Nancy Pelosi’s problem, and mine

      4 Comments on Nancy Pelosi’s problem, and mine

I’m not sure that Gentle Readers will have seen Adele M. Stan’s note on Tapped Pelosi: If Things Were Different, I'd Want to Impeach. And I know many Gentle Readers have been wanting to get out the impeachment gavel for some little time, now. So I thought I’d chime in.

Ms. Stan asked the Speaker about “the tension between the pressure to pass an ambitious legislative agenda and simultaneously protect the Constitution,” because she, among others, fears that too much attention is being paid to the former, and not enough to the latter. Speaker Pelosi made it clear that her priorities really are legislative, but adds “If I were not the speaker and I were not in Congress, I would probably be advocating for impeachment.”

How to interpret that? It seems to me that Speaker Pelosi is saying that absent a mass movement to pressure Congress to impeach, there will be no impeachment votes. Those who want those votes should not look to the Speaker for them, she is saying, but should create a political climate where the Speaker will change her mind.

Or is she? Perhaps she is saying that she would advocate for impeachment, and she encourages others to so advocate, in the complete absence of any possibility of impeachment. That is, she wants a political climate where there is mainstream pressure for impeachment, but no impeachment. There are political upsides to this, actually, but it seems very risky. There are a fair number of people who have very little patience with the Democrats as an opposition Party, and of course it is difficult to argue against them. I like my Party, but I would like it a bit better if it had better judgement about when bipartisanship was a force for good, and when opposition was a force for good. And a bit more discipline, while we’re at it, guys. If this is her vision, it leaves the people who are actually creating it—the impeachment advocates—out in the cold. What reward do those people get for creating the third leg of the triangle? Another chance to vote for somebody who failed to bring about the impeachment they have been pushing? O Joy.

But perhaps that’s unkind. Perhaps there’s another interpretation: Speaker Pelosi, being in Congress and leading that Congress, has certain responsibilities peculiar to her position. Sure, she might be saying, she would viscerally like to see an impeachment vote, but there’s a big difference between advocating one and scheduling one, and she can’t do the first without doing the second. Your Humble Blogger can advocate for impeachment—Digression: I think the preponderance of evidence available to us shows that the Attorney General, the Vice President, the President and very likely the Secretary of State have committed High Crimes against this nation, and that therefore those persons should be impeached by the House and tried in the Senate, where more evidence can be obtained and judgment reached in the full view of the country—but I can also advocate for public transit, and I haven’t the faintest idea how to get people onto the buses. There’s a sense in which the Speaker of the House of Representatives should never advocate impeachment, until and unless she is ready to schedule a vote. Perhaps that will happen yet, but until then, she’s saying, she is precluded by her position from doing what the citizens can do.

Or maybe she’s saying that she just knows better than the average schmuck what is really important. If she weren’t in Congress, if she were just a private citizen, she might be silly enough to advocate for impeachment, but she is a very serious and important person, and far too important to fly kites or impeach cabinet officials.

You pays your money, you takes your chances. Personally, I take it to mean that she is (privately) baffled by the absence of mass unrest. And so am I! I know that in the late sixties the anti-war movement took a long time to get to the point of mass unrest. The unrest in the war over secession was quicker, and put down harder. Eugene Debs went to jail for encouraging people to dodge the draft, but then we don’t have a draft now, do we? And you know, I don’t like riots. I don’t like ’em. They scare me. I’m fond of marches and rallies and speeches, and we have had quite a few of those, although fewer than Speaker Pelosi might expect. But I don’t like mass unrest. I’m an armchair liberal, Gentle Readers, unshakable in my faith in Whitman’s swordless conflict because swords are pointy and get people hurt. But—are we all like me?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “Nancy Pelosi’s problem, and mine

  1. Chris Cobb

    The Speaker of the House has a unique obligation not to be the driving force to bring about an impeachment trial, since she is in line to be President if the Vice President and the President were impeached. (She could be all for impeaching the Attorney General, though!)

    She shouldn’t put up procedural roadblocks to impeachment if the Judiciary Committee decides that bringing articles of impeachment to the floor of the House is warranted, but it is not her place to lead on it.

    I am curious, though, as to what her position on impeachment would be were she in Congress but not Speaker . . .

  2. Jed

    Given the context, my reading of her statement is that the Congress has finite time and resources and energy, and that they could choose to focus those resources on impeachment or on their legislative agenda (but can’t do both), and that she considers the latter more important. She can understand why some segments of the public might be calling for impeachment, but she doesn’t feel that that’s the right choice for Congress right now.

    Which is basically what you said about “knows better […] what is really important,” but I don’t think that stance requires the elitism you’re suggesting; I don’t think she’s saying that impeachment would be silly, just that it would mean everything else would come grinding to a halt, and that as a practical matter, she’s not prepared to sacrifice the legislative agenda for pursuit of impeachment.

    Fwiw, if I’m interpreting her statement right, I think she’s right; I think impeachment proceedings would mean nothing else would get done for a long time, and it seems very unlikely to me that such proceedings would end up having a more than symbolic effect. (Even if the House were to vote to impeach Bush, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict; it seems clear to me that that’s not going to happen.) So it seems to me that she’s facing a choice between making a symbolic protest and making substantive improvements to the nation’s laws (because she can’t do both at once); I’d rather see her do the latter.

    …Of potential interest to those who, like me, haven’t been following this: Wikipedia’s article on the movement to impeach George W. Bush.

    (Impeaching Cheney might be more politically feasible–there appears to be a lot more support for that in opinion polls–and impeaching Gonzales might be comparatively easy. Still a distraction from legislative matters, but might be more likely to have a practical effect.)

  3. Chris in Roanoke

    I also expect that there is another calculation in the mix. If they voted for impeachment, the Senate would never convict. In the long list of half-truths, myths, and outright lies used to prop-up this Administration, it just might be even worse to set the stage for Bush, Cheney, et al to legitimately survive impeachment.

  4. hapa

    nancy pelosi seems in the difficult spot of being a spiritual and practical leader at the same time. i don’t expect her to lead this. the lack of a mass movement shouldn’t surprise, though, since the mass movement for the impeachment of bill clinton was a frenzy whipped up by the endless barn burning campaign by republican activists. there is no such to-the-jugular activism backing the democrats and they’re not sure they want it, anyway. given the events of the ’90s it’s slightly disingenuous to ask where the outrage is. it’s sitting waiting for someone to say “you should be outraged!” loud and often.

    “i take my oath of office seriously” is a good path but there has to be some kind of serious democratic effort at using more than innuendo to defame this presidency. that doesn’t require impeachment. it doesn’t help that the house continues to suggest, by its votes on topics the president supports — particular iran!!! — that bush-cheney business has any place on the country’s desk. the conversation should be very clearly delineated as one between the democratic congress and the general population — like a town meeting for the priorities of a democratic presidency. i agree with the campaign of rolling back the ugly uglies of the republican legislative decade. but if you have only two years, and you’re using those two years as an excuse against impeachment, i think it would be safe to say, even with political calculations in the background, “i do not trust this president with the prosecution of another war. i do not trust this president to pursue the people’s business.” that should be made much more clear.

    (as people have pointed out, impeachment can happen after a person leaves office. it also seems like a good idea to secure a few more of the bush-cheney records, by means other than for-posterity.)


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