One of the things I hear from some of our friends is that Democrats have more important things to do in Congress than getting “embroiled” in impeachment proceedings. John Nichols, author of an important new book on impeachment, provided some answers in an interview, part of which is copied here from “Brattlerouser’s” interview with Nichols:
Brattlerouser: OK, now about the Democrats. What is it that’s gotten into their minds that makes them think that they can’t take this issue on because they think it will hurt their chances to win the White House in 2008? You also saw the same rationale leading up to the mid-term elections this year. Why is it that they actually believe in this faulty reasoning?
Nichols: Back in the Nixon years during the Watergate impeachment the House of Representatives (which was controlled by the Democrats) raised the minimum wage, passed groundbreaking environmental laws, they passed housing laws, they got rid of a corrupt Vice President, Spiro Agnew, they drew down the Vietnam War, and they ultimately got rid of a very corrupt President. That’s a pretty good track record for a couple years. I would say if this Congress can do just that, just what was done during Watergate, I’ll be fully satisfied. So, I see no reason to fear that things are not going to get done just because people are focused on impeachment. I would remind you that impeachment is the conclusion of an accountability process and Watergate didn’t start as an impeachment process. It started as an inquiry investigation of Nixon and ultimately lead to a relatively short discussion of impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee acted relatively quickly on the issue once you got to that point and I think it’s appropriate that we might be in a similar situation that in the early months of 2007 we may see a lot of investigations and inquiries and if they are aggressive enough to get to the right place, I think you’ll start to hear a lot of Americans say, “Boy we got to do something about this.” A few members of Congress will start to talk about it impeachment and we may get to something. I’m not saying for sure that we will, but it doesn’t seem to me that in any way it destabilizes the Congress or prevents it from doing other things.
Brattlerouser: This is one of the common things I hear people say, “There’s more important things that needs to get done first, pass minimum wage laws, protect the environment, universal health care, tax cuts for the middle class, etc., etc.
Nichols: Of course [that’s all] important but frankly if I had to choose between ending the war in Iraq and impeaching Bush, I’d end the war in Iraq! If I had to choose between a national health care plan that showed every child in this country had top line health care and every elderly person could get all the prescription medications they needed to get by, I might have to make that practical choice. But that’s not the choice we face and I would hope that I wouldn’t have to make those choices because in the end, if we don’t maintain the basic infrastructure of the Republic we don’t maintain the rule of law than the likelihood that this American experiment will survive in any kind of functional form is narrow or slim. So I think that our first duty is to defend the Republic. It’s much like if you have a home and you say, “You know I think I want to paint my house blue and I want to put some really cool decorations in front of it.” But your wife says, “Yeah, but the furnace is broken down and a lot of windows are cracked.” So while painting is a nice idea and putting nice Christmas decorations is a nice idea, the basic infrastructure of the house is falling apart. We should do something about that first. I think we got a point where the basic infrastructure of our Republic is really threatened and if we don’t address the core issues, the lack of the checks & balances at the federal level, the excessive power in the Executive Branch, all of the other things we do, the minor other progressive actions we do, are likely to be undermined and very hard to enact in the long term and even if we do get them enacted it will be very hard to. So I have very little patience with the suggestion that impeachment is a barrier to political or practical progress for the country. I think it’s the exact opposite. I think impeachment is the door we step through to a much more vibrant and engaged democracy. If we remove this President, if we even get close to remove this President, the energy that would go into that, the excitement that would be associated with that, the vibrant public discourse that will rise from that is very likely to have a much broader and much healthier impact on the whole of democracy than anything else we do. Look at how young people respond to impeachment. It polls much better among young people and people of color and low-income folks. I think for logical reasons these are people who often have the rule of law applied to them rather unfairly and they ask, “Well why shouldn’t it apply to the President fairly and appropriately?” So one of the things I think we re-engage a lot of people with politics is by saying, “Yes. The rules are real and they apply even to the President and you as a citizen have the right to challenge the most powerful man in the world.” When you get that idea planted in their head, then the idea of going out and working for a national health care plan seems not nearly as daunting.
Brattlerouser: Dan DeWalt’s got a great comment to that. When people say, “Oh, there’s more important things to do than to pursue impeachment,” DeWalt responds, “You mean to tell me the Democrats can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?”
Nichols: Well I think that’s exactly my line! I think that’s right! Anything that needs to be passed will be passed. The amazing thing is that I think it’s very possible that at the same time we’re doing impeachment we can also be discussing whether we should continue funding the Iraq war. I oppose continuing to fund the Iraq war and I think we shouldn’t but just enough to bring the entire troops home. But I can’t believe for a second that this Congress would say, “Oh, we’re so busy with impeachment that we can’t fund the war.” If they did, I’d say fantastic. If impeachment is making the so busy that they can’t maintain the war in Iraq, so be it. The fact that impeachment has made it too busy re-new the PATRIOT ACT, I’m all for that too. And if impeachment makes it too busy to make another tax cut for the rich, then I’m with them on that too. So maybe it is time to make them take on this issue.
Finally, one more thing. Before Nixon resigned, his VEEP, Spiro Agnew had to quit, and Gerald Ford was named to be VEEP. Then Nixon’s house of cards collapsed, and Nixon had to quit or he would have been impeached and removed from office. Do you recall who got elected in the next Presidential election? A Democrat! (Jimmy Carter). Do you remember who Ford beat in the Republican primary? Ronald Reagan! Why? Wikipedia opines that it was “lingering anti-Republican sentiment,” apparently due to Watergate:
Democratic nominee and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter campaigned as an outsider and reformer; he gained support from voters dismayed by the Watergate scandal. Carter led consistently in the polls, and Ford was never able to shake voter dissatisfaction following Watergate and the Nixon pardon.
In other words, the threat of the impeachment of Nixon by a Democratic Congress actually strengthened the Democrat’s hands in the next presidential election.
So the answer, I think, is “No,” we don’t have anything more important to do, and besides, we can still do all those other important things, too, and it will help us, not hurt us, if we do it in a persistent, fair-minded way.
The Republican effort to lynch Clinton by means of impeachment failed because it was a transparently partisan vendetta constructed on issues of personal life rather than matters of state. If we use the watergate model, we can do it, and it won’t take long.
From the appointment of Archie Cox as Special prosecutor in May, 1973 to Nixon’s resignation in August, 1974 was only 16 months, and then they had no Internet. Nixon had just been elected in a landslide, but that didn’t help him.
Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed as Special Prosecutor on December 30, 2003, and has been working quietly, mostly out of the headlines. But that will change in January when the trial of Scooter Libby begins. We will hear a lot about the Vice President during his trial.
- Will Cheney follow Agnew as one of the few Vice Presidents ever to resign while in office?
- Will he be impeached?
- Will he be removed from office?
I think at least one of the above is likely.