Some noted rabble-rousers locally and across the country hope to add George W. Bush's name to a list of dubious distinction: They want to make our 43rd president the fourth to have impeachment proceedings undertaken against him.
They claim that under the Constitution, Bush is eligible to be formally accused by the House and tried by the Senate for "high crimes and misdemeanors." On Weds., July 19, teach-ins will be held at more than 100 sites across the country, including the Union Project in Highland Park. At each location, panelists will explain why and how to impel Congress to begin the process.
Spearheading Pittsburgh's event are women's peace activist group CodePink and state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Highland Park). This isn't Ferlo's first call for the measure. In January, he circulated a petition calling for impeachment in full-page newspaper ads in City Paper and elsewhere. (His move was inspired by House Resolution 635, introduced in December 2005 by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, but never voted on: Conyers' bill called for the formation of a congressional committee to investigate possible grounds for impeachment.) Nor is it CodePink's first foray into the field: Group leader Francine Porter points to a rally held by CodePink during the State of the Union Address in January, also calling for impeachment.
"There was an immediate, broad-based response to my ad throughout Pennsylvania," says Ferlo, adding that "several thousand people" signed on to his petition through e-mail. Both Ferlo and Porter say they hope this event will build on that groundswell, motivating people to contact their congressperson. This is a crucial step, since all the petitions in the world may not trigger congressional action, without which no proceedings can take place. Both are optimistic that events like this can realistically lead to impeachment, despite cynicism from detractors.
"Anything that Clinton may or may not have done pales in comparison to the death and destruction committed by this president," Ferlo says. "A year before the [Richard] Nixon impeachment, people said, 'There's no way you're going to impeach him.'"
Indeed, Congressman Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale, says the activists may be tilting at windmills. "I understand their frustration and their wanting to see Congress move on this," Doyle says.
"Unfortunately, that's not realistic until we change the face of Congress." The legislature, he says, has "failed miserably in its oversight responsibilities" and, had it been more diligent, the events activists cite as grounds for impeachment might never have happened in the first place.
The events are keyed to a book called Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, put together by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York City-based nonprofit congressional law activist group, and published by Melville House Publishing in Hoboken, N.J. The book sets forth four specific violations that the authors claim are grounds for impeachment: warrantless surveillance, misleading Congress on the reasons for the Iraq war, violating laws against torture, and subverting the Constitution's separation of powers.
It was only a matter of weeks from the book's conception to its appearance in print, says Dennis Loy Johnson, co-publisher at Melville House with his wife Valerie Merians. "The revelation of the NSA wiretapping triggered it," says Johnson, a former Pittsburgher. It's a challenge for a publishing house to keep up with the hyperactive 24-hour news cycle, he adds, which leads to rushed publishing of barebones volumes.
"It's a historic style of publishing," Johnson says. "This is the kind of literature the country was founded on," citing revolutionary pamphlets like Thomas Paine's 1776 "Common Sense."
Articles of Impeachment, however, is more of an academic and legal document than shrill anti-Bush rhetoric ... unlike Paine's historic document, whose author claimed impartiality while calling those who disagreed with his point "sycophants."
"Everybody's got an ax to grind with the president," Johnson says. "We thought we'd cut the polemic." People may have disparate reasons for wanting to see Bush out, but the book makes the strongest case, he believes, by relying strictly on the Constitution and Bush's documented transgressions.
About 2,000 people have taken advantage of an offer by Melville House: Buy a copy of the book for your congressperson, and the company will ship it out for free. They've sent copies to more than 300 members of Congress.
The event at the Union Project will include a screening of a companion video made by Melville House, "How to Impeach a President," and a panel discussion centering on the four charges. Moderating the panel will be Jules Lobel, professor of constitutional law at the University of Pittsburgh. Lobel, who did not respond to interview requests, is a vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Copies of the book will be on sale at the event ... of course.
But what about Vice President Dick Cheney? He's next in line if Bush is out, and he's no sweetheart of the anti-Bush crowd either.
"Well, you have to start someplace," says Johnson. "The administration would be terribly weakened" without Bush. "You can also enact a Cheney impeachment process."
Says Ferlo: "I think we'd be looking toward a package deal. We'd be looking for a twofer."