Citizen Spotlight: Letter to Chris Van Hollen

Dear Congressman Van Hollen:

There is, they say, more than one way to skin a cat. I hope so, because our efforts thus far have yielded a big fat zero. I refer not to the skinning of cats, of course, but to popular efforts at restoring the rule of law in the United States through the impeachment of the President and Vice President.

In the rush of the moment, it is very difficult for anyone to calmly consider the larger historical issues at play, but that is what I will try to do here, if only, necessarily, in a very cursory manner.

I remember you saying once, when you were first running for Congress, that you had a particular admiration, among philosophers, for Locke. I have always assumed that you must also be an admirer of those other great Enlightenment thinkers who, in America, drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Of these men, it seems to me that George Mason was the most far-sighted (a view shared, by the way, by Thomas Jefferson). Mason correctly saw that the Senate was destined to become an aristocratic institution that could easily ignore the wishes of the people. And we see this again all too clearly today, as a handful of Democratic senators refuse to hold the Justice Department accountable to either the people or the law. I am referring, of course, to the recent announcements by Senators Feinstein and Schumer that they will support Mr. Mukasey as the nation’s chief enforcer of the law.

Unfortunately, Mason was also correct in his suspicions that a country of too vast a size would not prove accommodating to democracy. For this reason, as no doubt you recall, he did not support the acquisition of the ‘Western territories.’ And yet, now that our neo-conservative ideologues have taken over the executive branch, even the continental United States is insufficiently grand: now they insist on a global empire. There cannot be, and never has been, a world empire that continued as a republic or a democracy.

Given the enormous population of our bloated United States, the distance between constituents and members of the House of Representatives has become incredibly daunting. Most of my friends only smile ironically at the idea of ‘writing their Congressman.’ (Who can blame them? How many letters can a single person read?)

So why do I nonetheless write? Because there is nothing else. The link between constituent and Congressman is the final remaining thin thread of democratic rule that remains to us.

A good friend of mine, now deceased (a victim, I might add, of our shameful lack of national health care), used to be a fanatic for gathering signatures on petitions. He had the right spirit, and I in a sense am imitating him here—only I am gathering signatures from people of the past.

I write, for example, on behalf of George Mason, who said: “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice?” I am writing also on behalf of the signatories to the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These men knew all too well that the power of the president, if left unchecked, would become an absolute tyranny. (It has.)

And how many generations of not only American, but also English and French and other countries’ lawmakers and citizens have thanked God for the writ of habeas corpus? Today both the Senate and the White House have decided to scrap habeas corpus and to countenance torture. In this manner, they spit in the face not only of their present day constituents, but also in the face of every lover of liberty who has fought and died for its sake these last thousand years.

Perhaps everything looks different from where you sit. Perhaps you too, like so many of your constituents, feel powerless to change a system that has veered so far off course.

If this is what you feel, sir, I respectfully would say only this: you are wrong. The historical moment belongs precisely to you, and to no one else.


Paul Grenier

Editor’s Note: Van Hollen voted against giving Impeachment a chance yesterday by voting YES to table it. This is very disappointing.


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