Yesterday, it was in the news that Massachusetts Congressman Mike Capuano (Democrat, of course, and representing some of the more liberal areas in and around Boston) was among those openly talking about impeaching President Bush. Normally, I'd just dismiss this as typical Massachusetts idiocy, but I've been thinking about this, and I think that there just might be some grounds for this.
Impeachment is the "big gun" of Constitutional law. It is Congress' way of checking the other two branches, and it is reserved for only "high crimes and misdemeanors." Historically speaking, impeachment has only been used against two presidents (Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton) and openly discussed against a third (Richard Nixon). In Johnson's case, there was no doubt that he had broken the law -- but the law in question was considered unconstitutional by many authorities. In Clinton's case, his defenders successfully argued that while he had indeed lied under oath, committing perjury, the matter was not serious enough (and the fact that Clinton had been lying about sexual matters) to merit conviction. Nixon was likely to be impeached (and convicted) when he resigned.
But the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" is vague. Most scholars say that Congress can define them however they wish when it comes to impeachment. Much like the saying that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, they say that should they choose to, Congress could impeach the president for such offenses as wearing an ugly tie or owning a dumb pet. Practically speaking, though, the restrictions on Congress are political: every single member of the House has to face the voters every two years, along with one third of the Senate -- and the voters, if roused by such rank partisanship, could toss them out on their collective ears.
Now, I voted for Bush both in 2000 and 2004, and don't regret either of those votes. But after some serious thought, I think there just might be some valid grounds for impeachment.
1) Failure to properly anticipate and react to the threat of Hurricane Katrina.
Whereas the President did or should have known the course of the Hurricane, and did or should have known that the state and local officials were hopelessly inept and/or corrupt, the President should have acted sooner to mitigate the damage and loss of life. The President should have disregarded the Constitutional separation of powers and federalist system and removed Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco from office, taking the entire state into federal receivership. He should have usurped Governor Blanco's authority as commander in chief of the state's National Guard and, in violation of the Posse Comitatus principle, used them to secure New Orleans before, during, and after the disaster.
2) Not properly interpreting the faulty intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq.
Saddam Hussein had arranged a remarkable feat: he was balancing two entirely different sets of enemies, feeding each entirely different and contradictory information, in the hopes of maintaining his grip on power. His immediate neighbors were told he did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction (or was very close to developing them) to keep them (mainly Iran) from attacking him. Simultaneously, he was telling the West that he had absolutely no such intentions.
Further, under the terms of Saddam's surrender after the first Gulf War, the West was under NO obligation to prove he was violating it by developing or hoarding weapons of mass destruction. The onus was solely on Saddam to prove he was in compliance, and Saddam was amazingly cagey, evasive, and uncooperative for well over a decade.
President Bush should have seen through Saddam's deceptions (that fooled the best intelligence agencies in the world) and known Saddam was bluffing. He should have not simply presumed the worst, or even just a bad condition, disregarded Saddam's well-documented support for terrorism and history of possessing and using WMDs in the past, and come to the conclusion that Saddam did not have any weapons of mass destruction.
3) President Bush should have prevented Dubai Ports World from attempting to take control of terminals in six of our major ports. Regardless of the minimal affect on our national security, ignoring the precedent established by the Clinton administration that permitted a virtually identical deal with China and several West Coast ports, and ignoring the potential damage to our economic future (Dubai is already reconsidering several other very large commercial deals with US companies, including a major aircraft purchase from Boeing in the next year or two), Bush should have anticipated the public backlash (partly fueled by corrupt unions fearing the possibility of having to negotiate with DPW) and not allowed the deal to go through -- until stopped by Congress.
Obviously, these are ridiculous charges. But there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution or in law that would prevent it from happening. The only constraints on it happening are the sanity and self-interest of the 535 members of Congress. And there simply aren't enough loony leftists in that august body to pull it off.
The fun part is, the loonies who are trying this will end up hurting their own side far more than they will Bush. And in the process, they'll provide a lot of people with a lot of good laughs.