July 12, 2007

It's Up to Us Now

Dave Lindorff tells several amusing and gratifying anecdotes about the approval with which people greeted his "Impeach Bush and Cheney" T-shirt on a recent airplane trip (the pilot, flight attendant and TSA inspectors all liked it, a lot), and goes on to write:
It seems clear to me: Americans have had it with the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, this shift is not yet clear to the power elite.


On the political front, the Democratic leadership in Congress still hasn't budged on impeachment. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, cosseted in her wood-paneled Speaker's suite, a continent away from her angry constituents, still insists that impeachment is "a waste of time," while Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, refuses to even discuss the Cheney impeachment bill that's been sitting on his desk for months awaiting action.

Despite this shameful silence and obstructionism, though, my experience with the T-shirt tells me that the impeachment movement is sweeping the country. Cindy Sheehan, the pioneer peace and impeachment activist, has aborted her brief retirement and is threatening to run against Pelosi in the Speaker's home district in San Francisco if she doesn't stop the war funding and let impeachment proceed in the House.

In the meantime, the circulation of the debased newspapers of the nation, and the viewership of the debased network news programs, continue to plummet, as Americans increasingly recognize that they are not doing their job of informing the public.

It seems clear to me that a tectonic shift has finally occurred in the nation's political mood. It wasn't the November election, though. It has been the continued war and occupation of Iraq, and the craven inaction of the Democratic leadership in Congress.

Now, finally, ordinary people are getting fed up. Iraq vets are acting up and joining Iraq Veterans Against the War. Active duty soldiers like Erin Watada and Rev. Lennox Yearwood are standing up. What does this all mean?

Bush and Cheney can be driven from office!

This criminal, bloody war in Iraq can be ended!
Unfortunately, while Bush and Cheney can be driven from office and the ongoing crime in Iraq can be ended, neither of those things will happen as long as the governing class remains absolute in its determination to protect itself and its prerogatives.

The Democrats could defund the Iraq occupation -- remember the filibuster -- but they won't. The plan always was and remains to stay in Iraq for the long haul. American world hegemony and global interventionism is the policy, and that policy requires bases around the world -- and especially in the Middle East, which has resources over which the U.S. government will never give up control. And unless genuinely massive public protest compels them to act otherwise, the Democrats will never initiate impeachment proceedings against the Bush administration. To do so would upset the balance by which the nominally "opposed" parties continue the charade that enables the elites to perpetuate their rule.

I think the Clinton impeachment must be regarded historically as a one-off, a unique occurrence that has almost no further application and meaning. It resulted from a combination of events and influences that are highly unlikely to be repeated; in largest part, the impeachment was made possible because of the hubris of a relatively small group of determined and extraordinarily manipulative political operatives (aided by the typically lazy and unintelligent national press), welded to the remarkable immaturity of the American public whenever the subject turns to sex, although it should be noted that the general public demonstrated considerably greater mental acumen on that score than did the media or the political class. That particular amalgam all but banished coherent thought from the dominant national conversation for several years.

But to impeach Bush and Cheney for actual constitutional crimes...well, that's an entirely different matter. That would be an occurrence of great moment: it would serve notice that Congress had drawn certain lines and had solemnly announced that certain actions are impermissible to government officials. That would constrain the governing class in its future behavior. Since the Democrats may control all the levers of power after the 2008 election, they themselves might be so constrained as a consequence. That would never do. As I have analyzed in some detail, it must always be remembered that the ruling elites are not like you and me, which is to say they are utterly unlike 99.9% of the Americans they claim to represent. They say they are devoted to fulfilling the wishes of "the people," but that is only the cover used to delude Americans into ceding them more and more power, so that the ruling elites may satisfy those special interests of greatest concern to them (and whose support makes their election possible in the first instance) and continue their own lives of immense privilege and comfort. The ruling elites live in a world entirely unlike ours, and their motivations bear no resemblance to the concerns that dominate the lives of most of us. As the earlier essay discussed, they could not care less about "the people" for the most part. They will only offer faint concessions to "the people's will" when expressions of that will become so overwhelming that the elites' hold on power is thought to be threatened.

So, barring further extraordinary events, I think Pelosi will be successful in her efforts to keep impeachment "off the table." What a pathetic comment on the state of American politics that is: the one constitutionally provided remedy that is unquestionably required, and for which a massive amount of evidence is already in the public record, is "off the table" -- while initiating yet another criminal war of aggression, perhaps even using nuclear weapons, remains "on the table." The moral inversion of our age is complete.

In this setting, Paul Craig Roberts offers an intriguing idea, but one which I also view as unworkable. After noting that "[t]he American political system has failed," Roberts writes:
Bush's and Cheney's lies and assaults on the US Constitution and American civil liberty, their plans to attack Iran, and the war crimes for which they are responsible provide an open and shut case for their impeachments. The latest polls show that 54% of Americans support impeachment of Vice President Cheney, with only 40% opposed. Bush hangs on by a hair with 45% favoring his impeachment and 46% opposed. But Democrats, like Republicans, have failed the electorate and refuse to do their duty. Congress is a creature of special interests and no longer represents the American people.

Obviously, some new method is needed for removing incompetent or dictatorial presidents and vice presidents.

Constitutional reform might be next to impossible, but before dismissing the possibility consider that according to British news reports, Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, intends a wide-ranging program of constitutional reform, including giving up the prime minister's power to declare war.

