An Open Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Madam Speaker:

It is time to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney.

We all know the case for doing so: the litany of this administration's offenses is long and tragic, the damage they have wrought to our nation and the principles it was founded upon profound.

And yet many of us understood - even if we did not agree - when you said "impeachment is off the table." Your case was credible, if not persuasive. The proceedings would have been disruptive, making progress in other areas difficult, and the fact that three of the last six presidents would have been impeached by the opposition party could have damaged the presidency and sunk this nation into a permanent partisan war. It could have fed the notion that impeachment proceedings were simply another political maneuver to be used by partisans to cripple their opponents, much as partisan Republicans did with Clinton. And with two years remaining, this did seem a high price to pay for getting rid of George Bush and his partners in crime. Taking the high road had a certain nobility, even if it didn't satisfy a hunger for justice many of us felt.

But now - with scarcely eighteen months left - you have no choice but to impeach Bush and Cheney regardless of the cost, because it has become increasingly clear that the very foundations of this nation have been assaulted as never before in our history, and to let that record stand would be an act of cowardice on your part and a dangerous precedent to future presidents.

Others have laid out the specific charges, and they are legion. But it is the nature and character of the offenses which leave you no choice. This administration has not simply broken specific provisions of arcane laws, or committed "misdemeanors." They have sought to fundamentally rewrite the Constitution in a manner that is more to their liking. They have systematically put the interest of a political party over the interests of the nation, committing serious crimes in the process.

The commitment to basic civil rights inherent in the Bill of Rights has been violated with a cavalier arrogance unprecedented in our Nation's history. Both the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment have been compromised. Indeed, had it not been for the Supreme Court, these cherished provisions would have been all but consigned to history's trash heap. But we can no longer rely on them to safeguard our rights. The new Court has exhibited a reckless disregard for precedent, and a certain randomness in their interpretation of the Constitution in general and the Bill of Rights in particular.

The careful system of checks and balances, so carefully constructed in our Constitution, and so jealously guarded by elected officials throughout our history has been eviscerated by signing statements, secrecy, and lies. The de facto dictatorship of the executive has been enshrined in the theory of the "unitary executive."

This has all been done under cover of a never-ending "war" which this President and Vice-president lied the country into. Indeed, to this day, they cannot articulate a real reason for embarking on this war. The President has proffered no less than twenty-two separate justifications for it, and none has survived scrutiny. Iraq has become the ultimate - and ultimately tragic - tautology: we are there because we are there. But now, as the clarifying lens of history brings this catastrophe into sharper focus, the full cynicism and criminality of this administration's Iraq policy is emerging: we are there because of oil interests, and the political clout a war president can wield.

Finally, this administration has played fast and loose with the most fundamental principle in a democracy: the vote. Born in deceit in Florida 2000; re-elected in 2004 with the taint of voter fraud in Ohio; accused of politicization of the Justice Department - the guardian of the right to vote - in 2006, there is a rapidly growing body of credible evidence that they played an active roll in caging voters, suppressing turnout, and constructing a legal staff at Justice that would support such efforts.

All of this has been conducted under a cloak of official secrecy reminiscent of the Soviet Union. Characteristically, they have stonewalled attempts to examine their records, ignored Congressional subpoenas, and withheld information needed for Congressional oversight. Indeed, it is now known that the White House maintained a shadow e-mail system and used it for official business, and that some 500 critical e-mails from the official White House system are "missing." Meanwhile, Cheney has made the preposterous claim that he is not a part of the executive branch in order to avoid disclosing any information to the Nation's archives, making a mockery of our Constitution.

Honest men and women can no longer doubt that there is more than probable cause to impeach Bush and Cheney on the most serious of charges and the highest of crimes.

In the end, their chief offense has been nothing less than to treat the Constitution as a document of convenience. They have substituted their theory of governance for that of our founding fathers.

If you fail to impeach Bush and Cheney, you elevate the opinions of partisan hacks like Addington, Yoo, and Gonzales, over the cherished and proven principles of governance advanced by statesmen such as Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and our nation and our democracy will forever be changed, for the worse.

Yes, impeachment is disruptive; yes, we must preserve it for only the most heinous of offenses; and yes, it will make it difficult to conduct other business.

But future presidents must know that they will be held accountable; they must know that they cannot ignore the Constitution simply by wagging the dog; they must know that Congress is vigilant and that they serve the people by jealously protecting their rights.

Fear is democracy's worst enemy, secrecy its greatest threat, but they are a despot's best friend. Despots operate in secret and thrive on the ignorance it creates. They wield fear to frighten the people and paralyze opposition.

Those who would champion freedom must have the courage to confront the fear-monger and expose his stratagems and the wisdom to know when it is necessary.

Two hundred and twenty years ago, as the constitutional convention was concluding, a lady asked Benjamin Franklin whether we had a Republic or Monarchy. Franklin's famous reply, "A Republic, if you can keep it," is as true today as it was then.

History is watching, Madam Speaker. The fate of our Republic is in your hands. We look now to you for the wisdom to know it is time, and courage to act upon it.

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