What do Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary, and President George W. Bush have in common? They both think they can dis Cindy Sheehan and count on gossip columnists like the Washington Post's David Milbank to trivialize a historic moment.
I'll give this to President Bush. He makes no pretense when he disses. He would not meet with Sheehan to define for her the "noble cause" for which her son Casey died or tell her why he had said it was "worth it."
Conyers, on the other hand, was dripping with pretense as he met with Sheehan, Rev. Lennox Yearwood and me Monday in his office in the Rayburn building. I have seldom been so disappointed with someone I had previously held in high esteem. And before leaving, I told him so.
Throwing salt in our wounds, he had us, and some 50 others in his anteroom arrested and taken out of action as the Capitol Police "processed" us for the next six hours.
As we began our discussion with Conyers, it was as though he thought we were "born yesterday," as Harry Truman would put it. With feigned enthusiasm he began, Let's hold a Town Hall meeting in Detroit so we can talk about impeachment. Get out my schedule; let's see, we need to hear from everyone about this.
Been there, done that, I reminded the congressman.
On May 29, 2007, Col. Ann Wright and I were among those who flew to Detroit for a highly advertised Town Hall meeting on impeachment, because we were assured that John Conyers would be there.
That Town Hall/panel discussion was arranged by the Michigan chapter of the National Lawyers Guild less than two weeks after the Detroit City Council passed a resolution, cosponsored by Conyers' wife Monica Conyers-calling for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. We had hoped that Monica's clear vision and courage might be contagious.
I had to remind the congressman that he did not show up for the Town Hall.
Apparently, that incident was of such little consequence to the congressman that he had completely forgotten about it. Small wonder, then, that he has apparently forgotten the oath he took to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Selective Alzheimers? I don't know. What was clear was that he had forgotten a whole lot.
When I raised James Madison's role in crafting a Constitution that mentions impeachment no fewer than six times, he replied: Madison did not say Conyers has to impeach every one. Why, if I had to impeach everyone for high crimes and misdemeanors, that's all my committee would have time to do.
I learned in Rhetoric 101 the name of that technique: reductio ad absurdam.
How about just Bush and Cheney, we suggested.
Conyers protested that he would need 218 votes in the House and complained that the votes are not there. His priorities showed through in his loud lament that if he fell short of the 218 votes, the Republicans and Fox News would have a field day.
There was no getting through to Conyers, who seemed astonished at the direct questions we were posing.
In reflecting on this later, the dictum of my father, also a lawyer, began to ring in my ears: "When you reach the age of 'statutory senility,' you do everyone a favor if you retire."
He followed his own example, when he retired as Chancellor of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, long before senility-statutory, or otherwise-set in for him.
Septuagenarian Conyers (and, for that matter, 80-year-old Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, who has also forgotten his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution) would do well to heed that advice.
Toward the end of the meeting, Conyers showed uncommon chutzpah in referring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That was too much for me.
You're no Martin Luther King, I found myself wanting to say. Instead, I quoted a portion of Dr. King's famous address at Riverside Church almost 40 years ago:
"We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak....there is such a thing as being too late....Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity....Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"
I used that quote in a letter I left with Conyers' aides on Monday, in which I tried to express why my colleagues in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity feel it is URGENT to find some way to apply the Constitution to restrain a run-away Executive.
The text of that letter follows:
A Note to Congressman John Conyers: On Impeachment and the Edmund Pettus Bridge
We each have our favored crime for which President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached. Many of us have several.
But the real challenge is to look AHEAD. What are Bush/Cheney likely to do in the coming months if the impeachment process does NOT begin?
One often hears, Oh, they will do what they want anyway, impeachment process or not. Not true.
If we the people and our representatives in Congress choose the course given us by our Founders and impeachment proceedings begin, important swaths of our body politic AND military will be less likely to follow illegal orders from the White House.
These important constituencies will become sensitized to the peril into which this administration has brought us and to the extra-constitutional orders they may be asked to carry out.
NEW ELEMENT: Even the Scaife-owned newspapers have begun to question Bush's MENTAL STABILITY.
What could be more important at this juncture?
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been applying all of our analytical techniques to assess the Bush/Cheney administration. We have helped to establish the long record of abuses and usurpations of the past. What about the future?
Iraq is going to hell in a hand basket. A Tet-type incident becomes more and more likely. The Green Zone is being hit by mortar fire more frequently than before. It may be just a matter of time before the Resistance gets lucky and lobs a shell onto our spanking new $600-million embassy, killing a bunch of Americans in the process.
What then? Will Cheney tell the president the US military has found Iranian markings on the shell fragments and we need to retaliate...and, actually, while we're at it, let's implement Plan A and hit all Iranian nuclear-related facilities.
With Congress voting resolution after resolution against Iran, how would the president react to such a suggestion from Cheney?
Many of us intelligence analysts have found utility in relying, in part, on short studies applying psychoanalysis to develop profiles of foreign leaders. (This marriage of psychoanalysis and intelligence work actually goes back to the early 1940s, when the OSS commissioned such studies on Hitler.) We called them "at-a-distance personality assessments."
Three years ago Justin Frank, M.D., a psychiatrist here in Washington, wrote a book "Bush on the Couch" in which he provided keen insights into the president's mode of thinking-or not thinking.
Eager to use every tool at our disposal, VIPS recently asked Dr. Frank to update his observations, with a view to forecasting, to the extent possible, how Bush is likely to react to the building pressures of the coming weeks and months. We will issue, perhaps as early as this week, Dr. Frank's latest analysis, fortified by our own input. But we already have his preliminary analysis; there is no other word for it: Scary.
In a quick note to us this morning [July 23], Dr. Frank noted we are "dealing with a potentially cornered man [who] could lash out, and it is possible that the best way would be to bomb Iran.... Whatever the root causes of Bush's pathology, we have a dangerous man running things...grandiose and unchecked."
Some snippets from the Memorandum that Dr. Frank is drafting for issuance under VIPS auspices:
"George W. Bush is without conscience...and destructive, willfully so. He has always likes to break things...most shocking is the way he is breaking our armed forces.
"He doesn't care about others, is indifferent to their suffering...He is almost constitutionally missing the ability to sympathize or empathize...More indifferent to reality than out of touch with it, he makes up whatever story he wants.
"Ultimately, he is psychologically unstable...His goal is to destroy things [and he can do that] without experiencing anxiety or a sense of responsibility. An equally important goal is to protect himself from shame, from being wrong, from being found small and weak."
So what do we do?
At a similarly critical juncture, Dr. King was typically direct: "We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.... there is such a thing as being too late.... Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with lost opportunity.... Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"
There is today another Edmund Pettus Bridge to cross, John. And it has fallen to you to lead us across.
Ray McGovern (for VIPS)