The London Telegraph says: "The measures are intended to restore trust in politics after the by-passing of Parliament and the Cabinet, as well as the culture of spin and media manipulation, that characterized the Blair decade."

If America is to remain a democracy, the people need refurbished powers to hold "government of the people, by the people, for the people" accountable. One way of doing this would be a vote of confidence by the people. The question can be put to a national referendum: "Shall the President remain in office?" "Shall the Vice President remain in office?"

The state of Florida does this for judges, including Florida's Supreme Court, so there is precedent for allowing the people to decide whether officials may remain in office.

As the American people can no longer rely on elected officials to respond to public opinion, the people must do what they can to gather power back into their hands before they become the subjects of tyrants.
As I say, I find this somewhat intriguing -- but I also think Roberts' contemplation of this idea is born of desperation. Since the constitutionally provided remedy of impeachment will almost certainly not be exercised, Roberts understandably searches for another means of holding government officials accountable, particularly in the present dire circumstances.

As a practical matter, I don't see how a national referendum of this kind could be put in place in the next 18 months; in fact, it couldn't be. But leaving that aside and assuming a national referendum could be quickly actualized, would that even be a good idea? I am convinced it would not be. Consider just the most obvious objections. First, this would make unchecked majority rule dispositive on urgent national questions, including the continued tenure of primary government officlals. Please keep in mind that unchecked majority rule is not at all what the Constitution originally envisioned, and for very good reason. Unconstrained majority rule is one of the surest routes to the destruction of individual liberty and freedom.

Second, it is not at all difficult to imagine that the national referendum process would quickly be captured by those with enormous wealth and power to expend on such matters. Our national politics would quickly deteriorate into the clash of possibly numerous warring factions -- with national leaders being regularly thrown out of office, for perhaps no valid reason at all or for an entirely false reason. This appears to me to be an almost certain way of destroying the last vestiges of national stability and turning our politics into an officially farcical free-for-all (the farce has only unofficial status at the moment), until those politics collapse altogether, perhaps with attendant violence.

But this is a measure of how far we've traveled: the political class refuses to surrender its own prerogatives of power and privilege, and the rest of us are left to wonder if there is anyone at all in government, save for a handful of exceptions, who genuinely gives a damn about what is right. And not even what is right: is there anyone in government who will oppose a national course which embraces genocide and unending wars of aggression, and which embodies the behavior of nothing so much as a homicidal maniac? Again, with only two or three exceptions, no one in Washington will condemn our actions for what they are -- the actions of a murderous lunatic, for whom human life has no meaning whatsoever.

And so decent people desperately seek for solutions, however unlikely and however unworkable they may be. Aside from organizing public protest on a huge, unrelenting scale, including an uncompromising demand for impeachment proceedings to begin immediately and for the complete rejection of any attack on Iran in the present and foreseeable circumstances, I see no other possibilities at present.

Left to their own devices, the political class in Washington will do nothing to stop the gathering madness, and they will act only to spread the insanity further and make it significantly worse. It's up to us now, as it has been for some time.

P.S. In reflecting further on these matters, I realized I should briefly clarify two points. First, I would not want to leave the impression that I admired Clinton's presidency in any measurable degree, which I did not. True, he was not as unrelievedly awful as the current Bush, but that is faint praise indeed. The same could be said of almost every President, save two or three. Furthermore, I think a strong case could be made for having impeached Clinton -- but the grounds for impeachment would have been very different, beginning with the abomination at Waco and including the "humanitarian" interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Of course, those were precisely the grounds that were excluded from consideration, for the very reason that both political parties are determined to preserve the exercise of state power in those particular forms. As a result, Clinton was impeached for reasons that were comparatively trivial when set against his profound abuses of power.

Second, I am an admirer of Paul Craig Roberts' writing, and I agree with him much more often than not. Nevertheless, I consider this idea of national referenda to present several significant theoretical and practical problems. In an excerpt from Robert Higgs here, Higgs mentions the Ludlow Resolution, which was considered by Congress in the late 1930s. It "would have amended the Constitution to require approval in a national referendum before Congress could declare war, unless U.S. territory had been invaded." Needless to say, Franklin Roosevelt "vigorously opposed" it, and the resolution was defeated.

I would almost always support any mechanism that might throw a monkey-wrench into the machinations of our federal overlords, and I find a national war referendum to be an especially admirable concept. How novel it would be for the people who might actually die in a war to decide whether it should be fought. But I wonder how effective such a referendum might be in today's culture, given the relentless dumbing down of Americans generally and the incessant propaganda that sweeps over us hourly. If the information here is accurate, a majority of Americans would probably have approved the Iraq invasion in early 2003 -- just as I think a majority of Americans might well approve an attack on Iran, in light of the repeated demonization of that country by our government and media. The latter point would be doubly true in the event of a Gulf of Tonkin-style incident, an occurrence far from unimaginable in the current circumstances.

But a national referendum on a subject such as going to war is enormously different from "votes of confidence" about particular national leaders. For the reasons indicated above, I think it very likely that votes of confidence would quickly be manipulated and used by the worst kind of political con men (and women) and opportunists. I continue to think that national votes of confidence of this kind would represent an unwise precedent, one easily corrupted and possibly dangerously destabilizing.