A couple of weeks ago, an MU law professor published an essay in The New York Times explaining how Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could be impeached. The same week, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay from St. Louis joined two colleagues in a formal motion to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. A good friend of mine has been driving around for months now with an “Impeach Bush” sticker on the bumper of his pickup.
That’s foolish, isn’t it? A set of left-wing fantasies? We all know, don’t we, that the new Democratic leadership in Congress isn’t about to impeach anybody? Of course we know that. impeachment of our president, vice president or any of their henchmen would be impractical and impolitic. Still, think about what the Republicans did to President Clinton.
When inaugurated, a president takes this oath of office:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
George W. Bush has sworn that oath twice. Has he kept his promise?
The articles of a hypothetical impeachment surely would begin with the war. He misled us into it, and he has been misleading us — and possibly himself — ever since. Mr. Bush’s undeclared war (declaring war is a chore the Constitution reserves for the Congress) has killed more Americans than died on 9/11 and 10 or 20 times that many Iraqis. The question before the House would be whether that record amounts to faithful execution of the office.
The Constitution imposes on the president the responsibility not only of defending it but of carrying out the laws of the land. Does Guantanamo Bay comport with those responsibilities? Does torture? Does warrantless surveillance of American citizens? Mr. Gonzales and others have argued that all those acts fall under the implied power of a president at war.
The clearest and strongest argument I’ve read for the impeachment of Mr. Bush has come in several articles written for The Nation magazine by Elizabeth Holtzman, who was a member of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives during the impeachment of Richard Nixon.
Among the “high crimes and misdemeanors” — the legal grounds for impeachment — cited by Ms. Holtzman are the wartime abuses I’ve summarized, the flouting of treaties including the Geneva Conventions and deliberate circumventions of both the FISA court and the U.S. Senate’s power to confirm appointees.
Simple maladministration isn’t ground for impeachment, Ms. Holtzman notes. That rules out much of the more egregious misconduct of this administration. But she argues that he, and presumably his second in command, could be impeached for “gross incompetence or reckless indifference to his obligation to execute the laws faithfully.”
No, it’s not going to happen. And impeachment is such a serious action that probably it shouldn’t happen.
The trouble is, how else can we hold to account a lame duck president who has led his country so far astray?
George Kennedy is a former managing editor of the Missourian.