Thursday, April 05, 2007

Why I Oppose Impeachment

There has been a constant buzz for a very long time about impeachment and when Nancy Pelosi assumed the speakship and announced that the question was off the table, some consternation in the liberal blogosphere. But I think she was right for three reasons.

Impeachment Ought to be Reserved for Extreme Cases

Impeachment is a special type of process that is connected with considerations of the removal of the cheif executive for high crimes and misdemeanors. The Founders created a high bar intentionally. In parliamentary systems they have a no confidence mechanism that can bring down the government when there is widespread dissatisfaction or a loss in trust of the nation's executive. Ours has no such mechanism, in part because the Founders wanted to move away from a parliamentary system with powerful parties. The idea was to make the elections of individuals, not parties, the key. On these grounds, impeachment is truly a metagovernmental process, one that requires the legislators to suspend the regular working order of our governing structure. It does paralyze the government. As such, this should be something that is not entered into lightly, but only pursued when the government is itself paralyzed without such procedures, when the government and governmental structure as a whole -- and not a time limited administration -- is in danger of losing the popular support of the citizens.

Nixon was never impeached because it was ultimately clear that he would be and the government was saved paralyzation. Bush has displayed monumental lapses in judgment, politicized parts of our government that are to be non-political and thereby undermined their work and confidence in them, and started a war on false pretenses, and there are historians evaluating whether these rise to what the Founders were thinking when they wrote "high crimes and misdemeanors," the fact that there is not widespread support for impeachment -- calls coming from and echoes across vast stretches of the political landscape -- indicates that there is not fear of the governmental structure having lost its popular support. As such, unless there is a smoking gun, impeachment would not be warranted.

The Impeachment Process Has Been Injured

This also is happening in an historical context. The fact is that the last President of the United States was impeached by a highly partisan House on charges that did not meet muster. The impeachment procedure was abused by the Republicans, who did try to treat it as a no confidence mechanism, but were not honest about it. As such, any use of the mechanism would be easily cast as merely retaliatory and this would only injure it further. The GOP attempted to undermine this part of our democracy and have made it vulnerable. Are there grounds for impeachment? I don't know. But unless the case is cut and dry, invocation of it would only serve to lower the bar further and make it more trivial. So even if there were grounds, all other things being equal, given that the abuses of the process are so recent so that the wounds on the process are still healing, it seems that impeachment at this time is not desirable.

Impeachment is Politically a Bad Move

On pragmatic political grounds, impeachment is a bad idea. The old adage in politics is "if your opponent is about to jump off the roof, don't push." Bush is the lamest of lame ducks with his popularity dangerously teetering around the 30% mark. Reality has cut him down to size, impeachment wouldn't help but only hurt. The image conjured is the scene in All the President's Men where Woodward is talking to Deep Throat after their published claim that John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general (the Cheneyesque character in the Watergate saga) was publicly undermined by their source. Deep Throat says, "You screwed up. If you shoot too high and miss everyone feels more comfortable. You've got people feeling sorry for John Mitchell. I didn't think that was possble." If it is not an open and shut case, what we'll see is the same rebound Clinton got. People will feel sorry for that poor persecuted Bush because those mean old Dems are playing politics. Going into the next Presidential season, a weak Bush is best for the Dems and impeachment that isn't a foregone conclusion would backfire, warranted or not.