April 3, 2007
The Democrats Go FishingBy J.R. Dunn
Last week, Democratic strategy for the rest of the Bush presidency was rendered transparent: the Dems intend to impeach George W. Bush by whatever means necessary.
The Democrats need to impeach Bush. It's not optional - it's something they have to do. Not simply because of who Bush is or anything he may have done, but as an act of vengeance for Bill Clinton. Clinton's impeachment was a blow to their amour propre, their pose of being morally superior to the opposition, one that has rankled ever since. In much the same way that a gang-banger feels compelled to erase an insult through violence, the Democrats have to take down the succeeding Republican president, no matter how bad it makes them look or what price they have to pay. Only then can they at last move on. And perhaps not even then.
Their method is the one we saw utilized in the Plamegate "scandal". Use a shotgun approach, hitting as many targets as possible until one begins to resonate. Keep banging at it until a weak link is found, and then pound it until it breaks. Employ whatever means are required -- legal, legislative, and media. (Media assistance is crucial. Joe and Valerie's weird little caper could not possibly have been blown up to scandal status without it. Last Thursday CBS ran a furrowed-brow piece reprinted from The Nation in which somebody named John Nichols clearly outlines what the Dems have in mind.
This can be taken as a toe-in-the-water move on the part of the network -- CBS is testing how far it go with the cry of "impeachment" without putting itself on the line. We'll be seeing a lot more like this in the months to come.) Cooperation from a nominal Republican -- Patrick Fitzgerald during Plamegate, Arlen Spector now -- should be gained for use as a partisan smokescreen. There always seems to be at least one available.
Anyone requiring further details is encouraged to consult Clarice Feldman, who knows more about the subject than I ever will.
This is a far from perfect technique - the target in Plamegate was Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, but the Dems had to content themselves with I. Lewis Libby. And Libby, despite all pressures, did not break, and shows no sign of ever doing so.
But the case has been successful in putting the fear into potential victims. This is very likely what happened to Alberto Gonzales. When sparks began flying over the attorney firings - which appear to be entirely justified by the record, if Byron York's investigation into the firing of Carol Lam of the San Diego office is any indication -- Gonzales panicked, and rather than stiff-arming the Democrats, began to make statements that he couldn't back up, thus putting himself smack in the position he was afraid of in the first place.
The Attorney General's deer-in-the-headlights moment has stretched on unbearably, as he has compounded one error with another. Last Friday's claim that he "just doesn't remember" any meetings discussing the attorneys was what he should have said in the first place but now comes far too late. Defiance is the only way to treat bullies, particularly those of the political type, who are virtually guaranteed to have to a soft core. Cooperation and excuses, which is the path Gonzales chose, simply goad them to further excesses.
In contrast we have the testimony of Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff. Sampson was rumored to be ready to cooperate with the committee, but nothing of the sort occurred. Last Thursday when Sampson appeared with no less than six lawyers, he did offer an apology, not for the fact that the attorneys were fired, but for how badly the response was handled. This appears to have been a pro forma statement, amounting to throwing the committee a bone.
But Sampson failed to go on in that vein, instead informing the committee that they were barking up the wrong tree on any number of grounds. He pointed out that
Public officials in that type of office
He then stonewalled the committee for over seven hours while Schumer and Leahy attempted to wear him down - according to Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, Sampson said "I don't remember," over122 times. So rattled did Leahy at last become that, misinterpreting something completely unrelated, he began insisting that the Republicans had "shut down" the hearing, allowing Sampson to leave well before the committee had planned. (Milbank's take was utterly sarcastic, which, considering the source, comes across as high praise.)
Only once did Sampson give the committee Democrats anything they could possibly use, saying of Gonzales' claim that he was completely uninvolved in the firings, "I don't think it's entirely accurate..." That's a carefully phrased statement, subject to a number of interpretations, giving Gonzales several outs should that become necessary.
Not as impressive as Oliver North's performance, perhaps. But we expect Marine officers to be tough and quick on their feet. Bureaucrats have other talents, and Sampson is a bureaucrat from his wingtips to his rimless glasses. All the same, he has discovered the proper method of dealing with these people - meet them on their own ground, treat them with the due respect their positions require, and don't give an inch. If this becomes standard procedure -- as it should -- it will leave the committee Democrats grasping at thin air. Nothing could possibly frustrate them more. (Monica Goodling, one of Sampson's colleagues, has chosen to take the Fifth, which perhaps has its points. But to many this calls to mind 1950s communists and the "dese and dose" crew hauled before the Kefauver Committee, and should be discouraged for that reason alone.)
Libby behaved as a reasonable, law-abiding man naturally would - he cooperated in hopes of clearing the air, and, no better target being found, he was nailed for it on a question of differening memories of a short phone call years before. The Democrats are neither reasonable nor, in many cases, law-abiding, so there's no pretense of punctilious behavior on their behalf. With the Libby case, the Democrats threw out the rulebook. And when you do that, it applies to all concerned, not just the men on the platform. When our betters in government refuse to operate by the usual rules, there's no reason anyone else should either. Libby's fate has clearly demonstrated that.
Sampson's contribution has been to reveal a viable third path between the Scylla of cooperation and the Charybdis of panicky collapse. Gonzales should take note. (He should also probably resign, but not now - a six-month wait would deny the Dems a scalp and spare Gonzales himself humiliation. He is, after all, a good man. He just can't swim with the great whites. Sampson obviously can.)
Nothing is likely to come of the Democratic effort to fashion impeachment into a political weapon. They've forgotten that Clinton's impeachment was not particularly popular. The public considered his actions as much comic as anything else, not quite rising to the level of an impeachable offense. (Trent Lott, always a reliable bellwether in sniffing out that kind of thing, appears to taken it into account in effectively dropping the effort in the Senate.) A Democratic attempt is unlikely to go over any better, particularly if it takes them months or years to cobble together a case. Which does not mean that they'll ever quit.
As far as George W. Bush is concerned, the entire Democratic Party fits Santayana's definition of a fanatic - "One who redoubles his efforts as he loses sight of his aims". The anti-Bush campaign has taken on the character of a vendetta, one that will end only when all parties involved are dead.
Of course, W could probably short-circuit the entire process by pardoning Libby tomorrow. Why is that too much to hope for?
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.