Joel Wendland Means Well, Gets It Dangerously Wrong

By David Swanson

Joel Wendland has written an article opposing impeachment. His claims, and all claims of impeachment opponents, have long since been answered here. But here’s some redundancy:

Wendland objects to calling Conyers “no Martin Luther King”. Most of us are no Martin Luther King, but the point of that comment from Ray McGovern was that Conyers is backing away from a controversial and urgent life-or-death demand for justice. He is backing away in a manner that Dr. King almost certainly would not have. Wendland opposes attempting impeachment because it is “not likely to pass in the House”. That’s nonsense. The Democrats could vote as a block and pass it, and some Republicans might join them. Whether it would pass the Senate is harder to predict but far from impossible, and an impeachment with an acquittal would be far better than no accountability whatsoever. It would send a signal to future administrations that breaking the law at least MIGHT be punished.

Wendland also claims impeachment would help Republicans. How? What’s the evidence? Republicans are ALREADY edging away from Cheney and Bush. You think impeaching Cheney would help them? Did trying to impeach Nixon help them? Or wasn’t it rather the refusal to pursue Reagan that helped them?

Wendland objects that Conyers represents Detroit. But Detroit City council unanimously passed a resolution demanding that Cheney and Bush be impeached and removed from office. The resolution was introduced by Conyers’ own wife. I realize that doesn’t qualify her to speak on this issue, so let me hasten to add: she’s black. In fact African Americans support impeachment and oppose the occupation of Iraq in far greater numbers than whites. Rev. Lennox Yearwood’s Hip Hop Caucus is leading the impeachment movement. Black radio produces the most consistent news on impeachment and advocacy for it. The Black Agenda Report and the Black Commentator generate the most strongly worded impeachment editorials. And Maxine Waters is a leading voice on Capitol Hill. She and Keith Ellison and Hank Johnson are the three members of the House Judiciary Committee pushing for impeachment. They’re all black.

Wendland admits that 54% of Americans want Cheney impeached, but he claims that’s a statistical tie. Had he looked more closely, he would have noticed that only 40% of Americans oppose impeaching Cheney. The gap of 14% is far outside the margin of error. And the same poll found that 76% of Democrats (read: Detroiters) favor impeachment. Wendland also claims that even among the 54% of Americans who want Congress to start impeaching Cheney, they don’t all “favor undertaking a politically futile effort that would likely hurt other more significant aims such as ending the war and advancing a progressive agenda in Congress now and after the Bush administration leaves office.” Well, I certainly wouldn’t favor such a thing, and if I believed impeachment meant such a thing, and had I been surveyed, I would have answered No. The poll did not ask whether Cheney had committed impeachable offenses. It asked whether Congress should begin impeaching him. Wendland thinks people would have answered differently had he gotten to talk to them first and explain things, but he has no way to prove that, and I am just as convinced that he’s wrong.

Impeachment helped end the Vietnam War. The past 7 months have proved that avoiding impeachment leaves us incapable of ending the Occupation of Iraq. We’ve also found that no progressive agenda is going to get through the Senate or across Bush’s desk. In fact, Wendland goes on himself to note the claim that “Bush will veto any bill or policy proposal we approve of,” and fail to address it in any way. Wendland also writes:

“Punishment of the Bush administration for lying about the war and for undermining our civil liberties is something we should support. But our constitutional system was arranged so as to ensure it would only very rarely happen in the halls of Congress. Punishment could be more effectively leveled against Bush’s party in the 2008 elections.”

But this is creative rewriting of the US Constitution, which says not one word about impeachment being rare. A number of the authors of the Constitution are on record predicting it would be needed frequently. In fact, the Constitution, the same document that lays out the schedule of elections, devotes more attention to impeachment, the tool for holding elected officials to the rule of law in between elections.

Then comes the real meat of Wendland’s reaction:

“I won’t dwell on the fact that Rep. Conyers’ long career and personal contributions to the cause of peace, social justice, and civil rights far outstrips those of the relative newcomers to the movement who now within the last few months have tried to make impeachment the political litmus test of true progressiveness. For some, impeachment has become the sole obsession and the only means of attaining justice or moving forward on any political front. Rep. Conyers was in the thick of the peace and civil rights movements before many of us were even born.”

But it is not citizens who have created this litmus test. It is Bush and Cheney. They’ve eliminated FOIA, subpoenas, court convictions following special prosecutions, and contempt citations, not to mention any possibility of honest elections. They have left Congress only one tool. If they are permitted to rewrite laws with signing statements, violate laws at will, kidnap, torture, murder, and lie, and Congress does not act, the fate of this nation is bleak, as will be Democratic electoral prospects.

Wendland then claims that “pundits on the right are begging for impeachment to become the main and only topic of congressional debate over the next year or so.” The RNC put out that statement a year and a half ago, in reference to Bush, as a bluff. And it worked. Within a week, Pelosi ordered the Democrats off impeachment. But have you seen the newspapers flooded with right wing pleas to impeach Cheney in recent months? I’ve only heard that from such right-wingers as Bruce Fein and Larry Wilkerson, but they actually want Cheney impeached for the good of the nation and the world.

And, when, except in scared Democratic fantasies, has an impeachment proceeding ever taken a year? Clinton took 2 months. Nixon took 3 months. Cheney, given the evidence already before us, could take one day. We’ve wasted 7 months avoiding it. Wendland’s theory has already been tested and failed. Congress has accomplished virtually nothing for 7 months. A slight partial correction to a plummeting minimum wage, at the cost of funding months of war and occupation, does not begin to compare with what Congress accomplished while impeaching Nixon. Wendland’s prediction that impeachment would benefit the Republicans has no known basis in history and appears to be based only in RNC talking points.

None of this takes away from my respect for John Conyers or Joel Wendland’s past work. But it is for Conyers’ own good that people have begun advising him that failing to impeach will wreck his legacy.

“What,” Wendland asks, “are some alternatives to demanding impeachment now? First, lay off Rep. Conyers. Divisive attacks on Democratic leaders hopefully won’t convince them to change their minds.” Hopefully it won’t? What outcome are you hoping for, Joel? We have 76% of Democrats wanting Cheney impeached. In a democracy, our representatives would consider opposing that mandate to be the “divisive” position. Wendland is making the mistake of assuming that in a democracy the people should fall in line and represent the views of their “representatives” in order to avoid division. This is backwards and highly dangerous.

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