Politics & Policy

Change Starts With Cheney

The vice president's unlikely loyalists.

Last month, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, a few thousand protesters gathered at the Washington Monument to deliver a quaint message: “Bush Step Down!” Clunky buttons and stylish t-shirts advised onlookers to “IMPEACH BUSH!”

The rally was organized by The World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime (WCW), a group which seeks to, well, drive out the Bush regime. Specific instructions on how to go about this enterprise were absent. But this goal of theirs was not the goal of that day. Everyone was too busy with theatrics.

Not content with simply “staying on message,” the demonstrators did more than the customary chanting and placard-holding. At the end of the five-hour rally, the protestors made like the Arab street and dropped a 30-foot effigy of George W. Bush off the stage. Perhaps (just a guess) this was an attempt to signal the fall of the reign of “King George.” Obviously, the group has an axe to grind and a new axis in mind. So far, however, it seems that their assault on the regime is focused almost entirely on Bush and not the regime.

Madness Breeds More Madness

The “impeach Bush” refrain is growing louder by the day, and even though on the grassroots level it is mostly confined to antisocial elements on the fringe left, it is winning some endorsements from up above.

Just this Monday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D., Wis.) introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for his “illegal wiretapping” of Americans. Speaking on the Senate floor, Feingold said, “As we move forward, Congress will need to consider a range of possible actions, including investigations, independent commissions, legislation, or even impeachment.” Censure is only the first step, he said, for Congress to express “the most serious disapproval possible, short of impeachment, of the Executive’s conduct.”

The day before, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Feingold said, “[The president’s] conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors.” “This is clearly more serious than anything President Clinton was accused of,” he later reiterated. “It is reminiscent of what President Nixon was not only accused of doing but was basically removed from office for doing.”

Formal steps have already been taken in the House of Representatives. In December, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D., Mich.) proposed a resolution that would set up “a select committee to investigate the Administration’s intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.” The bill now has 29 cosponsors.

In addition, Conyers issued a 273-page report detailing “Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War,” charges which “clearly rise to the level of impeachable misconduct.” The bottom line, the report warns, is that we live “at a time of entrenched one-party rule and abuse of power in Washington.”

This sentiment is being echoed in leftwing publications. First off was former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who, in the January issue of The Nation, argued that failure to impeach Bush would permit him to break any “law on his own say-so–a formula for dictatorship. This is not a theoretical danger.”

Lewis H. Lapham agrees. Writing in the March issue of Harper’s magazine, Lapham calls for Bush’s impeachment in order to thwart the administration’s efforts “to replace a democratic republic with something more safely totalitarian. The fiction of permanent war allows it to seize, in the name of the national security, the instruments of tyranny.”

Ditto says William Goodman, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which just released Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, a 141-page booklet stating the legal grounds for Bush’s impeachment. In the introduction, Goodman writes: “While any of the individual acts and policies outlined in the following articles would constitute an impeachable offense, taken as a whole, as a pattern and practice, they constitute something far more sinister, a plan to significantly weaken, if not destroy, our democracy.”

How to save American democracy from totalitarianism? “Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence,” advises Garrison Keillor on Salon.com.

Judging by the Left’s impeachment efforts thus far, their future prospects look almost as bleak as their rallies.

What next?

But what if they got their wish? One wonders if they’ve even pondered this scenario. It’s not as entertaining as, say, knitting American flags decorated with corporate logos instead of stars; but it’s necessary nonetheless, is it not, for an outfit bent on regime change?

For a president to step down, a successor must step in. This is not a complicated concept, yet it seems to have eluded many in the pro-impeachment caucus. Apparently, they don’t take their goals or themselves very seriously. They’re either too busy running for president or too interested in playing with 30-foot dolls.

The conception of cause and effect seems to be lost on WCW, whose members think they’re pressing the right buttons just by wearing them and that by handing out stickers they’re sticking it to the president.

This sort of thing–protest activity–is their sine qua non, believed to be preeminent to impeachment success and a subsequent Bush eviction, deemed even by lawyers as more important than the legal process. Michael Ratner, president of CCR, recently said, “You don’t just win by lawsuits; you win by popular protest, people in the streets…. [T]here has to be popular protest in this country, or our lawsuits are not going to change anything.”

