By Ryan McGreal
Published May 15, 2007
The vast litany of scandals hanging around the Bush White House like a bad smell leaves many people scratching their heads, wondering why no one in the administration has been impeached and why no politician seems to be pursuing it (other than Dennis Kucinich, of course).
Why were the Republicans willing and able to impeach President Clinton on such frivolous grounds when Bush continues to be president after much more serious "high crimes and misdemeanors" (the grounds for impeachment under Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution)?
The Clinton impeachment was a witch hunt, pure and simple, pursued with relentless, single-minded zeal by the Republican Party.
Through a myriad of bogus scandals, the GOP attack machine managed to get President Clinton on the stand, where he was asked whether he had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
He denied it (later claiming that he didn't believe oral sex was included in the definition of "sexual relations"), and that lie under oath was the basis for the year-long impeachment brouhaha that eventually acquitted him of perjury and obstruction of justice.
It's clear that Clinton's impeachment was an act of politicization. The GOP kept digging in the dirt and throwing mud at Clinton until something - in this case, trying to cover up a marital infidelity - stuck.
The grounds were clearly spurious and the affair actually hurt the Republicans' popularity among Americans. (Ironically, Clinton's popularity reached a peak of 73 percent during the scandal, and a majority of Americans opposed his impeachment.)
Eight years later, the case against President Bush is much stronger than the case against Clinton ever was. After the Republicans lost control over the House and Senate in the 2006 Congressional election, the Democratic Majority gained the power to conduct investigations into the Bush Administration's legitimate abuses of power.
As a senior Democrat explained in March, "We've only had subpoena power for the last six weeks and every tree that we've barked up so far has had a cat in it. Imagine where we'll be after six months."
This could potentially mean the Democrats are waiting for the right time to launch impeachment proceedings against senior members of the Bush administration, but other than Kucinich, no one is willing to support the notion.
There are a number of possible reasons for this:
President Bush is more use to the Democrats politically if he remains in power. As long as he stays on as president, the thinking goes, he will continue to poison the well for Republican candidates for office.
After the backfiring of the Republican impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, the Democrats are afraid of a repeat performance.
The Democrats are biding their time, waiting for the most politically damaging opportunity to launch impeachment.
There is probably some truth to all of these, but there's another reason that hasn't been discussed much: the case against Bush is too complicated.
This helps to explain why it was so much easier for the Republicans to push their much weaker case for impeachment against Bill Clinton: their narrative was easy to follow.
President Clinton dishonored the presidency by having an affair and lying about it. It's simple, straighforward, and plays well to an audience already primed for moralistic scolding.
The case against President bush, by contrast, is a lot more involved, even if it's also a lot more substantial. At every step, it's necessary to peel back layer after layer of mendacity and obfuscation to get at who did what and under what circumstances, and the White House is digging in its heels at every turn, claiming "executive privilege" as it refuses to honour subpoenas or hand over evidence.
The complexity of the issues also provides hundreds of opportunities for partisans to drive wedges into the discussion and sidetrack it on tangents about microscopic details, motivations, and conflicting accounts.
For example, it's not simple to make the case that there's a difference between a president replacing attorneys at his "pleasure," as nearly all Presidents do on taking office, and replacing attorneys to obstruct justice, as the Bush administration has apparently done.
It's not simple to prove that Dick Cheney manipulated the prewar intelligence and strong-armed the CIA into endorsing a conclusion with which it did not agree.
It's not simple to prove that Doug Feith cooked the books to create a case for invading Iraq at the Office of Special Plans or that most of his 'evidence' came from a convicted fraudster and from testimonies obtained under torture.
It's not simple to prove that US chief weapons inspector David Kay was talking rubbish when he said, "We were all wrong" about whether Iraq still had a WMD program.
And so on and so on. It takes time to go through all the evidence, to pick out the thousands of data points in the various media reports and connect the dots into a coherent picture.
Certainly the US newsmedia themselves have done a piss-poor job of it, and they're far more qualified to do the research and perform the analysis than the average person sitting at home.
Finally, now you know why the Bush Administration is so adamant about resisting Congressional efforts to get any officials to testify under oath about anything.
It also explains why Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently said a variation of "I don't recall" 64 times when he was on the stand. At this point, portraying oneself as hopelessly incompetent beats lying under oath or - even worse - telling the truth.