Monday, July 30, 2007

Better Late Than Never

Josh Marshall, Founder of the Talking Points Memo Empire, and one of the most eloquent progressive skeptics on impeachment, appears to finally be coming around.

"Without going into all the specifics, I think we are now moving into a situation where the White House, on various fronts, is openly ignoring the constitution, acting as though not just the law but the constitution itself, which is the fundamental law from which all the statutes gain their force and legitimacy, doesn't apply to them.

If that is allowed to continue, the defiance will congeal into precedent. And the whole structure of our system of government will be permanently changed.

Whether because of prudence and pragmatism or mere intellectual inertia, I still have the same opinion on the big question: impeachment. But I think we're moving on to dangerous ground right now, more so than some of us realize. And I'm less sure now under these circumstances that operating by rules of 'normal politics' is justifiable or acquits us of our duty to our country."

I've been a loyal TPM fan since 2001, when it was a one-man, bare-bones blog, just a few months old. TPM Cafe, Election Central, Horse's Mouth, Muckraker, TPMTv and the staff that keep TPM at the top of the blogging game were not even gleams in Josh's eye.

Yeah, he's always been a little too fond of the DLC line for my taste, but I was thrilled by the reporter's sensibility he brought to his posts - a sensibility now grown into the major-story-breaking hard news of TPMMuckraker.

And for all his DLC apologia, liberals and progressives owe Josh Marshall a permanent debt of gratitude for putting a stop, virtually single-handedly, to The Usurper's 2005 attempt to destroy Social Security.

I thought Josh was wrong when he expressed doubts about the wisdom of impeaching Bush and Cheney, but I respected his logic.

I respect him even more for his ability to consider changing his mind based on new evidence and circumstances.

Nevertheless, I think he's missing one of the strongest arguments in favor of impeachment: Nixon.

Josh is 38, which means he was in kindergarten during Watergate. I was only in high school, but I remember the extreme shock felt by people of all political persuasions when the full extent of Nixon's crimes was laid bare.

I remember the heart-swelling pride in the strength of our political system when Congressional Republicans and Democrats banded together to expose those crimes and demand the president be held accountable.

I remember my father - a third-generation Republican - and my mother, a sixth-generation Democrat - both emphasizing to me that the true lesson of Watergate was that the U.S. Constitution was stronger than any politican, stronger than any president, stronger than any crime perpetrated against it.

And I remember how all that shock, all that pride, all that faith in the Constitution was swept away by Gerald Ford's pardon.

Nixon skated. The man shat on the Constitution, came within a whisker of establishing a police state that put the East German Stasi to shame, and he skated.

The precedent for The Usurper's treason was established.

Reagan and Bush I used it to escape punishment for Iran-Contra (Presidents are above the law.) And the republican freakazoids of the '90s turned it inside-out to impeach Clinton for telling a lie told by thousands of married people every single day (Impeachment isn't a serious Constitutional mechanism; it's a political tool.)

If Nixon had been impeached, or indicted and convicted for his crimes after his resignation, it would have been much harder for Reagan and Bush I to resist Congressional investigation through secrecy and perjury. It would have been much harder for '90s republicans to justify using the Constitutional majesty of impeachment for a fib about sex.

And it would have been damn-near impossible for George W. Bush and Richard Cheney to continue to trample the Constitution for more than five years after a pre-Nixon Congress would have kicked their asses into the dustbin of history.

If Congress doesn't impeach Bush and Cheney - or given the time constraints, indict and convict them after they leave office - it won't matter who's elected president in 2008. It won't matter if Democrats take the Senate and House with 80-percent majorities. It won't matter if the republican party is shut out of every national, state and local election for the next three generations.

If Bush and Cheney skate, an even more dangerous precedent than Nixon's will be set in stone:

The president is King; Congress is a debating club; the judiciary is a joke; the Constitution is as dead as Ozymandias, and The American Experiment is a historical fluke that failed.