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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 29, 2007

 
The 34 Senator Gambit

by digby

The question of "how to extricate ourselves in a way that minimizes the damage to the United States, its allies and Iraq" rages on in the village. And naturally, the horrible partisans of both sides are equally to blame. David Ignatius sagely advises:

A good start would be for Washington partisans to take deep breaths and lower the volume, so that the process of talking and fighting that must accompany a gradual U.S. withdrawal can work."


What a good idea. Perhaps this is one of those things the president could take the lead on, seeing as he's the only person who ostensibly leads the entire nation and all. But has anyone seen even the slightest sign that he is willing to talk about any kind of withdrawal from Iraq, gradual or otherwise? The last I heard he'd decided to double down and escalate the war. Call me crazy but I just get the feeling that the Republicans might not be operating in good faith. But then that's because they never are.

The Republicans have been scorched earth, take-no-prisoners radicals for the last two decades and under Bush they took it to unheard of levels. Even today, they are sticking with their leader come hell or high water, the only exception being his half hearted effort to legalize some low wage immigrant labor for his corporate masters, and even that was a suicidal political rush over a cliff, alienating voters who they are desperately going to need in the coming years.

When it comes to "partisanship" the Republicans have turned it into a fetish --- a risky, self destructive form of political autoerotic asphyxiation in which they are willing to risk killing themselves for the sake of the ultimate thrill. It's one of the reasons we are having such a hard time wrapping our minds around how to deal with these people. They are not behaving like decent national leaders, we know that; but they are also not behaving like normal craven politicians.

As Matt Yglesias wrote here:

Much of the crisis in Washington today boils down precisely to the congressional GOP's unwillingness not so much to "do the right thing" but unwillingness to even be petty and power-hungry; their decision to see their job as backstopping the president come what may rather than to jealously horde[sic] the powers of their own offices.


This is why our institutions are failing. The founders never counted on politicians "doing the right thing." Profiles in courage are always in short supply and no government can depend upon good intentions. But they did assume that they would, at least, want to preserve their own careers and constitutional prerogatives. The modern Republicans are so committed to their party that they will follow their 28% president over the cliff, and that is a mindset we haven't seen since the civil war.

GOP power politics have exposed some weaknesses in our constitutional framework: as long as there are 34 Senators willing to back the president no matter what, short of a coup, he can pretty much do anything he wants until the next election. That's always been true, but nobody ever wanted to push it before. Cooler heads have generally known that balance of powers issues should be left somewhat vague and subject to political compromise so you don't get a permanent imbalance you later regret. (The independent counsel law was arguably one of those unanticipated consequences.)

The founders didn't anticipate permanent parties and they were shortsighted not to. This president has never for a moment represented the entire country. He is president of the Republican party and from the beginning his mandate has been to serve those who brought him into office not the nation as a whole. (They call it "their due.") The vast majority of elected Republicans who follow him are right wing radicals who are so homogeneous and so authoritarian that they are completely unresponsive to the normal constitutional inducements to share power.

People wonder why they would give so much power to the president since a Democrat could hold the office someday. I think they know the Democratic party is just not as temperamentally amenable to authoritarianism. They know that Democrats will, in the end, act out of their own self interest rather than out of partisanship since they don't have the kind of discipline or homogeneous constituency the Republicans have. (Bill Clinton was saved by the people, not the Democratic congress who were prepared to jump ship at the first sign of a decay in public support. Luckily for him, the more the Republicans pushed the more the public stood behind him.) These Republicans are completely unresponsive to anything but party loyalty and their hardcore base.

Finally, ongoing GOP influence in the media and the elite establishment means they can manipulate the narratives, which after this reign of terror, if the Dems win, will undoubtedly be a passionate reverence for absolute government transparency and accountability, federalism, strict division of power and the letter of the constitution. And they count on the public forgetting all about their crimes by the time they run on the "honor and integrity" ticket a couple of years from now.

So, regardless of whether we initiate impeachment proceedings against all or some of these criminals we really do have to keep in mind that it is also extremely important that we win elections. These modern radical Republicans have discovered the key to a temporary monarchy and they have broken down all the walls of tradition and practice that used to prevent presidents from using it. Until we discredit their movement to such a degree that these Mao-style revolutionaries are voted out of office and replaced by regular Americans we are going to be dealing with this phenomenon.

This argument has no bearing, by the way, on the reservations I previously aired regarding impeachment. Many people jumped to the conclusion that I was a cowardly partisan hack who was only worried about my spineless leaders keeping power, but I was actually considering whether a "not guilty" verdict in the Senate might embed the president's unitary executive theory into our system rather than outlaw it. I still have concerns about that, but it is separate from the need to win elections. (I frankly don't think impeachment would necessarily hurt the Democrats' chances in 2008, so it isn't relevant to my point anyway.)

My point is that in a democracy these issues are ultimately and always questions for the people. If we don't want an imperial president, we are going to have to make sure that when they do this stuff they lose their power, not at the hands of politicians of the opposing party but at our hands, the citizens of this country.

We can impeach and maybe we will. And maybe we'll remove Bush and Cheney and Gonzales and send a powerful message about the usurpation of the constitution. But no matter what, this is ultimately something the people have to rectify at the ballot box. All constitutional power derives from us. We are the ones who have to make a stand, not just 67 men and women in the Senate. We must vote them out. And we must keep them out until this radical conservative movement is so discredited that they can never again take the radical step of ruling this nation with one president and 34 obedient senators as if they were ordained by God instead of the people of this nation.

I would hope that everyone can see that presidential impeachment isn't an end in itself. It's a very serious intervention by the congress into the heart of our democratic system --- it seeks to remove a duly elected president and it simply must be ratified by the people or we will have weakened the constitution even more by doing it. It is elections that are the foundation of democracy and what gives real legitimacy to the government. Surely if we believe it is the Democratic congress' duty to impeach, we must also believe it is our duty to ensure that these people are repudiated by the citizens in no uncertain terms.

No matter what happens in the congress over the next year, I hope that everyone recognizes that the single most important thing that has to happen is that we kick the Republican party so far out of power they have to have a passport to get back in.



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