Conservative Clinton-impeacher Bruce Fein and progressive “The Nation” editor John Nichols joined forces on PBS’s “Bill Moyers Journal” last Friday. The duo — probably unthinkable ten years ago — were on to discuss and urge impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney for a pattern of executive overreach that is “totally anathema to a democratic society devoted to the rule of law,” as Bruce Fein put it. As ever, the PBS show’s web site has made the transcript, audio recording, and full video of the show available (via the “Tough Talk on Impeachment” home page)*, and it is an exceptionally valuable production.
Fein and Nichols — one an old-school conservative, one a progressive liberal — advance complementary, mutually reinforcing arguments for impeachment. Fein was positively eager to speak out — with what one might call unimpeachable credibility — on this administration’s numerous specific, patent abuses of power, which he rightly terms “[m]ore worrisome than Clinton’s– because he is seeking more institutionally to cripple checks and balances and the authority of Congress.” Fein also stressed how impeachment is intended to be about “political crimes against the Constitution,” as he quoted Alexander Hamilton at a Senate hearing on Bush’s signing statement abuses.
Nichols in turn, provides a perspective on what he calls the “organic” fizzing up of impeachment sentiment, and on how impeachment was conceived by the framers of the Constitution and its ratifiers, the people of the United States:
An awfully lot of Americans understand what Thomas Jefferson understood. And that is that the election of a president does not make him a king for four years. That if a president sins against the Constitution– and does damage to the republic, the people have a right in an organic process to demand of their House of Representatives, the branch of government closest to the people, that it act to remove that president.
A poignant part of the discussion was about the lack of senior leadership — at least so far — in advocating impeachment, for instance by joining Dennis Kucinich and the band of co-sponsors for his H.Res. 333 bill. Fein:
But in the past, there’s always been a few statesmen who have said, “You know, the political fallout doesn’t concern me as much as the Constitution of the United States.” We have to keep that undefiled throughout posterity ’cause if it’s not us, it will corrode. It will disappear on the installment plan. And that has been true in the past. When we had during Watergate Republicans and remember Barry Goldwater, Mr. Republican, who approached the president and said, “You’ve got to resign.” There have always been that cream who said the country is more important than my party. We don’t have that anymore.
Well, I have to hope we do. In fact, I have hopes that we do right here in Montgomery County. During the July 4th parade here in Takoma Park, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8, and chair of the DCCC) was challenged by Hank Prensky, a local impeachment supporter — and former city councilman — whether he would sponsor Kucinich’s H.Res. 333. It was a parade, not a press conference, so Van Hollen wasn’t ready to commit right then and there. But he did say that the Libby commutation was making him willing to consider co-sponsoring that resolution.
Nichols made an excellent point about the future dangers of letting this president’s powers expand unchallenged:
On January 20th, 2009, if George Bush and Dick Cheney are not appropriately held to account this administration will hand off a toolbox with more powers than any president has ever had, more powers than the founders could have imagined. And that box may be handed to Hillary Clinton or it may be handed to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or someone else. But whoever gets it, one of the things we know about power is that people don’t give away the tools. They don’t give them up. The only way we take tools out of that box is if we sanction George Bush and Dick Cheney now and say the next president cannot govern as these men have.
I’ve done nowhere near enough justice to the quality of the conversation between Moyers, Fein, and Nichols. Have a look, it’s well worth your time. There’s a wealth of linked material at the site as well.
CROSSPOSTED (edited version) from newsrack
* Click on the “Watch Video” button along the upper left margin of the page, just below the image of a ticket to Andrew Johnson’s 1868 Senate impeachment trial.
** Image adapted from the image of that ticket, dated March 13, 1868 instead of 2008. Eerily similar to what would be the case for Bush, Johnson’s richly deserved impeachment came late in his richly undeserved presidency.