By Ryan McGreal
Published July 18, 2007
I realize that I've been writing about the US a fair bit in blog posts lately, and that kind of falls outside the principal scope of Raise the Hammer. I hope you'll indulge or at least forgive me at least one more time.
Part of why I'm concerned about the US is that the idea, if not necessarily the fact, of the country is so compelling. It was arguably the first country formed out of a set of principles rather than merely ethnic, religious, or tribal cohesion.
(I've got to be careful here, because the actual events of the country's founding don't live up to the mythology. Much of its history is shockingly xenophobic and even genocidal by today's standards.)
My point is that I'm paying close attention to the American experiment: not only the original experiment of a legal and political system based on an owner's manual rather than a body of tradition but also the modern experiment of a global empire that is a liberal democracy at home.
I think it's instructive that when officials take their oath of office, they swear not to uphold the people or even the country itself, but the idea of the country. On taking office, the President declares:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. [emphasis added]
This oath is actually written right into the Constitution.
Similarly, the oath of office of the US Senate begins like this:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic ... [emphasis added]
Presidents and Senators are sworn to support and defend not the country or its residents, but the principles on which the country was founded. The absolutism and abuses of "L'État, c'est moi" are impossible, at least in principle.
So much for principle. President George W. Bush appears to hold only contempt for the Constitution and for his oath to support and defend it. From signing statements that reverse or nullify the purpose of bills to violating international treaties; prosecuting an illegal war of aggression under false pretenses plus related war crimes; violating domestic laws; violating the Constution including the 1st, 4th, 5th, 5th, 7th and 15th Amendments; lying repeatedly on matters of national security; politicizing just about every federal department to the point that they are materially derelict in their basic duties; displaying inherent contempt for Congressional subpoenas; and obstructing justice.
The Constitution itself is a marvel of careful planning. It even includes a mechanism to remove from office any President, Vice President or other public official who commits "high crimes and misdemeanors": the articles of impeachment. Article II, Section 4 reads:
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. [emphasis added]
It doesn't read "may be" or "should be" or "ought to be"; it's an order. Further, at the time the US Constitution was written, "shall" was the form of "will" that applied to subjects in the first person (I or we), whereas "will" applies to subjects in the third person (he, she, it, or they). The passive voice construction somewhat obfuscates the fact that the statement is imperative. Rephrased in the active voice, it states:
We shall remove the President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
That's an order to the public and lawmakers to hold the President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States accountable to the Constitution.
Congress is legally bound to impeach the President, Vice President, and civil officers who have committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" in office.
Unfortunately, after the witch hunt against former President Bill Clinton, the Democrats are afraid to use their majorities in Congress to press for the impeachment of Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney or any other officials.
A couple of months ago, I read that Barack Obama, a prominent Democratic presidential nominee and a seemingly progressive thinker, announced that he did not support impeachment, so I wrote him the following letter:
Dear Senator Obama,
Why are you not willing to follow the US Constitution and support impeaching the Vice President and President in the face of their abundant, widespread, and exhaustively well-documented "high crimes and misdemeanors"?
Americans want justice to be served. They want to know that no one - not even the highest officials of the executive branch (in fact, especially the highest officials of the executive branch) - is above the law. They want to know that the rule of law is more important than politicking, strategizing and positioning.
You have long opposed the war and subsequent occupation of Iraq. That war would not have happened except for the "high crimes and misdemenaors" of the Vice President, the President, and various senior members of their cabinet. Laws were broken, and those crimes continue to go unpunished in a country that prides itself on setting a global standard for the rule of law.
Please reconsider your reluctance to step forward and join your voice to the chorus of millions of American voices - and voices from around the world - calling on the US to hold its elected leaders accountable to the laws they swore to uphold.
Just the other day, I received this response from the Senator.
Thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts on impeaching President George W. Bush. I appreciate and share your high level of dissatisfaction and frustration with the President, his actions and his priorities. I disagree with him on many issues, ranging from the war in Iraq to the future of Social Security to funding our children?s schools.
I support robust Congressional investigations into his administration and the highly questionable actions it has taken in areas such as domestic spying and the U.S. attorney firings. He has horribly mismanaged the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Democratic Congress has achieved important progress this year, but we are still stymied by a President who is out of sync with the American people, vetoing legislation to responsibly get us out of Iraq and to support increased stem cell research.
America needs to move forward again, and I don't believe that continuing this era of bitter partisanship is the best course of action. As I travel the country campaigning, I hear the call for a new direction and a change in our politics, a thirst for something more. I don't believe impeachment answers this call. I believe if we begin impeachment proceedings we will be engulfed in more of the politics that has made Washington dysfunctional. We would once again, rather than attending to the people's business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, non-stop circus.
Instead, I will continue to move forward with a positive agenda in the Senate and on the campaign trail. I hope you will stay involved and work for progress on the issues that matter most to you. Thank you again for writing.
Now, if thieves broke into my house and stole all of my things, most people wouldn't respond that I'm upset because of the division between what I want and what the thieves want. The problem in the US is not "bitter partisanship"; it's the sheer criminality of the people running the government. The way to deal with criminals is not to "move forward with a positive agenda" (however commendable) but to prosecute and try them in a court of law.
It is not the divisiveness of politics today that has allowed the criminals to achieve and retain the power they crave: it's the complicity. The Democrats have had many opportunities to oppose this government - to oppose the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq, the campaign against Iran, torture, warrantless wiretapping, continued funding for the occupation of Iraq, and so on - and instead of standing up to the Republicans, instead of being divisive, they kowtowed and capitulated every time.
Bipartisanship, in this case, is an admission that both parties are complicit in the abandonment of the ideas on which the US was founded. There has been far, far too much bipartisanship already, which has mostly encompassed Democrats caving in under Republican charges that they're not 'tough' enough on security or on terror or on drugs or on whatever bogeyman du jour the Republicans are using to terrify everyone into accepting their psychopathic agenda.
Bush became president after he lied about being "a uniter, not a divider" and a "compassionate conservative" and was aided by a Supreme Court that arbitrarily decided to stop a vote recount that almost certainly would have put Al Gore into the White House.
By not being divisive enough, the Democrats have enabled Bush's criminality for nearly seven years. They've alienated their own progressive voting base. They've underwhelmed voters by cravenly accepting the Rovian 'security' framework and piling on so as not to appear weak by comparison.
The Democratic Party and its leaders need to demonstrate that they place the rule of law above political tactics, that they are committed to holding the President, Vice President, and public officials accountable to the highest standards of legality and propriety.
Obama took an oath "to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic". He is duty-bound to support impeachment. To expect less of the people who wish to form your government is to admit that the American political system is simply broken.