By David Swanson
Remarks prepared for February 18th pro-impeachment rally in colonial dress in Charlottesville, Va., home of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, and near the home of James Madison.
Impeachment has been part of American culture longer than baseball or apple pie. Only Mom has been around longer than impeachment.
The Scottish take pride in having invented impeachment. The British got it from them, and we got it from the British. Impeachment is in the US Constitution, and was further developed by Thomas Jefferson in the manual of procedural rules that he wrote for the Congress.
The Constitution mentions impeachment six times. It makes clear that impeachment is a power the legislature has over the executive and judicial branches of government. And this power is not an afterthought. It is central to the system of checks and balances that the Constitution created, and which the current administration is well on its way to destroying.
The Constitution opens with this preamble: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Then Article One speaks to the powers of the legislature. Article Two addresses the powers of the President. And section 4 of Article Two reads: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The Framers of the Constitution drafted that language to ensure that the people of the United States, through their representatives in the United States Congress, could hold a President accountable for an abuse of power and an abuse of the public trust.
James Madison, speaking at Virginia’s ratification convention said: “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”
James Iredell, who later became a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stated at North Carolina’s ratification convention: “The President must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them, – in this case, I ask whether, upon an impeachment for a misdemeanor upon such an account, the Senate would probably favor him.”
Thomas Jefferson was gravely concerned by the interpretation of the Constitution which holds that the Judiciary has the power to determine whether the other two branches are acting in accordance with the law. Jefferson pushed forward an alternative view, which holds that the legislative branch of government has that power over the judiciary and the executive, because the Constitution grants Congress the ability to impeach, and because Members of Congress are subject to rejection by the people through elections. And Jefferson became frustrated and disappointed when he saw justices engaging in what he considered abuses of power, but not being impeached and removed from office.
Can you imagine how he would have reacted to the ruling in Bush versus Gore?
But the abuse of power that the founders of this country feared most was the launching of aggressive wars. This was why they granted the Congress, and not the President the power to declare war. This was why Iredell believed it was the President’s responsibility to report all exchanges with foreign powers to the senate.
We are now in a situation in which our President has taken us into an aggressive war on the basis of lies. And he claims to have provided Congress with all the information he possessed, yet he will not turn over his daily briefings so that Congress can see for itself.
The evidence that Bush and Cheney have committed the most serious high crime and misdemeanor is overwhelming, and includes not just the eight Downing Street memos and the recent White House memo, but the recorded statements of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Feith and Trent Lott, the testimony of Paul O’Neil and Richard Clark and Bob Graham. For the full case, see www.afterdowningstreet.org .
But then, there’s more than an illegal war here. There’s illegal spying. There’s illegal leaking. There’s lying to Congress, the UN, and the American people. There’s torture and arrests without cause. There’s illegal propaganda at taxpayers’ expense. There’s illegal targeting of civilians and use of napalm, white phosphorous, and depleted uranium. There’s the neglect that led to the disasters of Katrina and 9-11. And there’s the disastrous energy policy that is promoting global warming.
If we cannot impeach now, we never can. If we do not impeach now, we are effectively removing impeachment from the Constitution.
Polls show that the American people are far out ahead of Congress. In every poll that has been done, a majority has favored impeachment and favored voting for pro-impeachment Congressional candidates.
Congressman John Conyers has introduced a bill to create an investigation, similar to the Watergate investigation, to make recommendations on impeachment. Twenty-seven members of Congress have signed onto that bill, House Resolution 635. None of them are from Virginia.
Our Congressman here in Charlottesville, Virgil Goode, whom we pay $158,000 a year, is devoting his energies to two projects. First, he wants to name English the official language of the nation. That should really ease the suffering of millions, right?
And then, because ours is the one industrialized nation on the planet that has no single-payer health care and wastes billions of dollars on insurance companies, Goode wants to pass a bill that would allow struggling families to donate their tax refunds to people who have no health coverage. There’s bold leadership for you.
But, to be fair, our best challenger to Goode this year, Al Weed, has not spoken out for impeachment yet either. Maybe he doesn’t realize that three quarters of Democrats are passionate about it, and so are a majority of Independents.
A large coalition of organizations recently announced plans to organize protests outside the homes of Congress Members to demand impeachment of Bush and Cheney and an end to the war. To get involved in that, you can sign up at www.Democrats.com/cd
Democrats.com is not the Democratic Party, but an activist group working to change the Democratic Party.
Virgil Goode lives in Rocky Mount, so it’s far for us in Charlottesville. But we might have to be the once to caravan down one weekend and do it. We can also protest at his office here. The question is not whether we think he can be brought around, it’s whether we can be brought around as citizens to do our proper duty and demand it.
Jefferson’s manual provides rules on impeachment and says that a state legislature can send impeachment charges to the US House. A number of states have begun working on that. Our state may be too busy abusing gay people.
But our city of Charlottesville can pass a resolution supporting impeachment. A growing list of cities and counties and political parties around the country have done so. There’s information at www.impeachpac.org
We can also pressure national organizations to take on impeachment. This is a debate right now within United for Peace and Justice, and it’s not even on the radar screen of MoveOn.org. If our own organizations can’t do it, how can we expect Congress to do so? Let’s get to work!