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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Memory Lane, Presidential Wrongdoing Edition

Remember this classic, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board about Clinton?
Editorial: Impeachment is premature, unfair

It's easy to see Republicans' point in seeking impeachment against the president for perjury and obstructing justice. But their actions are ill-advised on a number of fronts, from the purely political to mere ineffectiveness. Let us suggest, however, that this time, Republicans are premature. This quest for impeachment, though no doubt driven by principle, has something of a tilting-at-windmills quality that will only distract from more urgent business.

Impeachment of a president has been done only once before. It was a doubtful tool in that instance. It is even more doubtful now. That's because it is occurring before there has been a proper vetting of whether the president has committed an illegal act.

Republicans are correct that President Clinton does appear to have perjured himself and obstructed the investigation into his wrongdoing. But an impeachment vote now could be self-satisfying for purely political reasons on both sides of the aisle. Its outcome, however, is preordained and will be a wholly unnecessary distraction from the real business at hand--determining if Clinton willfully and knowingly violated laws.
Of course you don't remember it, because the paper never wrote it. Back in 1998, the paper said "Let impeachment proceedings begin":
There are compelling reasons why the country would be better served if the shortcuts of resignation and censure or reprimand are avoided. [. . .] Instead, Congress--beginning with the House--needs to begin the impeachment process and conduct it responsibly and expeditiously.
They were ready to get on with impeachment. The paper did, I will admit, demand that the hearings be "dignified," but they seemed displeased that Clinton was let off the hook: "Yet, there can be no satisfaction with the Senate outcome among Americans who honestly believe the president acted like a fool and demeaned the high office to which they twice elected him," they wrote. "To its everlasting disgrace, the Senate could not even muster the courage to at least censure the man who brought such dishonor to the nation in what will forever be known as the Monica Lewinsky Affair."

Everlasting disgrace be damned, I suppose, when it comes to Russ Feingold's measure to censure President Bush for his admitted violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Even though the paper admits today that "the Constitution does not empower the president to ignore those laws he chooses," they will not stand up for the Constitution's demands that Congress exercise its authority on the matter. Instead, they write, "Censure is premature, unfair."

However, I suspect that somewhere Russ Feingold is smiling, since towards the front of the paper, he says that "It's doing what I had hoped. As difficult as this is, everybody is now talking again about" the president's breaking of the law. To be fair, even the Journal Sentinel is talking about it; the headline by itself on the editorial today (calling censure "unfair") doesn't quite carry the full weight of the demands the editors to make about the need for real investigation and oversight:
Congress has refused to entertain a meaningful investigation into National Security Agency wiretapping and has never adequately investigated whether intelligence was manipulated to rush a nation to war.

And, still, there is some hope that enough public outrage--perhaps spurred by midterm elections--or further revelations could finally cause Congress to find backbone instead of a way to make the law fit White House actions, rather than vice versa.

Congress has displayed breathtaking unwillingness or ineptitude on the wiretapping issue. That's why it's time it launched an independent investigation.
Calling Feingold's motion for censure "unfair," though, only provides fodder for the radio talkers and right half of the Cheddarsphere. It provides cover for people like Representative F. Jim Sensenbrenner, whose House Judiciary Committee can and should be investigating the matter. It provides an out for anyone who still wants to look the other way while this White House gathers power on an unprecedented scale.

Calling it unfair also makes the editorial board look like fools, since, if that was what Russ was really after--renewed calls for a genuine investigation--he just got it. He wins this round, even if censure never happens.

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