Gary Kamiya makes the case that the American people aren’t ready to impeach President Bush because in doing so, we would be, as he puts it, “turning on ourselves.”
But there’s a deeper reason why the popular impeachment movement has never taken off — and it has to do not with Bush but with the American people. Bush’s warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America’s support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It’s a national myth. It’s John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness — come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we’re not ready to do that.
Mr. Kamiya is correct: the case against Mr. Bush is based on the fact that he used the most powerful weapon this nation has — war — and abused it horribly. But he did what we wanted him to do: get revenge for the attacks of September 11, 2001. Even the most pacifist among us felt it; that primal urge to strike back. Who could look at those smoldering ruins and not want it, somehow, some way? There is no doubt that the majority of Americans, including the liberals, felt the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan was justified; that was where the perpetrators of the attack lived. But that did not satiate the bloodlust, especially when we didn’t get Osama bin Laden, and that made us vulnerable. Regardless of the realities that we all knew about Iraq, in spite of the tortured history of the country and the intense hatred between sects and so on, ignoring the fact that it was clear that some in the administration (Rumsfeld and Cheney) had a hard-on for war with Saddam Hussein regardless of what happened in Afghanistan or the fact that there was no connection whatsover between the two, we allowed them to go on. And if the neocons were right and we were greeted as liberators and democracy had bloomed in the desert, President Bush would be regarded as a world-class hero and all of the lies, the misinterpretations, and the exaggerations would be forgotten. The anti-war protesters would be seen as cranks and appeasers — which is still the stance a lot of Bush supporters take today in spite of the new smoldering ruins around them. We — all of us — were the enablers, and the votes come back to haunt us.
It also has to do with the fact that the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, have an inborn sense of fairness and an aversion for going for the jugular. The Democrats sigh and talk about impeachment not with a sense of political revenge but with sadness. Even in going after their nemesis Richard Nixon, they did it not with the furious and self-righteous outrage that Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich paraded for us in the Clinton case but with an appeal to reason and the rule of law. The Republicans are very good at gathering their forces and marching ahead with the strict discipline of soldiers — or fanatics — and if there is any self-doubt or wavering within the ranks, they keep it to themselves. John Wayne never broke a sweat or wondered if he was doing the right thing, and if the GOP is going to drive off a cliff in pursuit of something like revenge for September 11 or go after someone like Bill Clinton, by golly they’re going to do it like Thelma and Louise in the T-bird.
So the Democrats are willing to let the Bush presidency die on its own and in the process do whatever collateral damage it inflicts on the GOP. The danger is that we face the real possibility of the Bush administration’s “last throes,” as Mr. Cheney once notoriously said about the insurgency in Iraq. If the scandal over the U.S. attorneys is any indication, there is a lot of internal damage that has been inflicted that will remain long after the Bushies head back to wherever it is they came from, and restoring the trust and favor of the citizens, not to mention the rest of the world, will take a long time. But considering the fact that an impeachment trial would bring our government — by that I mean the mundane things like budgets and the hundreds of little things that go on –to a grinding halt, and that Mr. Bush would have no reason to restrain his dictatorial — excuse me, “unitary executive” — urges, we are better off letting him twist slowly in the wind than make him a martyr to every crank and crackpot that thinks Mr. Bush is Jesus Christ on a pogo stick.
But he’s not home free yet. The culture of spin is also the culture of spectacle, and a sudden, theatrical event — a lurid accusation made by a former official, a colorful revelation of a very specific and memorable Bush lie — could start the scandal machine going full speed. Even the war card cannot be played indefinitely. If Bush were to withdraw the troops from Iraq, and the full dimensions of America’s defeat were to become apparent, all of his war-president potency would backfire and he would be in much greater danger of being impeached. Congress and the media both gain courage as the polls sink, and if Bush’s numbers continue to hit historic lows, they will turn on him with increasing savagery. If everything happens just so, the downfall of the House of Bush could be shocking in its swiftness.
That would work, too.