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September 07, 2008

Prepare to dare or prepare to despair

Cross-posted from A Lovely Promise

Email conversation with Thomas Nephew about the Million Doors for Peace effort got me to pull together some thoughts I've only let myself reflect on briefly over the last few months.

There's been a divide among antiwar activists -- between those who are serious about ending the occupation of Iraq and those who’d like to do that but only if it doesn’t cost Democrats politically. Depending on the size of the Democratic majorities in Congress, and assuming an Obama administration, that divide might be less important in 2009 than it's been for the last two years.

Given that Voters for Peace (the coalition organizing Million Doors) includes both tendencies, it's an encouraging sign that their petition calls for a faster and firmer wrapup in Iraq than even the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, not to mention the probably-never "conditional engagement" plan of Colin Kahl and company, who have Obama's ear. If the Responsible Plan were the strongest demand on the Obama administration, then we'd end up with something closer to permanent bases and endless occupation. With Voters for Peace mobilizing a million petition signers this winter for something stronger, the Responsible Plan backers in Congress should be able to position their policy (accurately) as the centrist choice.

There’s a whole constellation of issues just ahead of us in which this dynamic plays out, where an insufficiently vigorous presence on the "radical" end of the spectrum could result in blown opportunities that haunt us for the next decade or more.

Health care: Health Care for America Now has more than a little in common with Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (see 'divide' above). I accept that there's an imperative for Dems to pass something that concretely provides access to affordable health insurance for everyone. I also accept the political impossibility of legislating the private insurers out of the medical market in the next Congress. So I grasp the incrementalist strategy, whose goal is to get a public insurance pool into whatever's passed as the thin end of the wedge that could lead eventually to an all-public plan.

What I don’t buy is that single-payer advocates should just fold into the HCAN campaign rather than mobilizing to create the serious threat of a stronger plan from which the HCAN public-pool proposal can be urged as the compromise retreat. If HCAN’s is the starting position, then we’ll end up with less than that. In this case, anything less would mean foreclosing the chance for public health care for another generation.

Impeachment right away: Only a small minority of the American public -- even of informed, activist liberals -- understands that the Constitution provides for impeachment of officials after they've left office, not just for sitting presidents. Yet post-power impeachment hearings are the single best way to uncover just what lawbreaking was done. Not only do impeachment investigations have much stronger testimony-extracting powers than regular Congressional hearings, but post-term impeachment is much less easily characterized as a "partisan witch hunt" because it's removed from an electoral landscape.

Other excuses will be will be thrown up by compromised, fearful, lazy, and/or power-loving Democrats. The two most common are "we don't want to be seen as vindictive" and "impeachment would be a distraction from the vital work we have to get done".

The best answer to ‘vindictive’ is that this is about restoring the Constitution, pruning back these dangerously expanded executive powers that no one -- including "our" people -- should have. That’s the opposite of vindictive.

We’re going to get the ‘distraction’ line not only from politicians but from our allies, every organized progressive constituency desperate to get issues addressed by Congress after eight (or 28) years in the desert. Yet if the impeachment investigations are put off for even a year, we’ll run right up against the midterms, and by 2011 the presidential campaign will have begun. So if hearings don't begin in 2009, it’s hard to see how they could get going before 2013 -– by which time the "ancient history" charge will have more effect. So it could be 2009 or never.

We cannot wait. If there’s no serious domestic move toward accountability for torture, for which impeachment hearings are among the most practical and plausibly effective forum, then within a year there will be international legal interventions. The politics and optics of that are terrible, for anyone who cares about achieving a systemic rooting-out and reversal of this country's policy of torture. Legal threats from outside the country risk creating an effect of rallying around the old regime (however incredible such a thing seems now), and not only among Republicans. The most secure footing for international law will be created by Americans ourselves restoring the rule of law in the United States.

Likewise, only actual exposure of what went on with domestic spying under Bush-Cheney can light a big enough fire under Congress to get them to roll back the legislation that enables it, and only impeachment hearings seem to me to have the testimony-inducing force to get that exposure.

Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.

(The mechanics to accomplish this are for another post. Please don't wait for that; share thoughts and suggestions in comments.)

