The non-impeachment of George W. Bush
WASHINGTON - For six hours last Friday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing, the subject of which, Chairman John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, pointedly assured an overflow crowd, was not the impeachment of President Bush.
The official title, he said, was "Executive Power and its Constitutional Limits," a semantic bow to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. From the start of her reign, she had declared that impeachment would be "off the table" because it was not achievable in the time remaining in the Bush presidency, and would distract the House from other achievable business.
On the table, nevertheless, were resolutions of impeachment sponsored by Bush's principal congressional bete noire, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, whose second presidential bid had been buried by the voters last spring. The resolutions met the same fate by being shunted to the committee for non-consideration.
But this reality did not prevent Kucinich from repeating his charge that Bush had taken the country to war in Iraq under false premises, which, he said, demanded "accountability for one of the gravest injustices imaginable."
The witnesses were reminded that House rules of decorum barred "personal abuse, innuendo or ridicule of the president." Kucinich took notice of them while observing "we can put two and two together in our minds," which several Democratic committee members proceeded to do.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California ignored the caveat by calling Bush "the worst president that our nation has ever suffered." And Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York labeled his White House tenure "the most impeachable administration in the history of America because of the way that it has clearly violated the law."
In the past, Republican House members have often boycotted similar Conyers hearings, but this time some showed up in rebuttal. Rep. Dan Lungren of California dismissed the event as "impeachment lite," and colleague Lamar Smith of Texas called it "an anger management class" that would "only serve to impeach Congress' credibility."
His observation was the latest echo of the administration effort to shift blame onto the Democratic-controlled Congress for the dismal record over the last nearly eight years. Polls indicate voters fault the Democrats as much or more than the president for that record, despite the fact that the Democrats lack sufficient numbers in the Senate to block Republican filibustering tactics and Bush vetoes.
Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, acknowledging that a push for impeachment would distract the House from other pressing business, called on "the American people to impeach the president in November," presumably by electing a Democrat as his replacement, though Bush will not be on the ballot.
Such an outcome, however, would hardly be an unambiguous rejection of the incumbent, in spite of the fact that Barack Obama continues to cast the election of John McCain as "a third George W. Bush term."
There are many other reasons voters may vote for Obama in November, ranging from his personal appeal to concern over McCain's age. Nor would a victory for McCain demonstrate endorsement of Bush's eight presidential years.
Well, what was the point in going through the six-hour exercise in which Kucinich and other Democrats aired once again their conviction that Bush as president makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln? And Republicans held their noses and cried foul - just as Democrats in Congress did during the late impeachment of Bill Clinton?
The point is that George W. Bush will remain president of the United States for nearly six more months, with all the powers involved, from making war to filling any new vacancy on the Supreme Court. Imagine the uproar among Democrats if one of the elderly liberal justices were to depart the bench and Bush, as then expected, were to nominate another strong conservative, assuring a dependable vote there for Antonin Scalia and Co.?
Tactically and practically, Speaker Pelosi had strong reasons for taking impeachment off the table when she picked up the House gavel in January 2007. But in doing so, she surrendered the Bush critics' last chance to bring an early end to another "long national nightmare" for the country. So they will just have to keep their fingers crossed until his second term is over.