governing that need to be addressed, and while it may not be as fun or as vengeful as the prospect of putting the Republicans through the same conniptions we went through in 1998, we are the ones who said all along that the country deserves more than just partisan bickering.
That said, I’m not above enjoying seeing the Republicans turn themselves into pretzels over their explanations of what happened and why they’re not to blame (see below). Hey, I still have my sense of humor…