—Nell Lancaster

Posted at September 7, 2008 07:39 PM

I've been always on Mike's bandwagon so far as impeachment is concerned, with the proviso that the completely bought Pelosi will never care no matter how many times I call her.

Posted by: Save the Oocytes at September 7, 2008 10:04 PM

What do you call 1 million doors for peace?

A great start.

Posted by: James Cape at September 7, 2008 10:18 PM

Care to explain why you think the old rag provides for impeachment after an office is vacated?
Unless there is some jurisprudence related to that I find it a stretch of the wording. It doesn't expressly prohibit it, but impeachment is usually assumed be for sitting officials. I think if you impeach a 'civilian' it would be called an indictment.

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, all the arguments against impeachment now boil down to one thing. If you are in Congress, and you think you have a good excuse ~not~ to do it, then you aren't doing the job you were elected for, nor are you fulfilling the oath you took. Seems like an impeachable offense to me.

So like all arguments on the internet about politics, this is resolved by everyone agreeing the system is fucked.

Posted by: tim at September 7, 2008 10:19 PM

It's impeachment or impunity.

Posted by: OppEd at September 7, 2008 10:23 PM

I don't know if the "system" is fucked, I feel more that the two parties have fucked the system up.
Why would anyone create a wish list for Obama & the Democrats? Have they shown any indication of doing the right (as in correct, not conservative sense... they do THAT all the time) or legal thing?
People need to remember that the Dems have been in power the last two years - look what has come out of congress and tell me it bears any resemblance to the priorities you list.
Progressives need to stop living in fairy land, stop supporting the Dems (even if it means bad Republicans get elected) and start working towards electing real progressive candidates - if we want things to change.

Posted by: Phaedrus at September 7, 2008 10:27 PM

I'm glad that Phaedrus said what I was thinking. Because I am not a lefty so I don't feel qualified to tell you guys to stop supporting your evil corporate party (not that I don't every chance I get)

The sense I get is the whole system is a ouroboros
and you just propagate it by rallying round the left wing corporatist party while the GOP holds up the other end. I mean eight years left; eight years right. And everyone just wants their side to win. I'm getting dizzy.

I want yall to join me in the center and throw the balance off. I actually think I might have some progressive tendencies hidden in my evil conservative heart, if only the system was on even enough keel to keep it reasonable.

Posted by: tim at September 7, 2008 10:39 PM

Posted by: tim at September 7, 2008 11:08 PM

if you read through all that, and the only thing you can think of is how to get the democrats to win I have some good news. The democrats are going to win. But only because "karl rove" wants it.

You don't seriously think the puppet masters put John McCain on the stage to win that election do you?

Posted by: tim at September 7, 2008 11:14 PM

There is no "center." There's the far right and everybody else. There isn't really a left, as a result. And thinking that the people on this site are supporters of the Dems, rather than just viewing the Dems as more malleable, is simply foolish or lazy.

Of course, it may be similarly foolish that any amount of "pressure" on the Dems will lead to impeachment proceedings. The only way to force the Dems' hands is to threaten removal of office by voting for someone else. Not even the unions are wise enough to withdraw support from corp candidates. There is no leverage.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at September 7, 2008 11:19 PM

There seems to be an assumption that Obama will win.

When you toss a coin, do you assume it's going to be heads?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at September 7, 2008 11:59 PM

Stop bloviating NOC.

There is a center and it is any independent minded individual. I am the center. On my right are oil and MIC companies on the left are media corporations and so on.

And it is no secret that aTR tends to lean left. And so does the D party. Those are just facts, don't try to make it emotional, and especially don't make democratic supporters sound more Machiavellian than they are. My experience is that left wingers are the good guys in life generally.

But I guess I'm saying that since the democratic party has co opted all the progressive causes, freedom has no chance unless the left moves to
the center. And for that matter the neocons have subverted conservative causes.

So the solution is a return to the center for everyone. And the only people left at the fringes would be the ones to shoot.

Posted by: tim at September 8, 2008 12:20 AM

Complete bullshit, tim. Media corporations are happily rightwing. Were you even on Earth during the runup to the Iraq war?

And it is no secret that aTR tends to lean left. And so does the D party.

