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Impeachment Sickness

IMPEACHMENT FEVER HAS OFFICIALLY broken out, and it makes the avian flu look like ?a two-day head cold. The primary symptoms are sustained delusional bouts that lead the victims to imagine that a Republican-controlled Congress — on the eve of midterm elections, no less — would actually indict and convict a sitting president from its ?own party.

The infection first broke out on the Web — the primary cases detected in places like Democrats.com or AfterDowningStreet.org. This week the epidemic has spread to public spaces — to rented church halls and town meetings — where the infected gather and collectively visualize Chief Justice John Roberts putting George W. Bush on trial. If you happen to stumble into one of these gatherings of the infirm, make sure to first put on your hazmat suits. Even a double-dose of Tamiflu will be rendered useless by the ferocity of this disease.

In their delirium, the feverishly infected have forgotten that impeachment is not a legal or moral matter but strictly one of congressional political majorities. Congress doesn’t impeach a president because he did or did not commit high crimes. Nope. You get impeached only if a voting majority in the House despises you enough to bump you off. You can ask Bill Clinton about that one.

Yet, here we go again with another in a never-ending series of self-parodying minuets, an umpteenth dance by a gaggle of anti-Bush forces intent on doing everything they can to get rid of him except the one guaranteed thing that really works — winning elections. You win those elections by building new majorities and not by humoring yourself with emotionally satisfying but politically impossible fantasies.

Compare and contrast two different political events this past week. One was basically therapeutic. The other was strategic. In the first category, we have a meeting at a Hollywood church where Maxine Waters and Tom Hayden gathered with an audience who already agreed with them to a) denounce a war everyone had already opposed and b) propose the impeachment of a president they already hated. And to demand from a Congress that hates them to impeach a president it dearly loves (why not also ask Denny Hastert to impose a 35-hour workweek, amnesty for illegal immigrants and nationalization of the banks?).

In the second, strategic category of events (and, damn, I never thought I would be saying this about him), we find none other than Al Gore. Confirming the notion that the best politicians are often defeated politicians, Gore unleashed a wall-banger of a speech that slammed the administration for “breaking the law repeatedly and persistently” by secretly ordering the now infamous NSA wiretapping program. To rousing applause and amplified by copious media coverage, a cranked-up Gore demanded the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the domestic-surveillance program.

WHAT REALLY SET GORE’S SPEECH APART from the ordinary sort of echo-chamber wanking was not only the venue he chose — the Constitution Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution — but also the bigger political frame of the event. Gore was co-sponsored by the liberal American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and by the Liberty Coalition. The latter group includes not only liberals like MoveOn.org’s political-action committee, but also such rightward groups as the National Taxpayers Union, the Free Congress Foundation and American Conservative Union. Also prominently endorsing Gore’s speech was the conservative former Georgia congressman Bob Barr (who, you will remember, was an enthusiastic torturer of Bill Clinton).

Two weeks ago, Gore staged a similar and dramatic crossing of partisan lines when he spoke about global warming to a group of conservative activists at a gathering organized by none other than right-wing warrior Grover Norquist. In other words, Al Gore has been out there actually trying to convince the unconvinced, trying to build right-left coalitions on issues that really matter.

In the past, no one has been tougher on or more disdainful of Al Gore than your faithful servant. Indeed, if anyone quotes this column praising him, I’m likely to deny I ever wrote it. But if Al Gore stays on this track of the last few weeks, I might find myself actually warming to him. In the short term, he has already won my admiration if not my affection.

In the dire political circumstances we face, the only thing I find more depressing, more maddening than walking into a Young Republican convention, is schlepping to one more forum, one more panel discussion, one more prayer-meeting-like convocation of Outraged Liberals who piss away a Tuesday or Wednesday night by mightily concurring with each other about the horror, the horror of it all.

Why not try, for once, what Al Gore has started doing? Why not show the courage and the initiative to go out there and talk to all those other people who might not agree with you? Go, Al, go (gulp).