By David Swanson
The leaders of today’s Congress have made clear through numerous lobby visits that unless we can produce polls that show congressional elections in November 2008 hang on the question of impeachment, nobody’s going to be impeached. Bush and Cheney can continue to ignore subpoenas, spy illegally, kidnap, torture, murder, and rewrite laws. They can launch another illegal war. They can rig the elections. They could barbeque babies on the White House lawn. It doesn’t matter. They will not be impeached.
Never mind the whole question of whether future presidents and vice presidents will be expected to obey any laws. It’s all about elections. The Democrats played this same game when Reagan was investigated in the Iran Contra scandal. The Democrats exercised restraint. In the end, they restrained themselves right into a defeat and created the Bush dynasty.
But things were handled differently in 1973. The Democrats made impeachment an issue. In fact, they made it THE issue. And the polls spoke loudly and clearly to congress members of both parties. Some Democrats, such as Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, started out adamantly opposed to impeachment. But they were pretty easily brought around. The Majority Leader was a Democrat who saw being a Democrat as something noticeably different from being a Republican. His name was Tip O’Neill, and his role in the impeachment of President Richard Nixon is highlighted in Jimmy Breslin’s “How the Good Guys Finally Won.” Here’s are key passages:
[O’Neill] came into this room in June with a new weapon, another mirror, a forty-page notebook put together by William Hamilton and Staff, pollsters, for William Welsh of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The topic sentence of the report said, “In April our study shows 43 per cent will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote for impeachment; 29 per cent would vote for a Congressman who would not be so inclined and 28 per cent feel the Congressman’s stand on impeachment would make no difference at this time.”
A further interpretation of the figures showed that “50 per cent of Republican voters will vote against a Congressman who is inclined not to vote for impeachment, while only 7 per cent of Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is inclined to vote against impeachment.”
… O’Neill went right up to Rostenkowski, because Rostenkowski is Mayor Daley’s play caller with the Illinois Democrats in Congress. A word from Danny is a word from the Hall. Deviation? Try Russia, not Cook County.
“Danny, ol pal, did you see this poll yet?” Tip O’Neill said.
“What poll?” Rostenkowski grumbled. He despises polls, but he had to ask about a poll because he is in politics and he is supposed to ask about a poll.
“It shows here that we could pick up as many as eighty seats the way it’s going now,” O’Neill said.
“And it shows here that there is no way for a Congressman in an urban district to win an election against anybody if he doesn’t vote for impeachment.”
“Where does it show that?”
“Here, look. Only seven percent of the Democrats will vote for a Congressman who is against impeachment. That means a Republican could beat a Democrat in a city if the Republican is for impeachment and the Democrat is against it. Can you imagine that? Say, that’s right. You represent a city, don’t you, Danny?”
O’Neill began to show the poll around. He told Thaddeus Dulski, who comes from upstate Erie County in New York, that the poll showed all rural votes being lost to a Congressman who is against impeachment. “But you don’t have any farms in your district,” he told Dulski. Dulski grumbled. He had a religious belief in the presidency. He also had a lot of farmers in his district. Out on the House floor, when O’Neill saw Angelo Roncallo, a Long Island Republican, he said, “Hey, Angie, old pal. Geez, but you really love it down here, don’t you? Angie, I want you to know something. My door is always open to you, as you know. And to show you how much I think of you, Angie, my door is still going to be open to you next year when you’re not going to be in Congress because of this impeachment.” O’Neill gave a great, fun laugh. Roncallo laughed with him but not as much.
Here’s the part where your history teacher says: Compare and Contrast.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it was all about the damn elections back then, just the same as it is now. But somehow the Democrats saw winning the elections as dependent on doing their jobs, and in fact they won the biggest victories in many years and have never done as well since.
The second thing you’ll notice is that just about everything else was completely different. Elections were losable for incumbents. The Democrats had started impeachment proceedings and made it an issue before the polls compelled them to. The media covered the story. The polling companies did the polls and published them. A labor union was pushing impeachment. And a Congressional leader was lobbying his colleagues in the direction of impeachment. Those six facts appear today to have come from some bizarre parallel universe.
Yet, if we are dedicated to saving this republic, we will endeavor to find a way to substitute for them. We will recruit pro-impeachment challengers to incumbents. We will use civil disobedience, media activism, and legal bribery to lobby Congress as hard as possible to take up impeachment. We will organize in swing districts and commission polls in them. We will report the results on progressive radio and the internet. And we will focus every tool we have on Nancy Pelosi. If we lose now, the good guys won’t have won much thirty years ago.