by RonK, Seattle
Unsurprisingly, impeachment fever is on the rise, but the hottest hothead bill of particulars is D.O.A. in today's Congress. Here, we take a more practical tack.
Today's argument could tempt tomorrow's majority to rationalize great mischief, but we have the immediate problem of an imperious character in the Oval Office and a dangerous loophole in Article II.
What to do? Fire a shot across the Administration's bow. Warn them -- all of them -- that there's no safe harbor in partisan loyalty, stonewalling and Presidential pardons.
To launch this flash-bang -- and constrict a few sphincters along with that loophole -- we propose a sequence of test cases. But even a minor impeachment demands a House majority and a Senate supermajority (2/3). As a minority party, how can we hope to win?
First, choose test cases carefully. Republican office-holders must defend, delay, and ultimately vote decisively in these cases. Give them as few side-issues as possible to work with. Cut off escapes and extraneous motivations.
Find the indefensible defendant, in "pure" circumstances that conform to whichever bright line needs testing next. The ideal defendant has unquestionably committed an indisputably "high" crime, and has no trophy value or sympathetic qualities. Avoid political "high value targets" (which shift attention to issues other than the facts and the law).
That doesn't mean we'll win, but it puts our side in position to make gains every time we lose.
If we win a majority vote in the House and move a case to the Senate, fine. That's one building block in place. If not, that's fine, too. We've raised an ongoing controversy, and we've put every Republican member to the test on unfavorable ground.
Why "unfavorable"? A GOP Rep has limited options:
- Cooperate. Not likely, but conceivable, and from unexpected quarters if we find ideal test cases.
- Defend. It is to our advantage politically -- seat for seat, and cycle for cycle -- to make any Republican visibly defend the indefensible.
- Obstruct. Indirect defense -- procedural obstacles and delaying tactics -- is harder to beat, but we can make obstruction newsworthy in contrast to our "high road" issues.
- Obfuscate. Create side-issues? Cry "partisan politics"? Attack our priorities? Again, we grind away in low gear on the high road, and hold their evasions up to ridicule.
- Counterattack. If they hand us a valid test case, use it! As mentioned in a Part 2, we may get more mileage out of impeaching a Democrat than a Republican.
- Take the high road. If they choose to meet us on high ground, debating lofty principle and precedent, the Framer's intent, and the whole checks-and-balances thing, we've centered the argument right where we want it.
In every round, every tactical variation can play to our political advantage. We can make Republicans dish out pathetic arguments for non-meritorious causes, and do so throughout an election cycle, while the overarching pardon-bargain anxiety takes hold in public awareness.
The same advantage holds on "big picture" level. Again, the GOP must defend the indefensible -- a dangerous loophole that invites tyranny, conspiracy, and pardon-powered impunity.
Whenever we move these arguments, we direct public suspicion toward Bush and his team. Do they have "conspire and retire" agreements, insured by presidential pardons? If they did, how would we know? Do we have to worry about that? Can we do anything about it?
The whole protracted campaign is a nonstop civics lesson, generating a stream of news and comment suitable for both elite intellectual discourse and red meat retail politics.
This sets a theme we can use to nationalize every 2006 House race. Every seat is a vote that could help close a loophole, or leave it wide open. Give us the House, we'll at least move these cases to the Senate. Keep the status quo, and Bush gets a free ride to 2008 ... when the next crew -- Republicans or Democrats -- will enjoy the same liberties and face the same temptations.
Can we win our string of precedent-setting cases? Maybe not an the tally board. Not yet. [In practice, a minor impeachment may even require majority votes in select subcommittees, which could be stacked against us -- another constitutional bone to pick.] But still we win.
We win every time a voter asks "What's going on here? And what's supposed to be going on here?" In this arena, our side scores every time a Republican takes a stand -- either manning a defensive perimeter so wide it shelters the transparently guilty small fish, or giving ground incrementally and tightening the
And without a single conviction to our credit, the controversy itself keeps Bush's bit players on defense. In prospect of future precedents, future impeachments, and pardons subject to nullification, every member of the Administration must think less like an accomplice -- and more like a witness.