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About The North Coast times-eagle. (Wheeler, Oregon) 1971-2007 | View Entire Issue (Jan. 1, 2007)
IMPEACHMENT BY THE PEOPLE
BY HOWARD ZINN
Courage is in short supply in Washington, D.C. The
realities of the Iraq War cry out for the overthrow of a govern
ment that is criminally responsible for death, mutilation, torture,
humiliation, chaos. But all we hear in the nation's capital, which
is the source of these catastrophes, is a whimper from the
Democratic Party, muttering and nattering about “unity" and
“bipartisanship," in a situation that calls for bold action to
immediately reverse the present course.
These are the Democrats who were brought to power
in November by an electorate fed up with the war, furious at
the Bush administration, and counting on the new majority in
Congress to represent the voters. But if sanity is to be restored
in our national policies, it can only come about by a great popular
upheaval, pushing both Republicans and Democrats into compli
ance with the national will.
The Declaration of Independence, revered as a docu
ment but ignored as a guide to action, needs to be read from
pulpits and podiums, on street corners and community radio
stations throughout the nation. Its words, forgotten for over two
centuries, need to become a call to action for the first time since
it was read aloud to crowds in the early excited days of the
American Revolution: “Whenever any form o f government
becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right o f the people
to alter or abolish it and institute new government.”
The “ends” referred to in the Declaration are the equal
right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." True, no
government in the nation has been faithful to those ends. Favors
for the rich, neglect of the poor, massive violence in the interest
of continental and world expansion —that is the persistent record
of our government.
Still, there seems to be special viciousness that accomp
anies the current assault on human rights, in this country and in
the world.We have had repressive governments before, but none
has legislated the end of habeas corpus, nor openly supported
torture nor declared the possibility of war without end.No govern
ment has so casually ignored the will of the people, affirmed the
right of the President to ignore the Constitution, even to set aside
laws passed by Congress.
The time is right, then, for a national campaign calling for
the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Representative John Conyers, who held extensive hearings and
introduced an impeachment resolution when the Republicans
controlled Congress, is now head of the House Judiciary Com
mittee and in a position to fight for such a resolution. He has
apparently been silenced by his Democratic colleagues who
throw out as nuggets of wisdom the usual palaver about
“realism" (while ignoring the realities staring them in the face)
and politics being “the art of the possible” (while setting limits
on what is possible).
I know I’m not the first to talk about impeachment.
Indeed, judging by the public opinion polls, there are millions
of Americans, indeed a majority of those polled, who declare
themselves in favor if it is shown that the President lied us into
war (a fact that is not debatable).* There at least a half-dozen
books out on impeachment, and it’s been argued for eloquently
by some of our finest journalists , John Nichols and Lewis
Lapham among them.** Indeed, an actual “indictment” has been
drawn up by a former federal prosecutor, Elizabeth de la Vega,
in a new book called United States vs. George W. Bush et al,
making a case, in devastating detail, to a fictional grand jury.
There is a logical next step in this development of an
impeachment movement: the convening of “people's impeach
ment hearings” all over the country. This is especially important
given the timidity of the Democratic Party. Such hearings would
bypass Congress which is not representing the will of the people,
and would constitute an inspiring example of grassroots demo
These hearings would be the contemporary equivalents
of the unofficial gatherings that marked resistance to the British
'Editor's Note: in at least one recent poll, 58% said the Bush
Presidency should be ended now
"A n d by many others as well, including the editor o f this news
paper (NOTE issues Augtember & Octember 2005, plus many
more examples by contributing writers in other editions).
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PETER ROSCOE CHEF/OWNER
on redress of their grievances from the official bodies of govern
ment, took matters into their own hands, even before the first
battles of the Revolutionary War.
In 1772, town meetings in Massachusetts began setting
up Committees of Correspondence, and the next year such a
committee was set up in Virginia.The first Continental Congress,
beginning to meet in 1774, was a recognition that an extralegal
body was necessary to represent the interests of the people. In
1774 and 1775, all through the colonies, parallel institutions were
set up outside the official government bodies.
