WASHINGTON—When the townsfolk gathered in the tiny Vermont community of Newfane for their annual meeting, the agenda was daunting.
There was the town budget to be approved, then the school budget, plus they needed to approve spending $50,000 on the town's property reappraisal.
And, oh yeah. Move to impeach the president of the United States.
And so, at the end of a five-hour meeting, the assembled were asked to consider:
"Whereas George W. Bush has:
"1. Misled the nation about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;
"2. Misled the nation about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda;
"3. Used these falsehoods to lead our nation into war unsupported by international law;
"4. Not told the truth about American policy with respect to the use of torture; and
"5. Directed the government to engage in domestic spying, in direct contravention of U.S. law;
"Therefore, the voters of the town of Newfane ask that our representative to the U.S. House of Representatives file articles of impeachment to remove him from office."
All in favour?: 129. All opposed?: 21. Meeting adjourned.
For a president on the run, cratering at record-low approval ratings, losing battles with Republicans who are beginning to consider him toxic, seemingly having lost his political stride like an aging slugger who can't catch up to the fastball, impeachment is likely the least of his worries.
If we stand by and do nothing, we would be complicit in the immoral and illegal activities of the administration. If you do nothing, you are acting illegally and immorally yourself.
More worrisome for Bush is the perception he is so insulated during this second term that he has lost touch with the concerns of the nation, that he is still surrounded by the same top aides in notorious "burnout'' positions who came to power with him five years ago, that the "trust me" president has squandered that trust.
But as a barometer of discontent with the second-term Bush presidency in a mid-term election year, the fact that impeachment has moved from angry bumper stickers to dinner party discussion is telling.
Democrats in Congress, probably quite wisely, won't touch the question.
Michigan's John Conyers introduced a resolution last December requesting an impeachment inquiry to deal with Bush's "manipulation" of pre-war intelligence, but only 26 of 201 House Democrats backed him.
But that hasn't stopped others.
ImpeachPAC.org has endorsed and raised funds for three Democrats who vow to push for impeachment if elected in November's mid-terms.
The organization, led by Democrat Bob Fertik is an offshoot of AfterDowningStreet.org, founded by David Swanson, a former reporter and press secretary who tried to mobilize opposition to Bush after the release of internal memos from the Tony Blair government indicated the White House was intent on crafting the conditions for an invasion of Iraq.
Newfane is one of nine U.S. communities, all in Vermont and California, to pass impeachment resolutions, the largest of which was San Francisco where city supervisors voted 7-3 for impeachment, saying Bush has destroyed civil liberties in his wiretapping program, and failed miserably in his response to Hurricane Katrina.
Lewis Lapham, the outgoing editor of Harper's magazine and one of the country's most outspoken Bush critics, makes the case for impeachment in the March issue of his magazine.
It includes this indictment:
"We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country's good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instil in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world's evil; a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation's wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies.
"In a word, a criminal — known to be armed and shown to be dangerous."
Dan DeWalt, the 49-year-old Vermont woodworking teacher, furniture restorer and musician who introduced the Newfane resolution, says he wants to make impeachment a household word.
"We can't take up arms against our government, so we do what we can," he said.
"If we stand by and do nothing, we would be complicit in the immoral and illegal activities of the administration. If you do nothing, you are acting illegally and immorally yourself."
The litany of high crimes and misdemeanours in this grim era for Bush are well known.
It started shortly after his re-election, at a time when he was crowing about his "political capital" and there was talk of a conservative dynasty in the U.S. But when he spent much of that capital on an overhaul of Social Security, he found it couldn't be sold, even within his own party.
Then came the CIA leak investigation, a probe that clearly distracted the White House, ending with the indictment of Lewis "Scooter'' Libby, a top aide to Vice-President Dick Cheney.
It was during this period that it became clear the political radar on Pennsylvania Ave. was down.
His nomination of White House legal counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court foundered against opposition from the right and ultimately had to be withdrawn.
His laggardly response to last year's Hurricane Katrina became a case study of an administration asleep at the switch, bolstered by the recent release of video showing a seemingly disinterested Bush being briefed on the looming catastrophe.
Since December, when it was revealed in The New York Times, Bush has been fighting to justify a wiretapping program that has been denounced as illegal.
There was the tragicomedy shooting of a hunting pal by Cheney, a gun mishap that turned into a week-long crisis for the White House.
That was quickly followed by the Dubai ports controversy. Whether the deal should have been killed may be open to debate, but again the political skills of this White House were tucked away and the ensuing groundswell of opposition to turning port management over to a company from the United Arab Emirates left Bush belatedly sputtering about using his veto to keep the deal alive.
By week's end, he was in full retreat, having been stared down by a Republican congressional delegation which outflanked him on his vaunted strong suit, national security.
"They didn't see it coming," said New York Republican Representative Peter King who led opposition to the deal.
He told reporters in New York Bush administration officials have "got to get their antenna up much more on issues and bring the issues up in Congress. They need to realize we're now entering into a complex state of a post-9/11 world."
Against all this, is a war in Iraq nearing its third anniversary with an AP-Ipsos poll released yesterday indicating 80 per cent of Americans — including 70 per cent of Republicans — believe Iraq is heading to civil war.
Comic Bill Maher jokes the U.S. is suffering from "f-up fatigue" at the top.
They call it the six-year itch, the second-term cloud that seems to inevitably envelop any president who doesn't need to be elected.
Second-term presidents have dealt with sex scandals (Bill Clinton), out-of-control wars (Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman), arms scandals (Ronald Reagan) and political scandals (Richard Nixon).
But only Nixon has had approval ratings as low as Bush's 38 per cent average on a series of polls released last week.
The mystery in Washington is why Bush will not inject some new blood into his inner circle.
Chief of staff Andrew Card and deputy chief of staff and political strategist Karl Rove have been with him since day one.
"You can lose your political instincts, you become less sensitive to the political cross-currents,'' says presidential historian Robert Dallek.
"When you are falling on your face, faltering, stumbling around, it becomes all the more important to move the deck chairs around and bring in some fresh perspective and some fresh hope, plus a little renewed confidence for the country."
Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, says Bush has faced some big "screw-ups" that have cost him.
"The question on the street, from people who are not necessarily political, is whether the president is competent," he says. "Presidents get tired and I think Bush is tired."
© 2006 Toronto Star