Since repetitious soundbytes alone won’t do the trick, they are accompanied by protests with the sort of faux creativity one would expect at a sit-in of math tutors. Even so, members of WCW still apparently lack basic arithmetic skills. Though keen on subtracting Bush from the White House, they are confused about what their formula adds up to:

White House – George W. Bush = President Cheney.

Probably not the answer they were looking for.

Nor was the idea of President Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president from 1969 to 1973, an appealing prospect to Democrats, who despised him even more than they did Nixon. With the Watergate scandal embroiling around him, Nixon saw Agnew’s unpopularity as an asset, as “insurance against impeachment,” believing as he did that Democrats wouldn’t impeach the president out of fear of anointing Agnew as his successor in consequence.

Agnew’s resignation in 1973, amid revelations of his involvement in a Maryland bribery scandal, deprived Nixon of this insurance. Though Agnew’s departure brought some relief to the Watergate-ensnared White House, Nixon knew it was a double-edged sword. Though he hoped that Agnew’s “stepping aside would take some of the pressure off the effort to get the President, all it did was to open the way to put pressure on the President to resign as well,” Nixon recounted in his diary. No longer fearing an Agnew presidency, congressional Democrats were now more determined than ever to seek an impeachment and face the consequences of life after Nixon.

Looks Like the Protests Won’t Stop

So whom do these protesters have in mind as a successor? Alas, the choice is not theirs. It belongs to the U.S. Constitution. The Twenty-Fifth Amendment states: “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.” Because with impeachment comes inauguration, Cheney would step in if Bush stepped down. Hence the implicit platform of WCW: Regime change starts with Cheney.

Why wouldn’t the Left be content with a Cheney presidency? He’s already the co-president. If Bush is an imbecile who takes his orders from Cheney, what harm is there in taking out the middleman? Perhaps none.

There may be another explanation. Maybe Bush hatred is really just Cheney love in disguise. Perhaps WCW and CCR are front organizations, their members all charlatans who hide their awe of Cheney behind the shock of anti-Bush histrionics.

In order to love a vice, sometimes it’s necessary to hide that love. And what better way to hide love than with hate? “Vice, in its true light,” said Lord Chesterfield, “is so deformed, that it shocks us at first sight; and would hardly ever seduce us, if it did not at first wear the mask of some virtue.” So true.

Cloaking their pro-Vice sentiments underneath a heavy coat of body odor, earth-friendly earrings, tie-dye trinkets, and anti-army armor, the anti-Bush protestors braved acid rain and risked ozone depletion to ignite American flags. Who else but Cheney loyalists would show such contempt for the environment? Who would ever guess that Cheney’s cohorts would don the costumes of anti-corporate crusaders and militant pacifists? Karl Rove, probably.

For these leftist imposters, deposing King George is merely a ruse for crowning his Prince of Darkness.

Apparently, this is exactly what some on the Left want. At their February 4 rally, the protestors carried “Stop the tyranny of King George” signs to the White House “to argue against the president’s politics and to ask him to resign,” the Washington Times reported.

Whether Bush were to step down voluntarily or involuntarily is not a trivial distinction. A Bush resignation would allow Cheney to accede, while a forced overthrow could conceivably expel them both. When lining up outside the White House, did any of the demonstrators contemplate the line of succession looks like?

After Cheney comes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and after Hastert comes president pro tempore of the Senate, Alaska’s very own Ted Stevens, then Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary John Snow, Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and so on and so forth.

Since Hastert has no apparent ambitions of higher office, groups like WCW and CCR face an obvious dilemma. If it were up to them, which do they prefer: Ted Stevens’ bridge to nowhere or Dick Cheney’s highway to hell? (Bill Clinton’s bridge to the 21st century is no longer an option.)

Those in the pro-impeachment crowd are making it clear that they stand for change, but only that. And thanks to the Twenty-fifth Amendment, change starts with Cheney.

It looks as if Feingold has found his running mate.

Windsor Mann is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.

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