Nor it is a secret that I pointed out that everyone that's not rightwing is pretty much in the same alignment since the right is utterly extreme. It isn't a secret since I said as much in my first post. Now you could have read that before replying and considered the implica -- no, thinking and analysis? That's just crazy talk. You go on answering the arguments that are only in your head.

. . .especially don't make democratic supporters sound more Machiavellian than they are.

Well done sir! That windmill shall never be tilted in such a manner again!

Oh, that sarcasm was somewhat undeserved, I know. tim didn't actually just completely pervert what I said, he got it utterly wrong. The last sentence of my last post implied that the unions (the only democratic supporters I mentioned) were stupid, an adjetive incongruous with Machivelli.

Which brings us back to the wonders of not reading. You can say anything you like and pretend it's actual argument.

But I guess I'm saying that since the democratic party has co opted all the progressive causes

Now you've moved into the banally wrong; this isn't as funny. :-( (Do try harder next post.) Anywho, the Dems and Repubs prevent the implementation of progressive causes; the former hasn't co-opted them. Co-option would imply that the party is employing them.

And for that matter the neocons have subverted conservative causes.

Another false dichotomy. (Here's hoping for more absurd fallacies in the future.) Non-neocon republicans carried out policies that are exactly the same as the neocons. The neocons are a canard. I'll give you that error, though, since that's not as blindingly obvious as the others. Krugman's posts, and several of his books, point out that Bush Jr. is the logical successor of Reagan, not a perversion thereof as, well, some of his (hard right but don't tell anyone) peers at the NYT would claim. And St. Ronnie would never be bestowed a neocon mantle. Googling should get some of that.

freedom has no chance unless the left moves to the center

Actually, this error is interesting. It's fucking wrong in a set of contradictory ways so I'm not sure what the exact response should be. Sure, there's the fact, I pointed out above, that the center is an empty concept because the right is so far right at this point. But then again, the Dems are already at the "center" by the media's definition -- you'd have to ignore the very existence of Bill Clinton in order to claim otherwise. (I'm not sure if that's stupid or crazy and don't care to speculate at the moment -- it's just obviously wrong.) And finally, there's the fact that pretty much every poll done on any significant issue puts the U.S. population further "left"* than BOTH parties, making the statement wrong from a practical standpoint.

*Of course, the definition of "left" shifts arbitrarially. Much of what old-school conservatives want is considered "left" now since rightwingers own the Repubs now. Many of Nixon's (no leftie he, he'd point out) policies are now "left." The majority of Ron Paul's preferred policies (the ones that aren't batshit insane) are all "left." This, of course, makes the term "center" an even fouler form of garbage.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at September 8, 2008 01:02 AM

tim, you are the center?

The democrats, at least those in the middle and higher up the food chain, are as different from the republicans as Camels are different from Marlboros-- they're made by two different American corporations that lie to people and only care about market share, but are traditionally marketed in slightly different ways. But ultimately, both products are bad for you.

And if you don't vote the second-hand smoke will still get you-- but who in his right mind would say that the danger of second-hand smoke means you might as well light up?

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at September 8, 2008 01:15 AM

tim, what do you even mean by moving to the center? I roughly agree with Nemo: we shouldn't be moving any further, we should be making the case for liberal policies.

I too would like to hear more about impeachment of former office-holders. I guess this would aim at "disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States"? Can we cite any precedents for doing this separately, without removal from Office?

Posted by: hf at September 8, 2008 01:48 AM

By media corps, think hollywood bud. you
can't tell me they're right wing.
As for the rest of it....
/ignore NoC
don't waste any more time on me.

I think agree with you. They are both the same, but can't the dems exploit the left wingers and the repubs the right?

And yeah, I think that if you can avoid NoC's moving the definitions of left and right all around because of the current political situation, I would say I fall in the middle of hard core conservatism and hard core socialism.
That puts me in the center by my measurements.


Posted by: tim at September 8, 2008 01:48 AM

Again you use words with no fixed meaning ("socialism" in American politics means whatever you dislike). If you want us to "shoot" everyone who disagrees with you, perhaps you should explain concretely what Your Worship wants us to do.

