Prepare to dare or prepare to despair
Email conversation with Thomas Nephew about the Million Doors for Peace effort got me to pull together some thoughts I've only let myself reflect on briefly over the last few months.
There's been a divide among antiwar activists -- between those who are serious about ending the occupation of Iraq and those who’d like to do that but only if it doesn’t cost Democrats politically. Depending on the size of the Democratic majorities in Congress, and assuming an Obama administration, that divide might be less important in 2009 than it's been for the last two years.
Given that Voters for Peace (the coalition organizing Million Doors) includes both tendencies, it's an encouraging sign that their petition calls for a faster and firmer wrapup in Iraq than even the Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq, not to mention the probably-never "conditional engagement" plan of Colin Kahl and company, who have Obama's ear. If the Responsible Plan were the strongest demand on the Obama administration, then we'd end up with something closer to permanent bases and endless occupation. With Voters for Peace mobilizing a million petition signers this winter for something stronger, the Responsible Plan backers in Congress should be able to position their policy (accurately) as the centrist choice.
There’s a whole constellation of issues just ahead of us in which this dynamic plays out, where an insufficiently vigorous presence on the "radical" end of the spectrum could result in blown opportunities that haunt us for the next decade or more.
Health care: Health Care for America Now has more than a little in common with Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (see 'divide' above). I accept that there's an imperative for Dems to pass something that concretely provides access to affordable health insurance for everyone. I also accept the political impossibility of legislating the private insurers out of the medical market in the next Congress. So I grasp the incrementalist strategy, whose goal is to get a public insurance pool into whatever's passed as the thin end of the wedge that could lead eventually to an all-public plan.
What I don’t buy is that single-payer advocates should just fold into the HCAN campaign rather than mobilizing to create the serious threat of a stronger plan from which the HCAN public-pool proposal can be urged as the compromise retreat. If HCAN’s is the starting position, then we’ll end up with less than that. In this case, anything less would mean foreclosing the chance for public health care for another generation.
Impeachment right away: Only a small minority of the American public -- even of informed, activist liberals -- understands that the Constitution provides for impeachment of officials after they've left office, not just for sitting presidents. Yet post-power impeachment hearings are the single best way to uncover just what lawbreaking was done. Not only do impeachment investigations have much stronger testimony-extracting powers than regular Congressional hearings, but post-term impeachment is much less easily characterized as a "partisan witch hunt" because it's removed from an electoral landscape.
Other excuses will be will be thrown up by compromised, fearful, lazy, and/or power-loving Democrats. The two most common are "we don't want to be seen as vindictive" and "impeachment would be a distraction from the vital work we have to get done".
The best answer to ‘vindictive’ is that this is about restoring the Constitution, pruning back these dangerously expanded executive powers that no one -- including "our" people -- should have. That’s the opposite of vindictive.
We’re going to get the ‘distraction’ line not only from politicians but from our allies, every organized progressive constituency desperate to get issues addressed by Congress after eight (or 28) years in the desert. Yet if the impeachment investigations are put off for even a year, we’ll run right up against the midterms, and by 2011 the presidential campaign will have begun. So if hearings don't begin in 2009, it’s hard to see how they could get going before 2013 -– by which time the "ancient history" charge will have more effect. So it could be 2009 or never.
We cannot wait. If there’s no serious domestic move toward accountability for torture, for which impeachment hearings are among the most practical and plausibly effective forum, then within a year there will be international legal interventions. The politics and optics of that are terrible, for anyone who cares about achieving a systemic rooting-out and reversal of this country's policy of torture. Legal threats from outside the country risk creating an effect of rallying around the old regime (however incredible such a thing seems now), and not only among Republicans. The most secure footing for international law will be created by Americans ourselves restoring the rule of law in the United States.
Likewise, only actual exposure of what went on with domestic spying under Bush-Cheney can light a big enough fire under Congress to get them to roll back the legislation that enables it, and only impeachment hearings seem to me to have the testimony-inducing force to get that exposure.
Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.
(The mechanics to accomplish this are for another post. Please don't wait for that; share thoughts and suggestions in comments.)