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Thu Aug 7, 2014, 10:03 AM


I have been watching the cable news reports about republicans in the House of Representatives both advocating and denying efforts to impeach President Barack Obama. Currently, it is the rabid right-wing that is publicly threatening to pursue impeachment. Speaker Boehner has moved to file a civil suit against the president, while promoting the position that it could reduce the pressure to impeach.

As a student of American political history, I urge forum members to take a very close look at this. I believe that the republican party will, no matter how this fall’s elections go, move forward on impeachment. Why? The short answer is “because it is the wrong thing to do.” A more complete answer is enhanced by focusing on three books.

The first is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s 1973 classic, “The Imperial Presidency” (Houghton Mifflin). The author documents the historic tendency for all presidents to try to expand executive power. These attempts were exclusively -- up to the book’s publication -- under the guise of war powers and national security. It is in these actions that a president might commit one of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that requires impeachment.

Older forum members will recall the Watergate era, when Richard Nixon faced an impeachment in the House, which surely would have resulted in a conviction in the Senate. Likewise, they will remember when Congress failed to proceed with articles of impeachment against Ronald Reagan, for the Iran-Contra crimes. Both are outstanding examples of exactly what impeachment is intended to remedy.

It was not intended to remove a president for lying about a sexual affair. Nor is it intended to destroy a president for attempting to assist 50,000 refugee children. Both of these are examples of exactly what is not intended as grounds for impeachment. Indeed, the current example is the exact opposite, for it is a president appealing to a nation’s humanity.

When Congress impeaches for true “high crimes and misdemeanors,” it strengthens our constitutional democracy. When Congress fails to do so, or --worse -- abuses the process, it institutionalizes damage to our constitutional form of government. (Note: in both cases, our focus needs to be on “process.” When the “free press” largely ignores process, but attempts to distract the public’s attention with the glitter -- or stain -- of “personality,” it, too, betrays its duties.)

The second book is “The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America. And How to Get It Back on Track,” by Mann & Ornstein (Oxford; 2006). The authors take a bipartisan look at how the right-wing of the republican party began to destroy Congress -- starting with the House of Representatives -- around 1996. The authors focus a significant amount of attention on how this involved derailing appropriate, constitutional process.

The third book is John W. Dean’s “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches” (Penguin; 2007). Dean, of course, played a significant role in Watergate, and in its eventual unraveling. This book was the third in a three-part series that he authored during the Bush-Cheney years. The other two are “Worse Than Watergate” (2004), and “Conservatives Without Conscience” (2006), both of which are still extremely important books. However, it is not essential to read them in order of publication; thus, for this discussion, I recommend “Broken Government.”

In it, Dean invests a great deal of effort in explaining why correct “process” is essential for us, if we seek to have a constitutional form of government. The other option is corporate government. That Dean was, and remains to a large extent, a “Goldwater Republican” brings about an interesting, even vital, point: many in the Democratic Party -- including solid members of this forum -- embraced Dean, when “Worse Than Watergate” was published.

Dean became a regular guest on several of MSNBC’s nightly line-up. His ability to communicate impressed many here, including some of us who remember him very well from the Watergate era. I think that there was enough “common ground” between this ex-convict, Goldwater republican, that people here understood that in the fight to preserve our constitutional democracy, we do not have the luxury of holding onto old grudges.

Just as constitutional government requires correct process, the utter destruction of constitutional government requires the abuse of process. Both are pathways; the first, to imperfect government that constantly rewards efforts to create a more perfect union, versus a corporate government, that inflicts a perverse nationalism, by which it divides citizens, and unleashes gross violence upon foreign lands.

I have never felt it is my right to tell anyone else who to vote for. I’m not offended when people prefer a different candidate than me. However, in 2014, I do believe that it is extremely important that all of us -- each and every one -- does vote. And while I have long found “the lesser of two evils” to be highly offensive, I would like to remind forum members that these elections will have significant consequences. And I’ll end with a reminder that has been attributed to Buddha: “Our error would be to believe we have time.”

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