Posted by: hf at September 8, 2008 01:55 AM

You're treating bad posters like adults hf: no good can come of it. You've pointed out several times that the center needs to be defined in order to make sense of any notion of "moving to the center." You've been ignored. tim is, in effect, trolling. He implies that Hollywood owns NBC and the media giants then basically defines center to mean whatever he is. . . which is exactly what we see the media do. Not saying you have to completely ignore a troll, but there's no point at which you'll be engaged honestly: you'll just be accused of doing whatever wrongdoing he's actually doing at the moment.

Far more important: I'm curious hf, and others: what the hell is the point in preventing these individuals from holding office again? Most of them are happily bouncing through DC's revolving door into corporate jobs; they don't need political office anymore. I am deeply concerned that this is going to turn into a rehash of the "truth and reconciliation" discussion: not only is it nigh-impossible, there's no real gain from it. If you have the political force to enforce the law, why would you stop short of putting them in prison?

Posted by: No One of Consequence at September 8, 2008 02:19 AM

Um, I'm just trying to figure out what the original post suggests. Prison after they leave office would not start with impeachments and would not involve Congress.

I don't think that silly line about "media" meant the news media at all. But I can't say what it did mean, politically, unless tim wants more censorship of movies and TV. That seems like a losing position as well as an immoral one; my Southern cousin said he couldn't vote for Gore for this very reason.

Posted by: hf at September 8, 2008 02:31 AM

I didn't know I was supposed to show up at the door prepared to educate you on the political spectrum. I figured that since you know enough rhetoric to abuse it as badly as you do NOC, you would have something to say other than stupid red herrings like "you didn't define socialism."
At least hf managed to do it in less than 7
fakkin paragraphs.

Posted by: tim at September 8, 2008 02:33 AM

Prison and post-office impeachment require the same massive political shift. Congress is tangental to the point.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at September 8, 2008 02:35 AM

Thanks for the link to Kucinich's effort. That sounds as if it fits right in, aimed at being ready to press ASAP after the election.

I explicitly assume an Obama victory for this post. In fact, I assume an Obama victory in real life, too. It's not a coin toss; most of the fundamentals favor that outcome. Which doesn't mean it's a lock, just a little better than 50-50.

To answer your question:
Kalt, Brian C., "The Constitutional Case for the Impeachability of Former Federal Officials: An Analysis of the Law, History, and Practice of Late Impeachment" . Texas Review of Law and Politics, Vol. 6 Available at SSRN:
or DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.286277

@Phaedrus: This isn't a "wish list for Obama". It's the faint beginnings of an effort to think through how progressives -- Dem-voting, third-party, and non-voting -- can prepare for the next four years in a way that will allow us to reinforce each others' efforts rather than settle for what center-liberal lobbies manage to arrange with the White House and Democratic congressional leaders.

Impeachment or impunity is how I see it, too. I'm open to other proposals on how else to bring about some accountability, but it seems hard to improve on impeachment proceedings for flexibility of investigation (laying groundwork for legislative rollback of expanded powers), already spelled-out procedures and constitutionality, and involvement of citizenry (compared with purely legal proceedings or appointed commissions or the like).

'Impeachment or impunity' is also one of the more powerful arguments for it, as well: unless the person failing to support impeachment has an alternative strategy for accountability, they're accepting impunity. And guaranteeing that impeachment will be dead as a constitutional remedy: If we can't impeach for this collection of high crimes, what would it take?

Impeachment isn't incompatible with prosecution. The hearings lay the groundwork for it, by developing evidence and building political will -- as well as laying the groundwork for legislative rollback. There doesn't have to be some immense political shift to start; there's already quite a lot of popular support for it.

Posted by: Nell at September 8, 2008 03:04 AM

As I said before, trolls accuse others of the wrongs they committ -- I gotta admit that that went faster than expected. Never underestimate suck.

Nell: You're absolutely right that the public wants impeachment. The political shift I was describing was at the top. The leadership is the dug in, intractible bit in American politics. If you're broadly describing a bottom-up movement, than what you're describing is very much possible and I would like to hear more about it. Sure, difficult as hell and I'll happily poke holes in the weak spots, but it's still in the realm of the possible. . . and considering what's at stake, that may put it in the realm of the Absolutely Necessary.

But I'm waiting for the good part: that immense political shift that happens at the top that makes all the good stuff happen. Getting from the bottom to the top is rough. . .

