This evening, I went to the Harpers' Magazine forum, "The Case for Impeachment," (to be broadcast on CSPAN) featuring Michael Ratner, Lewis Lapham, Elizabeth Holtzman, John Dean, and John Conyers. On the way in, I practically bumped into Mark Crispin Miller, whose friend was talking to him about the importance of "preaching to the choir." "hear, hear," I thought," and then I said, "Oh yes, that's who that is."
Well surely, it's rare enough that an academic gets recognized by appearance, that he'll enjoy it if I say something, so I complimented him on his book - and his blog. He offered to give a talk at my school, and said I should send him an email. His friend said to me, "He really answers his emails!" That's great, and I surely will follow up; I'm curious to hear his take on the impeachment forum, after all, and the kids at my seedy urban school would love to hear what he has to say about the American media, and of course, his analysis of the Ohio election, and Bush et al.
The discussion was pretty lively and left me leaving with a notion I hadn't really had before, that impeachment is a realistic political goal within the current context. Holtzman was probably the strongest in arguing for the build-up of a people's movement for impeachment. She and Conyers both suggested that the 2006 elections should focus on impeachment as a major issue. Because of this somewhat strategic focus, although I had expected I would know just about everything everyone would say before it was said, the discussion went beyond the usual exposure of crimes and went more directly toward arguing for this particular response.
First, the panel explained exactly what Conyers' House Resolution is all about (it calls for the formation of a select committee to investigate impeachment) and Holtzman, Conyers, and Dean all shared their Watergate experiences. Lapham was not too inspiring, except during the Q&A, when he said that he thought we ought to use impeachment "more often" and answered an audience member's question with "yes," if it came to that, revolution would be the appropriate response to executive tyranny. He seemed to mull it over when an audience member suggested abolishing the Presidency.
Lapham does a good job of representing the most hopeful, Tom Paine variety of American liberalism, and gave a great speech on the value of the Constitution, the separation of powers, etc.
Following the presentations, there were questions from the audience members, who predictably didn't ask questions at all, which irritated everyone.
On my way home, I listened to an actual debate, another one of those "intelligence squared" events from England, this one on the topic of "tyrants should be left free to tyrannise their own people." That the proposition was so badly worded probably contributed to its downfall, as the main argument of its proponents, the creepy paleo?-condward LuttwakE and Robert Skidelsky seemed to be that it's not a good idea to overthrow tyrannical governments just because of their tyranny. Of course, Iraq was the subtext. I was somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing because of Luttwak's creepy politics until I heard the first speaker against the motion: Clinton admin. man, and foreign policy advisor to John Kerry, James Rubin, who argued for Wilsonian intervention with the kind of skill that reminded me of how damn dangerous those Clintonites were. It is because these policies are so much more easily argued by people like Rubin that Wallerstein made the argument that Kerry would have been a more dangerous president than Bush. I was thinking along those lines by the end of the impeachment discussion, but I couldn't quite get a question out. If I had, it would have been something like this:
Would you say that impeachment is occurring more frequently in recent years (Nixon, Clinton, Bush?) because executive power itself has grown so much since 1947, and if that is the case, why do you think that impeaching Bush will be enough to save the Republic?
It seems to me that the real question here is about the danger that empire poses to liberty, and that, unfortunately, is a bigger problem than its current representatives, not matter how criminal they are.