With only modified restraint, the Congressional leaders of the Democratic party are moving toward formation of an unspoken consensus: the impeachment of George W. Bush for allegedly lying to get us into the Iraq war. This talk is almost unprecedented in wartime. When the Civil War was not going well, some Washington Democrats spoke guardedly about impeaching Abraham Lincoln but impeachment talk is much more unrestrained now, the Democratic version of gotcha to get even for the impeachment of Bill Clinton for lying about a sexual matter under oath.
Looking at impeachment from the anti-Lincoln standpoint, they had a good case. First, the states had a right to secede: New York, Rhode Island and Virginia has posited their right to do so at the Constitutions ratification and nobody objected. The rule is: whats good for one statein this case, threeshould be good for the remainder.
Indeed, the case for secession was air-tight. Proponents argued the right of secession could be found in Article X of the Constitution as well as the original declaration of New York, Rhode Island and Virginia. Indeed, Lincoln himself said on the floor of the House in 1848: Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a valuable, a most sacred righta right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as they inhabit.
Moreover, none other than John Quincy Adams, former president and later U.S. Congressman, a staunch foe of slavery, said on the 50th anniversary of the Constitution that since the binding of the states is not in the right but in the heart and that if there is a rupture, far better will it be for the people of the disunited states to part in friendship from each other than to be held together by constraint. That was a very impressive first reason for secession touted by the forces of disunion.
The second reason that could very well be used for impeachment was that Lincoln initiated a preemptive war by fortifying Fort Sumter, then proclaiming a rebellion and calling on 75,000 militiamen to oppose the rebel states. It actively spurred disunion, provoking the secession of four Southern states: Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas. All this was done without a declaration of war which Lincoln didnt get until Congress convened on July 4,1861. The case against Lincoln was that he moved unilaterally to quash a rebellion that was on its face constitutional. This rash unconstitutional act of Lincoln, they charged, worsened the situation. All told eleven states seceded: in addition to the above, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Use of force against these states was a rash and entirely unconstitutional act which was opposed to historic U.S. principles. Nor were those opposed to Lincoln exclusively southerners. The Chicago Times, a Democratic newspaper, opposed him strongly.
The third reason was Lincolns unconstitutional abrogation of civil liberties. He undertook extraordinary measures such as suspending the writ of habeas corpus, permitting military arrest and court-martial of civilian anti-war activists and spent war funds prior to congressional authorization. His critics had a right to wonder if he wasnt moving to install a military dictatorship in the country. Believe it or not, Lincoln supported in 1861a proposed constitutional amendment that would state that the federal government had no authorityeverto interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. And here he was, open to criticism. Several of Lincolns opponents considered impeachment but as the chaos of the war increased, they feared to act; then as things looked up, they were dissuaded from acting. To the Democrats credit, they didnt worsen the constitutional crisis, respected that the nation was at war and the country weathered the storm.
When I was a boy, certain Republicans talked first guardedly, then openly, about impeaching Franklin D. Roosevelt for working covertly with Winston Churchill to get us into war. When Pearl Harbor occurred, there was a muffled outcry but partisan Republicans listened to Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) and put off an investigation of how we were attacked (unlike the investigation of 9/11 by a bipartisan commission and the ongoing congressional probe of missteps in intelligence). Gov. Thomas E. Dewey agreed not to press the case when he ran against Roosevelt in 1944. After the war with Roosevelt dead, there was a congressional investigation but it amounted to very little. Republicans dropped the issue. Paradoxically, bitterness came from former FDR ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy who became alienated from FDR because of the death in combat of his son Joe.
Now there appears to be no restraint on the Democrats. The action by the Senates Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) with the active support of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) along with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that there should be what they call a re-opening of the intelligence probe to find out if Bush manipulated the intelligence is unprecedented in our history. Under Lincoln and Roosevelt, the threat of impeachment was cloaked. This time it is nearing full enunciation. Indeed, none other than Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist (and supporter of Bush) said it openly. Interestingly, the best defense of Bush is published by Commentary magazines editor at large Norman Podhoretz for the December issue (which is on the web). But the leftist conspiratorialists will say yes, Commentary is published by the American Jewish Committee and is proof that our foreign policy is being arranged for the benefit of Israel. I havent heard that said since the old days of the `40s when Commentary was attacked by the vitriolic right.
Thats how bad its become. Bush has waited too long to defend himself. There is a paucity of voices in his behalf in Congress. I have not seen circumstances this bad during wartime in my life.