In the past weeks, even the most ardent Democratic partisans have come to condemn Congressional Democrats for their lack of will, in confronting Bush and the Republicans: the war, domestic spying, torture, the absurd MoveOn resolution, the dangerous Iran resolution- we’re all baffled and discouraged and heartbroken, and many of us are just plain pissed off. Those of us who still intend to work for the election of Democrats, next year, find it increasingly difficult to convince those who have been straying that they should remain in the fold. We continue to insist that we need larger Congressional majorities, the executive branch, and if nothing else- and this ought to convince even the most recusant- to prevent four more years of Republican judges. But we cannot pretend that we don’t feel betrayed. We cannot pretend that we are having trouble answering the question: why? We are not using our majority power, and we are not using all the legislative and procedural tools we have available. Why?
Some say the Democrats are willfully complicit- beholden to the same nefarious interests as are the Republicans. I disagree. To me, it all comes back to impeachment. It comes back to the lack of will to make the ultimate and necessary confrontation. It comes from allowing a criminal administration to remain in power, and thus conferring on it a legitimacy that its criminality should have long ago voided. It comes from establishing a precedent and a dynamic that say the Bush Administration can push all boundaries, and the Democrats will not push back. If impeachment is off the table, then every form of criminality is on it!
Let me state, at the outset, that I do think the window for impeachment likely has closed. Barring some new bombshell revelation, there is likely neither the will in Congress to even start proceedings, nor the time for such proceedings to produce fair results. I come neither to praise nor bury impeachment. I come to discuss what I deem to be the consequence of its not having been pursued: a paralysis in the Democrats that renders them incapable of confronting Bush on anything.
If we were lied into the war, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for those lies makes it impossible to accept the necessity of ending what should never have been started. If domestic spying is a Constitutional crime, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for that crime necessitates the further Constitutional outrage of attempting to legislatively make such crimes legal. If torture is a crime against humanity, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for that crime gives it tacit permission to violate pretty much any legal or moral standard. Oversight and subpoenas are irrelevant, because there are no consequences to what is discovered, and subpoenas can be, and are being, ignored. Despite being as unpopular as any “president,” ever, Bush knows he can just thumb his nose at the Democrats, and they will do nothing. They are incapable even of sound and fury.
In December 2005, John Conyers proposed an impeachment investigation. Once the Democrats regained Congressional majorities, he began making excuses for not again doing so. Even before regaining the majorities, Barney Frank said:
I know of virtually no support for trying to impeach President Bush among House Democrats, because we understand that this would be entirely counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish both politically and governmentally.
Note that he did not render an opinion on whether impeachment is even plausibly justified. His is a statement of pure political calculation. The concept of legal and Constitutional right seems irrelevant. And this from one of our best and smartest elected representatives!
And then there was Senator Russ Feingold, who wrote this diary, on Daily Kos. It included these telling words:
I believe that the President and Vice President may well have committed impeachable offenses.
And it then proceeded to make excuses for not holding the Administration accountable for such offenses- as if a President and Vice President committing impeachable offenses is somehow of little import. This, too, from one of our best and smartest elected representatives! My full response was here.
It is clear that many of our best elected officials believe, at the very least, that Bush and Cheney may have committed impeachable offenses. That they have been unwilling to do anything about it speaks to something much graver than the issue of impeachment. I want, now, to briefly discuss a psychological mechanism best articulated by Frantz Fanon, in his seminal work, The Wretched Of The Earth. Let me first say that the situations are not at all comparable, but I do think the psychology is. Writing of the insidious effects of colonialism, Fanon says:
At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man’s reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refers to the bestiary.
Now, the Bush Administration obviously hasn’t colonialized the United States, although it is imposing Neo-Colonial conditions on Iraq. But it is here, in the United States, that this Neo-Colonialism must be stopped. It is here that the continued failures of the Democrats prove that their will has been broken. Politically marginalized, their very ideology ridiculed by the corporate media, Democrats have come to accept that the best they can achieve is incremental advances on relatively small issues, while the largest issues, including the very legitimacy of government, cannot be even openly debated. They don’t need Bush or the Republicans to beat them down, because they have already internalized that they are beaten!
In The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy, Tsenay Serequeberhan succinctly defines Fanon’s answer to colonialism:
It is only when the colonized appropriates the violence of the colonizer and puts forth his own concrete counterviolence that he reenters the realm of history and human historical becoming.
Again, let me be explicit: clearly, what the Democrats have suffered is in no way comparable to the suffering of those subjected to imperialist violence; but just as clearly, impeachment is in no way comparable to revolutionary violence against imperialism. The scale is immeasurably different, but it is, again, the psychological mechanism that I propose as being the same. Having been, essentially, exiled from participation in both the functions of government, and the framing of its political dialogue, Democrats have been humiliated to the point of no longer even remembering who they are and for what they stand. They have come to accept that they have no role to play in the process of constructing major policy decisions, and that their entire ideology is effectively void. Politically, they have grown accustomed to being adrift and irrelevant. Psychologically, they have been not only neutralized, but neutered.
Impeachment, then, is not only necessary for Constitutional reasons, but for existential ones! Failing to pursue impeachment proceedings is a failure to rupture what has now become a calcined political framework, within which Democrats cannot fully function. Only something so bold and dramatic, only something so just but unthinkable, can restore to the Democrats their ability to reenter the realm of history and political historical becoming.
I hope I am wrong, and that the Democrats will soon begin actually standing up to Bush. I don’t see it happening. For the Democrats to realize the historical and practical necessity of taking control of our government, they will have to come to terms with the depths of the depravity that is the Bush Administration. It is not just about ending one war, or preventing another, or restoring the Constitutional rights that have been so blithely tossed to the wind, it is about truly confronting both the people and the ideology that have created this historical crisis. It is not going to be pretty, and it is not going to be nice. It will, of necessity, be as dramatic as have been the assaults on our American ideals.
For a generation, the Republicans have spoken of a revolution. The Democrats seem to have taken such talk as mere rhetoric. Clearly, it was not. This has been more than a revolution, it has been an anti-Revolution. It has been an attempt to effectively reverse the American Revolution! By failing to impeach Bush and Cheney, the Democrats have allowed our very system of government to teeter on the brink of collapse.
We may win, big, in next year’s elections, but will the nation we take over even any longer exist?