Lewis Lapham, in the March issue of Harper’s, makes "the case for impeachment.”
He takes as his text the resolution John Conyers introduced in the House last December (182 pages, 1,022 footnotes), “inviting it to form ‘a select committee to investigate the Administration’s intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”
The nearly complete silence raised the question as to what it was the congressman had in mind, and to whom did he think he was speaking? In time of war few propositions would seem as futile as the attempt to impeach a president whose political party controls the Congress; as the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee stationed on Capitol Hill for the last forty years, Representative Conyers presumably knew that to expect the Republican caucus in the House to take note of his invitation, much less arm it with the power of subpoena, was to expect a miracle of democratic transformation and rebirth not unlike the one looked for by President Bush under the prayer rugs in Baghdad. Unless the congressman intended some sort of symbolic gesture, self-serving and harmless, what did he hope to prove or to gain?
Conyers knew damn well what he was doing. He wanted the recognition of Bush’s illegalities and violations of the Constitution on the record... now.
“I don’t think enough people know how much damage this administration can do to their civil liberties in a very short time. What would you have me do? Grumble and complain? Make cynical jokes? Throw up my hands and say that under the circumstances nothing can be done? At least I can muster the facts, establish a record, tell the story that ought to be front-page news.”
The details of the Administration’s determination to create war out of whole cloth are well known and documented in Conyer’s resolution. For example:
The Conyers report doesn't return to the President's focus on Iraq until March 2002, when it finds him peering into the office of Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, to say, "Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out."
Lapham admits he was dubious, as most of still are, I think, that Bush could ever be impeached:
Before reading the report, I wouldn't have expected to find myself thinking that such a course of action was either likely or possible; after reading the report, I don't know why we would run the risk of not impeaching the man. We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country's good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world's evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation's wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies. In a word, a criminal—known to be armed and shown to be dangerous. Under the three-strike rule available to the courts in California, judges sentence people to life in jail for having stolen from Wal-Mart a set of golf clubs or a child's tricycle. Who then calls strikes on President Bush, and how many more does he get before being sent down on waivers to one of the Texas Prison Leagues?
Once impeachment became part of the vocabulary of the public with respect to George Bush, Congress was forced to recognize the possibility. Arlen Specter didn’t dismiss it but pointed out that “Impeachment is a remedy... [and] the principle remedy... under our society is to pay a political price.”
However, as Lapham writes: “Would that it were so.”
The Bush Administration doesn't believe in the theory of parliamentary government, much less in the notion of paying political prices. Its agents prefer the more frugal and efficient practice of stealing elections, gagging the voice of the Democratic minority in Congress, slandering people who presume to doubt either its wisdom or its virtue, conducting the business of government behind closed doors, alone with its Bibles and its pet Bismarcks in soundproof rooms. On the off chance that any God-fearing citizen didn't know what to expect, the President clarified the position in late December and again in early January, responding to what he clearly regarded as annoying questions about his directive to the NSA. Yes, he had told the NSA to take precautions, had done so more than once, would do so again. That was his job, to defend the American people; in time of war the Constitution gave him the right to do as he pleased, so did the act of Congress passed on September 14, 2001, three days after the loss of the World Trade Center. The fact that he was compelled to address the subject was "shameful," impertinent, and unpatriotic on the part of the reporter who inquired about "unchecked executive power" and ascribed to him "some kind of dictatorial position ... which I strongly reject." Such questions also were dangerous, apt to bring on more terrorist attacks in the manner of 9/11. The latter point was repeatedly reinforced by Vice President Cheney, who firmly reminded audiences in New York and Washington—audiences composed primarily of lobbyists for the country's media syndicates and weapons manufacturers—that we live in a dangerous world, demanding a robust executive authority in the White House to ward off the forces of moral anarchy and social chaos.
Bush protests: “We’re at war. We must protect America’s secrets.”
But Lapham see it quite differently:
No, the country isn't at war, and it's not America's secrets that the President seeks to protect. The country is threatened by free-booting terrorists unaligned with a foreign government or an enemy army; the secrets are those of the Bush Administration, chief among them its determination to replace a democratic republic with something more safely totalitarian. The fiction of permanent war allows it to seize, in the name of the national security, the instruments of tyranny. The question posed to the assembly is whether enough people care, and, if so, how do they respond when, in the language of the Declaration of Independence, "a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism."
The essay is carefully documented throughout. Some of the footnotes are worth including here on their own. For example, what in retrospect seems to confirm the notion of Colin Powell’s wretched cowardice:
Powell occasionally complained about the falsehoods the administration obliged him to tell; a few days before delivering the UN speech he mentioned his unhappiness to Cheney, who told him, “Your poll numbers are in the seventies, you can afford to lose a few points.”
And, when Lapham includes “conspiracy to commit fraud” in Bush’s rap sheet, he adds this reminder:
The legal precedent for finding a conspiracy to commit fraud against the United States rests on the Supreme Court ruling Hammerschmidt v. United States, which upholds the charge against individuals who obstruct lawful government functions "by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicane or the over-reaching of those charged with carrying out the government intention.