The divide between Democratic leaders contemplating their re-election prospects in 2008 and rank-and-file Democrats is becoming a chasm--one so wide that Congressional Democrats may soon find it hard to straddle it.
The issue is impeachment.
So far, Democrats in Congress and at the top of the party hierarchy, out of touch with public sentiment and worried that impeachment could hurt them with "independents"--whom they mistakenly consider to stand somehow "in between" Democrats and Republicans--have been following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vow that for the 110th Congress, "impeachment is off the table." They've been doing more than that: they have been actively working to tamp down, and even to crush, impeachment campaigns in the states. For example, in the state of Washington, an effort to get the state to pass a joint legislative resolution which would have compelled the Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings was derailed after the Democratic leadership dispatched two of the state's leading federal elected officials, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Jay Inslee, to press legislative leaders to block a floor vote. Similar pressure doomed efforts that might have passed in the legislatures of New Mexico and Vermont (The Vermont Senate did pass the resolution).
Meanwhile, down at the state and local level, Democratic Party committee after Democratic Party committee is voting out resolutions calling for impeachment. The latest Democratic Party organization to call for impeachment of both Bush and Cheney is the Massachusetts Democratic Party, which at its state convention on Saturday, May 19, voted out a strong measure calling on the state’s elected representatives in Washington to investigate Bush and Cheney for misleading the nation into war, for authorizing torture, and for warrantless wiretapping. The message concludes: "If the investigation supports the charges, vote to impeach both Bush and Cheney as provided in the Constitution."
Massachusetts Democrats thus join California's huge Democratic Party, which passed a similar resolution less than a month ago at its annual convention, in what was widely perceived as a slap at Pelosi, who represents a district in San Francisco.
To date, 14 state Democratic Parties have now called for impeachment.
But that's only part of the story. Vermont's state senate has overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for impeachment. Similar resolutions are being considered in the legislatures of 17 states. Over 80 cities, towns and counties have passed impeachment resolutions, as have at least that many town and county Democratic Party organizations, even in conservative areas such as Berkes and Chester County in Pennsylvania.
Many of these resolutions have been the work of the Progressive Democrats of America organization. Others have been promoted by ad hoc groups.
The impeachment resolutions, which have also been passed by Democratic Parties in so-called "red" states like Nevada and North Carolina, are a clear sign that impeachment is the will of the party's rank and file.
Polls have consistently shown that the broader public also wants the president and vice president impeached.
In October 2006, Newsweek published a scientific poll disclosing that 51 percent of Americans favored impeachment, half of them as a top priority.
That poll, of course, was taken before Democrats had gained control of the House and Senate, and also before Bush, ignoring the anti-war message of voters in November, decided to increase the number of US troops in his misbegotten and calamitous war in Iraq.
Another more recent poll, taken by a right-wing organization called InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion, found that 39 percent of respondents favored impeachment of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney together. The percentage for impeachment would almost certainly have been significantly higher if impeaching the two men had been offered as separate options in the poll.
Recent news developments are only making impeachment more popular with the public at large. The worsening Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and the President’s intransigence and obsession with continuing the slaughter of innocents and the sacrifice of Americans, has driven his popularity down to 28 percent, and the vice president’s to below 9 percent. The prosecutors firing scandal is taking down the attorney general, while exposing the outlines of one aspect of a six-year-long White House-orchestrated campaign to undermine the democratic election process using control of the justice system. And it is now becoming clear that the president's illegal National Security Agency spying program has been so outrageous an assault on Americans’ civil liberties that even then Attorney General John Ashcroft, himself a walking threat to the Bill of Rights, refused to sign on, despite his being pressed to do so from a hospital bed.
At this point, the Congressional leadership, including Pelosi and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), really need to start worrying that they may start looking ridiculous. Indeed, the Detroit City Council a few days ago passed a resolution calling on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings, and one of those voting for the resolution was Conyers’ own wife, herself a Detroit alderwoman!
Clearly the president has authorized an illegal spying campaign, and has already been declared to have committed a felony by a Detroit federal judge who tried the issue last summer. Clearly too, he has grossly abused his power by claiming to have “unitary executive power” as commander in chief in the war on terror, and that this power, nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, gives him the authority to ignore and invalidate laws duly passed by the Congress. Finally, he clearly misled the Congress about the war, and clearly authorized the practice of torture against American captives.
Equally clearly, if the president is not impeached, Congress will be telegraphing that the next president, whomever that may be, can feel free to abuse the law and the Constitution in the same manner as the current president has been doing.
How can there not be impeachment proceedings!
None of Bush's and Cheney's grave crimes and abuses of power even require anything significant in the way of hearings. They could be submitted as bills of impeachment and voted on by the House Judiciary Committee and by the full Congress tomorrow, if there was the will to do so.
Instead, the Democratic leadership continues to dither, continues to permit the president to ignore subpoenas, continues to interfere with grassroots efforts to pass impeachment resolutions, and continues to ignore even the bill of impeachment against the vice president, House Resolution 333, submitted a month ago by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), even as it has now gained three co-sponsors.
The chasm is clearly widening between the leadership of the Democratic Party and the voters.
It may end up swallowing them up, come November 2008.