August 24, 2016
Repudiation, Not Impeachment
Posted on May 31, 2007
By Scott Ritter
While I reject violence as a means of redressing social wrongs, especially when applied to issues of governance, and instead rely on the rule of law as manifested by the Constitution and those legitimate bodies empowered by the Constitution to remedy every situation, I cannot help but fear the moment when the foundation of legitimacy which defines who we are and what we are as a nation fades away into irrelevance amidst a sea of complacency and ignorance. There is no greater breeding ground for the forces of tyranny than the surrender of civic responsibility on the part of those entrusted with the defense of liberty. And in this I do not mean the Congress of the United States, but rather the people of the United States, the duly elected representatives of whom constitute the Congress.
I fear not the bloody rebellion of an outraged citizenry, but rather the passive submission of a shameful mass which betrays the cause of liberty and freedom through the abandonment of the Constitution, and the obligations of citizenship derived thereof, in favor of the narcotic of consumerism. Such a mass, foreswearing blind obedience to those who profess how to best construct a cocoon that immerses the occupant in transitory comfort, is the most pressing problem facing America today. In a nation whose defining document begins, “We the People,” I find that it is we the people who constitute the greatest threat to the future of America. It is not through the force of our actions, but rather the vacuum created by our inaction and apathy, a vacuum all too readily filled by those who would have us exchange our hard-fought freedoms for a gilded cage of market-driven consumerism.
This is the main reason why I am not a proponent of the “impeach now” mentality so prevalent in political circles that oppose George W. Bush. The expediency of impeachment simply replaces one source of tyranny (President Bush) with another (whoever replaces him). It is not the failures of an individual that have gotten us to where we are today, but rather the failure of the collective. So before we speak of impeachment and the notion of executive accountability, I would like to address the issue of repudiation and the necessity of civic responsibility.
Whatever field I endeavored to participate in—whether as a football player in college, an officer in the Marines or a firefighter today—whenever the going got tough, it was always pounded into my head to fall back on “the basics.” That is to say, a foundation of norms from which everything else was derived. By adhering to these “basics,” I and others were able to navigate whatever treacherous course we were attempting, more often than not with success. As such, in formulating a coherent response to the challenge put to me by the Irishman concerning the need to “fertilize the tree of liberty,” I find myself falling back on the “basics” of citizenship, to seek out the fundamentals of individual responsibility in the American democratic experiment. And there is no better source for these fundamentals than the most strident defender of the individual American—Thomas Jefferson himself.
Square, Site wide
Jefferson was in France during the drafting of the Constitution, and did not play a direct role in negotiating its content. But such was his heft as a founder of America that his opinion was sought by many of those who were so engaged. One of these critical players, James Madison (who later became the fourth president of the United States, following Jefferson), wrote a letter to Jefferson shortly after the Constitutional Convention finished its work in September 1787, and prior to ratification, interpreting critical aspects of the Constitution. I view Madison’s words to be worthy of consideration when addressing the issue of citizenship and responsibility.
“In the American Constitution,” he wrote on Oct. 24, 1787, “the general authority will be derived entirely from the subordinate authorities. The Senate will represent the States in their political capacity; the other House will represent the people of the States in their individual capacity. The former will be accountable to their constituents at moderate, the latter at short periods. The President also derives his appointment from the States, and is periodically accountable to them. This dependence of the General on the local authorities seems effectually to guard the latter against any dangerous encroachments of the former; whilst the latter, within their respective limits, will be continually sensible of the abridgement of their power, and be stimulated by ambition to resume the surrendered portion of it.”
In short, Madison underscored the fundamental role of the people in the chain of accountability, and the necessity of their informed involvement if the system of American constitutional governance was to work. A breakdown on the part of the “general authority” would lead to chaos and anarchy. Likewise, the failure of the “subordinate authority,” inclusive of the people, to hold the “general authority” in check would facilitate a slide toward tyranny and oppression.
Jefferson himself, before the convening of the Constitutional Convention, had long reflected on the issues of constitutional government. Just as his rendering of the Declaration of Independence drew from his earlier work, “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” so, too, were his views on the American Constitution drawn from his earlier writings on issues pertaining to the Constitution of Virginia, which are contained in a collection of work dating from 1781-82 known as “Notes on Virginia.” The purpose of a Constitution, Jefferson wrote, was ” ... to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights.”
Here Jefferson himself answers the question of the need to “fertilize” the “tree of liberty” with the blood of rebellion: It is not required, nor desired, so long as a system of rule by law (i.e., a Constitution) is present and adhered to. The importance of a Constitution in preserving the character of a nation through perpetuity was paramount, in Jefferson’s view. “It is true,” he argued in his “Notes on Virginia,” that “we are as yet secured against tyrannical laws by the spirit of the times. ... But is the spirit of the people an infallible, a permanent reliance? Is it government? Is this the kind of protection we receive in return for the rights we give up? Besides, the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless.”
Today one need only observe the corruption of our rulers and the carelessness of our people to understand the significance of the Constitution when it comes to preserving these United States of America. The nefarious nature of the Bush cancer is that, in its infection of the American system, it seeks to draw legitimacy for its tyrannical actions by citing the very same Constitution it seeks to destroy. The promoters of this point of view cite the academic term “Unitary Executive Theory” when defining their philosophy. To me, it is nothing less than treason. The Founding Fathers, in discussing the concept of a “unitary executive,” made use of the term in a manner reflective of their desire to restrain executive power, versus the extreme interpretation embraced by counsels to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who seek to expand executive power and authority to near dictatorial levels, especially during a time of war.
The tendency on the part of President Bush to obviate the role of Congress is well documented, in matters pertaining to governance in times of peace as well as war. The unprecedented number of “presidential signing statements” issued by Bush speaks volumes to this trend. These signing statements, historically a device used by executives to protect presidential prerogative when it comes to how a bill might be interpreted in a court of law, have been used by the Bush administration to negate the legal impact of a given piece of legislation by clearly stating the intent of the president to act in a manner inconsistent with the letter of the law. That the president believes he has a right to conduct himself in this manner is the height of hubris; that Congress continues to facilitate this behavior unchallenged represents the depth of legislative depravity.
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