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So, what do we make of the controversy surrounding the actions taken at the office of Congressman Conyers when protesters demonstrated against his alleged failure to move impeachment proceedings against President Bush? Did it make sense strategically? Was Conyers the right target? Where did race come into this, if anywhere?
The actions taken by Cindy Sheehan and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood aimed to bring attention to the matter of accountability. In that sense, they were morally correct. They protested the failure of the Democratic leadership to hold this lawless administration accountable, with the threat of impeachment being the preferred method of addressing accountability. There is little question but that most of the world views the Bush administration as composed of criminals, and it is equally clear that as a result, both the US government and the people of the USA are viewed with a jaundiced eye by much of the globe, because the people of the USA permitted the re-election of the Bush group.
That being said, does impeachment make sense strategically? This is where I have differences with my friend, the Rev. Yearwood and others. Yes, emotionally, I would love to see the Bush/Cheney team ousted through impeachment proceedings, but I continue to feel that more immediately, we must focus our attention on strengthening the movement against the Iraq war/occupation, as well as building mass and activist sentiment in favor of major structural reforms, such as single-payer healthcare. To that extent I think the impeachment movement is a well-intentioned diversion.
Continued at Impeachment Strategy Debate Part3
I like Bill Fletcher, having enjoyed his insights over cafeteria lunch with him one day at an SEIU sponsored labor event at California’s Sonoma State University many years back. However, I cannot agree with his defense of John Conyers’ refusal to put impeachment on the table. Fletcher asks “does impeachment make sense strategically?” While Fletcher says “No,” I answer this question with a resounding “Yes! How could anyone doubt it?” Rather than a diversion, impeachment is the necessary core to any strategy to getting us out of Iraq.
The first point that Fletcher makes is the old saw about the votes not being there. I really fail to see why good folks like Fletcher even think this is a credible point. Conyers puts the reparations bill on the table every year even though it hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in a hot hell to be considered, yet he continues to do it and for good reason. There is no rational argument why reparations should continue to be put forward without votes but impeachment, because it doesn’t have the votes, should not.
Fletcher’s second point, that we need to concentrate on ending the war and occupation of Iraq, also is in favor of impeachment. The war is illegal. The Democrats are refusing to face this question head on. That is why the Democrats have refused to vote to defund the war and instead have continued to vote to pay for the war. We must face the truth that the Democrats won’t lead, they have to be pushed. Sam Irvin didn’t lead us to impeachment of Nixon either. He was pushed by the people and the polls. Nothing the Democrats are planning has any effect on the President’s war plans. Bush has shown that he is willing to use the patriotism card against the Democrats as long as he is in office. Impeachment is the only tool that will provide the Democrats with the political cover against Bush’s use of the patriotism card. Impeachment is the stake in the heart of this vampire president. The Democrats are afraid to use it, so they have to be pushed.
Fletcher argues that the momentum building toward the September 21st Iraqi Moratorium is critical and must be supported. However, if the 9/21 Iraqi Moratorium does not admit that the war is illegal, and instead only makes the claim that it is unwinnable, then I want no part of such a lying deceitful protest. Only impeachment acknowledges that the war is illegal and that Bush got us there by his high crimes and misdemeanors, not by mere mistakes in judgement about how to do successful “regime change” and “nation building” after toppling Saddam
The question “should Conyers generally be considered an ally?” is a red herring as it applies to the argument of impeachment. Obviously, Conyers is an ally on some issues, but he is not now an ally on the impeachment issue. Nobody on the left is treating Conyers as “an enemy.” That is a straw-man argument. Criticizing Conyers for refusing to put impeachment forward is not calling him an enemy. Saying Conyers shows great courage by putting the reparations bill forward does not excuse his apparent cowardice at refusing to put the impeachment bill forward. In fact his courage in support of reparations puts into bright relief the credibility issues around his refusal to do impeachment.
The question of betrayal comes up only because of Conyers’ previous behavior. When he was in the minority party on the committee he could talk tough on impeachment. It was by his own previous tough talk that people got their hopes up that when the Democrats became the majority party and this tough guy actually became the chair of the committee that impeachment could go forward. It is Conyers’ own 180 degree turn on impeachment that is in fact a betrayal of his previous stance and of those in whom his previous rhetoric had encouraged and led on.
The real question is what is causing Conyers’ to appear cowardly when we know he isn’t a coward by character? The only answer to this is that he is being ordered by the Democratic leadership, specifically by Nancy Pelosi, to keep impeachment off the table, and he doesn’t have the courage to oppose Pelosi. Why? Because she can take away his committee chairmanship. Therefore Conyers just can’t say openly, “Gee folks, I’d like to do impeachment, but you know, the Boss Lady says I can’t.” I've kept quite under such conditions and I know it feels awful.
This is the hard strategy decision that Conyers is facing. Whether to be honest about his convictions or face the wrath of Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership. Unfortunately Conyers has no easy way out. His friends like Bill Fletcher are doing the best they can to keep up appearances and provide the continuing cover for Conyers to hide the real reason that Conyers can’t act. But the inconsistencies of their defense only points to the real reason that is fundamentally irrational: Conyers can't do it for no reason of his own, but because he is told not to do it.
Conyers’ refusal to act in impeachment highlights the fundamental divide on the left: what is the role of the left in the Democratic Party? The companion question is whether the Democrats are truly a left party or really just the sometimes left leaning center party. The Democratic Party survives as an on-again off-again majority because of one reason alone: it is part of the two-party dictatorship of American politics. As long as the two-party dictatorship remains in place, the corporate centrist’s in control of the Democratic Party know that those on the left have no where else to go for any effective political impact. Therefore when they think it is not going to create any real structural change, the Democratic leadership can allow itself to sound left. There is no better example of this than Hillary Clinton. But when the chips are down, whether it is defunding the war or impeachment, the Democratic leadership refuses to support the real left positions.
The anti-war mobilization has become the proffered distraction to impeachment. “Just support the mobilization and forget impeachment” we are told. But those of us on the left who happen to believe that the Constitution is actually the bedrock of our liberties, also happen to think that the Democratic Party leadership doesn’t really give a damn about the Constitution any more than Bush does. The Democratic leadership’s refusal to put impeachment on the table against the worst President any of us have every seen in our lifetimes for his crimes and unconstitutional conduct speaks of power not truth. Conyers failure to speak truth to power against his own leadership is the real beef against Conyers and is the betrayal of the left.
With the chips going down on impeachment, Conyers is choosing to obey the orders of the centrist Pelosi, rather than to represent the left within the Democratic Party. Though Conyers’ is definitely not an enemy of the left, in Fletchers’ terminology Conyers' kowtowing to Pelosi makes him only “an ally of the moment” on left issues, and thus in this moment on this issue, he is no ally of the left at all. He has beome the centrist gatekeeper keeping the left left out. Impeachment is not only the best strategy to end the war in Iraq, it is the best strategy to expose the corporate powers in control of the Democratic Party who marginalize the left when it counts.
Which raises another important question: why has impeachment been marginalized as an issue of the left? There are plenty of honest conservatives with integrity who support impeachment, because they also believe that the Constitution should be used to protect the nation from a lying cheating deceiving criminal President. Anyone who argues that we should let such a president get a free pass on impeachment merely because of strategy considerations is basically at heart neither a supporter of the rule of law nor of democracy which depends upon it. The USA does not stand a chance of becoming the nation we know in our hearts that it is intended to be until impeachment is liberally exercised to remove president after president, if need be, who continues to do awful, unhumanitarian, and illegal acts in the name of the people and the Constitution.