Friday, March 17, 2006

Censure


Senator Russ Feingold, whose reflexes have been approaching admirable up until now, has missed the point. Yes, we want to get rid of George Bush and Dick Cheney; yes, we want to impeach them and convict them, and some even want to incarcerate them for war crimes and malicious invasion of privacy. We all know, though, that the number of votes necessary to approve Articles of Impeachment are just not there. There are 231 Republicans and 201 Democrats in the House of Representatives, and allowing for some of the more conservative Democrats to drag their feet on what would seem to be an open and shut case of high crimes and misdemeanors, the negative margin of 30 could get larger. Even if a few Republicans unaccountably abandoned their party line and stood up for the things they swore in their oaths, the vote would come up short.

The Republicans are showing strong signs of disaffection with Bush, but voting impeachment would be tantamount to political suicide, given that Republicans have been so defensively vocal about the WMD and Hussein, the Iraq war, torture, domestic spying, Katrina relief, etc.

Why then would Feingold assume that anyone, Republican or Democrat would support a Resolution of Censure in the Senate? Isn't that putting the Senate cart before the House horse? Doesn't it needlessly insult the House and bring on a clamoring rabble of Republicans to urge their Senate brothers to hold the party line? In fact, it seems that Feingold has played into Republican hands and created a war-dance within their base.

A Resolution of Censure is, of course, a half-way measure, a knuckle rapping, a Bronx cheer, but nothing more. It would not rid us Bush or Cheney, but it would have the effect of making a real attempt at impeachment next year (if the votes become available) next to impossible. It would seem like double-jeopardy among even thoughtful citizens, and the corporate press would surely hop on that wagon immediately. Censure just is a very bad idea no matter how you look at it.

Feingold should have played this game better. He does not have a rabid constitency, and if he was trying to whip one up with Censure, then he has a strange sense of proportion. Feingold has isolated himself (again), but this time it will not work to improve his image or appeal. He will be seen as a loner, a misjudger, and by no means astute enough to mount a campaign for President (or Vice President).

The Democrats have to forebear during 2006 no matter how excruciating that may be. It is not cowering in fear or indecision. It is Realpolitik! Democrats have to push the Culture of Corruption theme, which should not be difficult, for given a month to play with Bush and his pals seem to find 30 ways to shoot up the place and make a mess of things. For instance, Bush could have retrieved the Dubai/ports issue and made all the ranters and ravers eat crow, but instead he fumbled this ball too, and as a result he and we (as a nation) have alienated even more Arabs, including those who have been acting toward us in favorable ways.

Democrats may look weak to the impatient because they are not jumping up and down for impeachment in the winter before the fall elections. If you can read calendars you can see that there are ten long months during which bringing up the impeachment to the voters is an educational mission only. Instead, this is the time to tune up the rhetoric on the Republican Culture of Corruption. Woe betide any Democrat that gets caught in this mangle, though. Voters, in most precincts, really dislike being fooled by corrupt politicians. There are exceptions, of course, but as a general bit of Political Science, corruption is a winner issue for those out of office. That is the mantra and that is what can be done. What cannot be done is not moral weakness, cowardice, or cowering; it is real, factual, objective electoral weakness. The Democrats just do not have the votes! ... And the Republicans have forgotten their oaths of office.

It should be said that the press and the new press have a significant role to play in this waiting game. Everyone knows that the principal pundits and columnists make a living from their daily analyses of the political world. They have monthly mortgage payments and bills and kids in college, too, so they have to meter out their comments over the long weeks and months until political change can be effected. In the overall picture this means that some one of them has to have impeachment on his lips every week, but it does not mean that every columnist or bloggist has to be ranting into a lather from now until January 2007 when the next Congress convenes. The idea of impeachment must be kept in the public awareness, but not on the front page.

Each new gaff by the Bush Administration deserves a goose in rhetoric about impeachment, but it must subside into vote-savvy forebearance on the Hill. Rep. Conyers can and should continue his efforts. He has had the courage to rally to the idea of actually impeaching Bush, he is moving with "all deliberate speed" on the issue, and with some acute, intelligent timing his efforts can be made to bear fruit in the correct season. Meanwhile, folks, understand that we must fight for civil rights at every turn, for Bush and Cheney will mistake this electoral weakness we now have for permission. They care not a scrap for the Constitution and will do what they can to unbalance the table for November 2006 and for 2008.

James Richard Brett

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