There is a fascinating exchange in the comments at Ezra Klein’s blog. Klein advocates impeachment, and quotes from the Paul Craig Russell column to which I linked recently ctblueblog.com/?p=307, and the possibility of a coup or coup-like denouement to the Bush Administration, possibly in the form of a “temporary” seizure of power after a conveniently timed 9/11 type attack.
One commenter argues that such a terror attack would undermine the “we have to fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here” argument, but that type of argument assumes people behave and think rationallly. In our world, dominated as it is by Orwellian modes of governing, it will be no task at all for Republicans and Bush to consign the here/there rhetoric to the memory hole. The press will go along and the attack, a clear demonstration of Bush incompetence, will be successfully used as a reason for continuing either him or the Republicans in power. So far as terrorism issues are concerned, the Democrats operate in a no-win situation; both Republican success and Republican failure argue for continued Republican “leadership” and that’s the way it will be spun. Indeed, it has often been observed that the knee jerk Bush response to his own failures is to demand more power to abuse.
On the large issue of impeachment versus some other unspecified manner of halting the Republican subversion of the Constitution, it must be admitted that both sides have problems. It’s quite true that it is probably impossible (as things stand now) to gain a conviction in the Senate, since the Republicans there will fall on their swords for Bush, no matter the scope of his crimes or the depth of his contempt for them. That outcome might, in fact, legitimize his claims to power, i.e., that a Republican president cannot be checked by Congress. This expansion of presidential power will become null and void should a Democrat gain office, but will reappear as soon as the Republicans come back to power, an event sure to happen quickly given Republican domination of the corporations and media. The problem, of course, is that doing nothing also ratifies Bush’s power grab. Stymied investigations won’t establish a counter-precedent. Neither, at this point, will censure such as Senator Feingold is again suggesting. Exercising the power of inherent contempt might do the trick. Future presidential enablers might be somewhat deterred if they knew they would have to rot in prison for a couple of years beyond the reach of the presidential pardon power.
There may or may not be another coup (either crudely explicit justified by a terror event, or more subtle, by another stolen election), but even if there’s not, there remains the question of how we deal with this pattern of executive lawlessness by Republican presidents, aided and abetted by Republican courts and Republican legislators. Impeachment is one answer. Criminal prosecution by succeeding Democratic administrations is another possibility, but in the current climate it would likely be frustrated by the Republican courts and media, which would brand any such prosecutions as political. We learned that with the Libby case, in which the establishment press was overwhelmingly sympathetic to Libby.
Whatever the solution, the first step is for the Democratic establishment to recognize the problem, and to commit themselves to solving it. Right now we’re getting, with some noble exceptions, nothing but hand wringing and lectures about the rule of law. Whether impeachment is the ultimate answer or not, it’s the Constitutional method that people can rally around. If pressure for impeachment forces Democrats to develop alternative, effective strategies, so much the better. Unless there is pressure in that direction Democrats will just punt until the next election, and the Bush theory of the Republican unitary executive will have been ratified.