Thursday, January 11, 2007

the I Word - impeachment

I sometimes wonder if the Constitution is really followed or is it cherry-picked like intelligence for a war? Democrats before the election of 2006 wanted the voters to know they were not going to be impeaching the Bush Administration. This is not a pro-impeachment or anti-Bush rant. This is a question historians will ponder in the future when the topic of presidential impeachments is discussed.

If someone is today is teaching a government or civics class and the topic of impeachment comes up the teacher would explain what impeachment is. The House of Representatives is the chamber of Congress that can write Articles of Impeachment indicted the president of "a high crime or misdemeanor." The Senate then sits as the jury in the trial to impeach the president, with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding as judge. Members of the House Judiciary Committee prosecute the president's defense counsel. The Senate votes to either convict to remove the president from office or acquit him of the crime.

The teacher then explains that only two presidents have been impeached, Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton. A teacher would just give the general facts and skip any of the historical context and analysis. Neither were convicted, but both were targets of the political opposition.

Johnson survived impeachment by one vote. The Radical Republicans running the Congress wanted to take over the Reconstruction of the South from Johnson, who tried his best to live up to President Lincoln's goal in the South's Reconstruction. The Radical Republicans created a situation threating executive power. Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act which said that the president could not fire anyone who was confirmed by the Senate without the consent of the Senate. President Johnson rightfully saw this as wrong and fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and replaced him. The House of Representatives found their excuse to impeach him.
Eleven Articles of Impeachment threatened Andrew Johnson's presidency. When three of the Articles of Impeachment could not reach a vote of conviction the remaining eight were tabled and never voted on. The Radical Republicans were able to make a blow at the executive branch and controlled a mismanaged Reconstruction of the South.

Clinton had been investigated by both the Republican led Congress and Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel investigating possible wrong doing by the Clintons. In the end, all the money spent investigating the Clintons proved them innocent. President Clinton did however lie under oath about an affair with an intern. Clinton was impeached by the Republican House for perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton was not in as bad a situation as President Johnson was in 1868. Clinton survived the trial in the Senate and finished his remaining 2 years in office as popular as ever.

Teachers need to let their students know that President Richard Nixon was not impeached. The Judiciary committee headed by the majority party, the Democrats, began voting on Articles of Impeachment which included obstruction of justice and illegal wire tapping. President Nixon resigned before the full House of Representatives could vote on any of Articles of Impeachment.

Historians and those explaining impeachment will wonder why George W. Bush was not impeached since he too has done far worse than Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Evidence such as the Downing Street Memo or the White House Memo have shown the president and his administration misleading us into a war of choice for false reasons. If the new Democratic controlled Congress begins investigating the president and finds wrong doing comparable to Nixon, is it okay to impeach?

The politicians say they don't want to take the nation down the road of impeachment. It is the duty of the Congress, the legislative branch, to oversee the executive which had been lacking for the past six years. The Republican Party had a duty to their country first, before party when leading the Congress' support for the president and his war. They did not take that approach accepting, not questioning, the reasons the administration laid out for war in Iraq.

The idea of censure by Senator Feingold is not acceptable. Censuring Clinton seems more appropriate than impeachment when you compare Clinton versus Bush. People in power are more concerned with their next election and fear of backlash from impeachment like what happened to Republicans in 1998 is feared by those in power now. The Democrats need to put the interest of the nation ahead of electoral politics. By investigating the president and the reasons we went to war in Iraq will help history and explain to the families why their sons and daughters fought in this war of choice.

More than likely George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney will end their term at noon on January 20, 2009. An impeachment will not take place and they will go un-investigated. When is it ok to impeach the president? Comparing the wrong doings of Clinton versus Bush must make explaining impeachment very difficult. The Constitution should be upheld and since the executive hasn't been doing its part these past six years, it's time the legislative branch stepped up.

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