September 5, 2015
Repudiation, Not Impeachment
Posted on May 31, 2007
By Scott Ritter
It is a question I am faced with at every public event I participate in: What are my views on the impeachment of President Bush and others in his administration? Generally, the question is preceded by an emotional statement listing the “crimes” which Mr. Bush is accused of committing, and the questioner has already found him guilty. Whether it is the war in Iraq, conspiracy theories about 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or any given variation of the theme of constitutional abuse of power, the one thing all of the questioners have in common (besides the desirable outcome) is their singular conviction that the president is guilty.
I have considerable sympathy for this stance. I myself have stated on more than one occasion that I believe President Bush has lied to Congress and the American people about the reasons for going to war with Iraq (i.e., the whole WMD/al-Qaida intelligence fabrication/misrepresentation fiasco). I also believe that the president’s sanctioning of warrantless wiretapping, along with a litany of other abuses of power stemming from the Patriot Act approved by Congress after Sept. 11, 2001, likewise constitutes grounds for impeachment. Several Democrats in Congress are actually discussing the possibility of impeachment of President Bush, and the irrepressible Congressman Dennis Kucinich has actually introduced articles of impeachment for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Even some Republicans are getting on board the impeachment bandwagon, although with caveats. “Any president who says ‘I don’t care’ or ‘I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else’ or ‘I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed’—if a president really believes that, then there are ... ways to deal with that,” Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, said of President Bush in obvious reference to impeachment.
Hagel is correct: Impeachment is the constitutional remedy for a unilateral president whose governance is an insult to traditional American democratic norms and values. However, impeachment alone is simply a measure which addresses the symptoms of a larger malaise that has stricken America. The arrogance associated with the concept of the unitary executive is prevalent throughout mainstream American political life. The passivity of the legislative branch is one byproduct of the dominance of the unitary executive. It is also an indicator that the will of the people, as expressed through their election of the people’s representatives to the Congress of the United States, no longer has the weight and bearing long associated with the American democratic experience.
Any effort to impeach Bush and any of his administration found to be engaged in activities classifiable as “high crimes and misdemeanors” would fail to rein in the unitary executive core of any successor. One only has to listen to the rhetoric of the Democratic candidates for president to understand that this trend is as deeply rooted among them as it is with President Bush. Americans today look for leaders without recognizing the absolute necessity of electing team players. The Founding Fathers deliberately designed the executive branch to be strong and independent, but also made sure, through an elaborate system of checks and balances, that it operated merely as one of three separate but equal branches of government.
Square, Site wide
The “in your face” efforts of the Bush administration to minimize the role of Congress and to achieve political control of the judiciary are simply more public manifestations of trends that occurred in a more quiet fashion in past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike. When America elects a leader who states clearly that he or she will work with their equal partners in governance, the Congress, for the good of the country, and who will acknowledge the supremacy of law set forth in the form of binding legislation passed by the will of Congress, void of any limiting or contradicting “presidential signing statement,” then we will finally have a leader who is truly worthy of the title “President of the United States of America.”
But this will not happen of its own volition. The impeachment of President Bush would not in and of itself terminate executive unilateralism. It would only limit its implementation on the most visible periphery, driving its destructive designs back into the shadows of government, away from the public eye, and as such, public accountability. Impeach President Bush, yes, if in fact he can be charged with the commission of acts which meet the constitutional standard for impeachment (and I believe he could, if Congress only had the will to do its job). But to truly heal America, we must repudiate everything President Bush stands for, in terms of not only public and foreign policy, but also in terms of his style of governance, since the former is derived from the latter.
Repudiation is a strong term, defined as “rejecting as having no authority or binding force,” to “cast off or disown,” or to “reject with disapproval or condemnation.” In my opinion, the complete repudiation of the presidency of George W. Bush is the only recourse we have collectively as a people to not only seek redress for the wrongs committed by the Bush administration, but also to purge society of this cancer that threatens to consume and destroy us as a whole, and which would continue to manifest itself in our system of governance even after any impeachment proceedings.
Like any cancerous growth, the Bush administration has attached its malignancy to the American nation in a cruel fashion, its poisonous tentacles stretching deep into our national fabric in a manner that makes difficult the task of culling out the healthy from the diseased. But we cannot truly repudiate something without its complete and utter elimination from our midst. As such, there must be a litmus test to help us differentiate the good from the bad, that which must be restored from that which must be eliminated. For me, there is only one true test: that of constitutionality. There will be those who argue, and have argued, that the time is well past for an oppressed people (and one would be a fool not to comprehend that under the Bush administration, the American people have in fact been oppressed) to rely on the niceties of legal argument, especially when the system of law we seek to use in our defense has been so thoroughly corrupted by those who seek to impose tyranny.
I was recently in Ireland, where I delivered a presentation on the current situation in the Middle East. In criticizing the Bush administration’s policies, I launched into a staunch defense of the Constitution of the United States and decried what I believed to be the inadequacies of Congress and the American people in defending their constitutional inheritance. Afterward, I was confronted by an Irishman who challenged me on the validity of our Constitution. As he pointed out, none other than President Thomas Jefferson himself, the author of the Declaration of Independence and a proponent of constitutional law, is famously quoted as saying, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” If, as I maintained, the Bush administration was deviating so far off course from the ideals and values set forth in the Constitution, was it not time for a new American Revolution to “refresh” liberty with “the blood of patriots and tyrants?”
There can be no doubt that Jefferson was a promoter of resistance to the forces of tyranny. It was he who, after all, who penned the famous words proclaiming the need for American independence from the tyranny of British rule: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness ... when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
If faced with a situation today in which the American people felt that our current form of government sought to imprison them “under absolute Despotism,” would we not be obligated to apply “natural manure” in an effort to refresh the “tree of liberty?”
Short of a complete and total abdication on the part of the Congress, the collapse of the judiciary system, and a shocking decision by those men and women who wear the uniform of the armed forces of the United States to lend force of arms to the will of a dictatorial president, I cannot ever envision a time in which conditions in these United States could deteriorate to the point that a violent revolution “of the people and by the people” would be required to restore constitutional legitimacy and authority. Having said that, I remind the reader that with so few Americans professing any working understanding of the Constitution, it is difficult to speak of people defending that which they remain ignorant of.
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