Posted by: No One of Consequence at September 8, 2008 03:20 AM

Prof Chazelle: I tend to agree with you. I have been listening to callers comments and questions on C-SPAN's Washington Journal and quite a few have decided, they WILL NOT vote for Sen Obama because of his race, or they were Sen Clinton supporters and will not support Sen Obama and that he is not Christian enough ( not because of his middle name ) because he supports Right to Choose ( 93% of C-SPAN watchers are registered voters and nine out of ten voted in 2000 elections).

Also, a huge segment of population that would vote for Sen Obama WILL NOT BE ABLE to vote.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at September 8, 2008 11:03 AM

It does not matter whether one is to the left or right of political spectrum or right in the center when the executive branch has completely ignored the constitution and committed unimagainable crimes as it affects the whole nation. Those alleged crimes have to be investigated and impeachment is the moral responsiblity of our elected officials and to demand it, is the right and responsibilty of the citizenry.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at September 8, 2008 11:19 AM

Impeachment's not going to happen.

The primary result of a successful impeachment via the US Constitution is removal from office. And that's almost all it does (apart from keeping the impeachee from ever holding office again).

The point of that removal is to prevent the target from abusing their powers. Impeachment is a tool intended to remove power from someone who has been determined incapable of being trusted with that power.

Impeachment hearings might have some investigatory capabilities beyond those of a criminal case, but I can hardly see a Congressional leadership unwilling to even mention impeachment (other than to rule it out) at a time when the administration was fully capable of abusing their power and doing something dangerous to the country, putting it back on the table when the people in the administration are no longer in power. Why would they expend their "political capital" on that?

Posted by: darrelplant at September 8, 2008 11:56 AM

darrelplant : see below.

Also, it would serve as an example for a future Bush-like executive, not to abuse his/her power.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at September 8, 2008 12:48 PM

What do you think is the most promising path to accountability?

Posted by: Nell at September 8, 2008 01:25 PM

Nell: Great post and, of course, I support ANY more toward IMPEACHMENT, ARREST, AND TRIAL. I'll sign Kucinich's petition also. (thanx Donald Johnson) I still call Nan EVERYDAY(just called, NOW its YOUR turn) but all I've seen of a bottom up movement is the move to get me banned (Washington Monthly soon) off both left and right side of the net. Progressives seem to be as constipated as the right, dems as shallow as the republicans.
If IMPEACHMENT doesn't happen by Jan. 09 then just learn to live under a dictatorship(tyranny, police state, KINGDOM). The evidence is out there, wide open, damning, and EVERYBODY KNOWS. (everybody) If Congress can't find a tiny corner in its collective heart to satisfy THE CONSTITUTION after ALL this, then WE are no longer a Constitutional Republic but a kingdom. (ya can't fire a king) Dictator Obama or Dictator Mccain there IS NO difference, color and gender be damned. THIS is why I'm voting for Michael Meyer---Michael Meyer WOULD PROSECUTE, no if ands or buts, and I'll NOT waste my time or vote on anyone that won't(there IS NO other reason to vote for Michael Meyer). I LOVE MY CONSTITUTION enough to BELIEVE in it and SUPPORT it beyond lipservice. This generation will DEEPLY deserve what it gets from its apathy(me included) and ANY tears I shed behind it will be strictly be for me and mine.
WE live on the surface of a round planet, a sphere, a ball. ALL lines are circles or partial arcs there of, "what goes around comes around"!

Posted by: Mike Meyer at September 8, 2008 01:42 PM

Mike Meyer: Always a voice of reason!
I called the speaker's office, AGAIN and left a message on her voicemail. Called my congressman and was pleasantly surprised, he is a co-sponsor of a bill with Rep Conyers to impeach the B/C team ( last time I called, I was told they did not know anything about Susskind's book!).
I am an optimist and hope, Rep Kucinich will collect required signatures and they will be able to proceed with Impeachment.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at September 8, 2008 02:22 PM

To prevent future abuses, a strong example must be set. There must be a genuine, personal incentive to rule within the bounds of law. We are all responsible for our own actions,and accountability in government is the only gaurantee of our liberty.

It's never too late to do the right thing.

Impeach the bastards.

Posted by: Tom at September 11, 2008 02:29 AM