Throughout the nation’s history the failure of government
to deliver justice has led to the establishment of grassroots
organizations, often ad hoc, dissolving after their purpose was
fulfilled. For instance, after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act,
knowing that the national government could not be counted on to
repeal the act, black and white anti-slavery groups organized to
nullify the law by acts of civil disobedience. They held meetings,
made plans, and set about rescuing escaped slaves who were in
danger of being returned to their masters.
Crown in the years leading up to the American Revolution. The
story of the American Revolution is usually built around Concord
and Lexington, around the battles and the Founding Fathers.
What is forgotten is that the American colonists, unable to count
BY STANLEY BRAND
In the desperate economic conditions of 1933 and 1934,
before the Roosevelt administration was doing anything to help
people in distress, local groups were formed all over the country
to demand government action. Unemployed Councils came into
being, tenants' groups fought evictions, and hundreds of thous
ands of people in the country formed self-help organizations to
exchange goods and services and enable people to survive.
More recently, we recall the peace groups of the 1980s,
which sprang up in hundreds of communities all over the country,
and provoked city councils and state legislatures to pass
resolutions in favor of a freeze on nuclear weapons. And local
organizations have succeeded in getting more than 400 city
councils to take stand against the Patriot Act.
Impeachment hearings all over the country could excite
and energize the peace movement They would make headlines,
and could push reluctant members of Congress in both parties
to do what the Constitution provides for and what the present
circumstances demand: the impeachment and removal of office
of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Simply raising the issue in
hundreds of communities and Congressional districts would have
a healthy effect, and would be a sign that democracy, despite all
attempts to destroy it in this era of war, is still alive.
The Democrats’ victory has stoked the fire beneath an
already brewing debate within the party regarding the need for
investigations of the executive branch during the Bush adminis
tration’s two remaining years. Some Democratic members of
Congress are reluctant to pursue investigations into war profit
eering, detainee interrogation or other controversial issues,
fearing that such scrutiny of the administration will make Demo
crats appear petty and partisan and cost them electoral support
A vigorous examination of the administration’s conduct,
however, is not only the appropriate action as a matter of consiti-
tutional prerogative, it is the politically necessary response to
voters' overwhelming rejection to Congress’s failure to assert
itself in this area.
Nothing is better established in constitutional history
and jurisprudence than Congress’s power to investigate the
executive. Centuries of precedents in Parliament, colonial
legislatures and United States law endorse it. In 1742, William
Pitt the Elder summarized the powers of Parliament: “We are
called the grand inquest of the nation, and as such it is our duty
to inquire into every step of public management, either at home
or abroad, in order to see that nothing has been done amiss."
Indeed, the very first example of congressional oversight
in our history was an inquiry into President George Washington's
deployment of the military In that case, a committee appointed
by the House in 1792 was authorized to investigate the disas
trous defeat the previous year of General Arthur St. Clair by
Indians in the Ohio Territory, with the power to issue subpoenas
for “persons, papers and records as may be necessary to assist
Congress is a coequal branch with explicit power to
declare war, raise armies and navies and appropriate money
for such activities. The Supreme Court has also repeatedly
ratified Congressional authority to investigate executive depart
ments. Congressional powers to probe “into departments of the
federal government to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste,"
the court has stated, are “as penetrating and far reaching as the
potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution."
For the past six years, Congress’s oversight function has
atrophied in a unitary Republican landscape. To be sure, investi
gative power should be exercised carefully, thoughtfully and with
due respect for the rights of a coordinate branch But Congress
should not shrink from its duty to investigate a reluctant or
recalcitrant executive, especially one that, while cloaking itself
in secrecy, has boldly asserted unprecedented powers in the
initiation and conduct of war — with disastrous consequences
that the electorate has now repudiated
By performing their constitutional obligations the new
Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will surely do
right by the Constitution and the country But they will also no
doubt do very well for themselves.
Howard Zinn is the author of A People’s History of
the United States, and most recently of A Power Governments
Cannot Suppress. He wrote this article for The Progressive
magazine. For information on how to become involved in the
impeachment effort, go to www aflerdowningstreet.org.
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Stanley Brand is a former general counsel to the
House of Representatives under Speakei Tip O’Neill He
teaches constitutional law at Penn State Dickinson School
of Law. He wrote this article for The New York Times.
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