Stoughton will vote next Tuesday on the audacious question of whether the president and vice president of the United States should be impeached.
It won't be the first community in the nation to do so. Earlier this month, more than three dozen town meetings in Vermont did so, and cities across the country have held referendums calling for Congress to hold President Bush and Vice President Cheney to account for manipulating the intelligence that led this country into an unnecessary war, for authorizing warrantless wiretaps and other forms of spying, for encouraging torture and extraordinary rendition, for seeking to punish political critics, and for other acts that would seem to fit under the heading of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
But it seems as if Stoughton may be voting at precisely the right moment.
Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough had me on his MSNBC show the other night to talk about impeachment.
It was a smart, civil discussion that treated the prospect of impeaching the president as a serious matter.
Scarborough took the lead in suggesting that Bush's biggest problem might be that Republicans in the House and Senate do not appear to be rallying around the president. The host's sentiments were echoed by two other guests, columnist Mike Barnicle and Salon's Joan Walsh.
The impetus for the show was Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's ongoing discussion of the impeachment prospect -- Hagel's more a speculator than a supporter of sanctioning Bush -- and a new column by Robert Novak that suggests Bush has dwindling support in Congress.
Speaking about impeachment on ABC's "This Week," Hagel said, "Any president who says I don't care' or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else' or I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed' -- if a president really believes that, then there (are) ways to deal with that."
Novak wrote, "The I-word (incompetence) is used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to described a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,' one House leader told me. How can we claim that anymore?' "
Scarborough asked whether Bush could count on Republicans to block moves by Democrats to hold him to account.
When a conservative commentator who was on the front lines of Newt Gingrich's "Republican revolution" entertains a thoughtful conversation about the politics and processes of impeachment on a major cable news network, it should be clear that the cloistered conversation about sanctioning this president has begun to open up.
What I told Scarborough is what I have been saying in public forums for the past several weeks: We are nearing an impeachment moment. The Alberto Gonzales scandal, the under-covered but very real controversy involving abuses of the Patriot Act, and the president's increasingly belligerent refusals to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government are putting the discussion of presidential accountability onto the table from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to remove it.
Does this mean Bush and Cheney will be impeached? That, of course, will be decided by the people. Impeachment at its best is always an organic process; it needs popular support or it fizzles -- as with the attempt by House Republican leaders to remove former President Clinton.
While the people saved Clinton -- by signaling to their representatives that they opposed sanctioning a president for his personal morals -- it does not appear that they are inclined to protect Bush.
With each new revelation about what Gonzales did at the behest of the Bush White House to politicize prosecutions by U.S. attorneys, the revulsion with the way this president has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law becomes more intense. And citizens are not cutting their president much slack.
A new USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted over the weekend shows that, by nearly 3 to 1, Americans want Congress to issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify in the Gonzales case. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed say the president should drop his claim of executive privilege in this matter, while only 26 percent agree with the reasoning Bush has used to try to block a meaningful inquiry.
If the president wants to fight with Congress over how to read the Constitution, it appears that the people will back Congress.
As Hagel says, "This is not a monarchy. There are ways to deal with (executive excess). And I would hope the president understands that."
If not, perhaps Stoughton, and other communities like it across the country, will remind him -- just as they will remind Congress that it is time to take the "I" issue up.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
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