The Wolverine and The Wolves

Originally posted by Idiosynchronic on 10/07/06

Did you know that a single wolverine will harass and intimidate packs of wolves away from their kills?  The wolverine is so apparently ruthless and aggressive that even the killing machines that plague the nightmares of men can be scared off.

The wolverine is not a large animal – it weighs only 70 lbs and is 40″ long at its largest.  The wild wolf is 90-100 lbs on average, and is 48-54″ long in length.  (FWIW – my mother-in-law owns several large husky-wolf crossbreeds.  They’re huge animals and incredibly strong.)  The wolverine is also strong and has a set of lethal killing claws and teeth.  The wolf also has a bite  worthy to be feared, but they also move and hunt in packs, cooperatively sharing the burden, increasing hunting efficiency, and sharing the spoils.  The wolverine’s abilities may be superior to a single wolf, but cooperatively, a wolf pack could defend and drive off a wolverine –  if it stays together and committed.

The current sitting President and Congress resemble the wolves and wolverine in conflict – President Bush routinely adopts aggressive rhetoric and a combative attitude that demands that his way be the only way.  Even when Congress asserts itself, the President has effectively gone on and enforced his own will on the laws that have been passed.  Congress, hobbled by its own fears and prone to un-unified behavior, has more or less let the President get his own way.


But what happens when Congress finally takes a stand?

Even though we’re currently embroiled in a political scandal that threatens the current Speaker of the House, we have a potential inferno waiting to happen after November.  President Bush this week indicated that a law he signed will be effectively ignored by his administration.  If you consult the record of signing statements, President Bush has elected to mount a record 760 challenges to the bills he’s signed into law.  (More here)  The wikipedia entry even discusses that the signing statement has become the virtual replacement for the un-constitutional dream of the Line-Item Veto.  The last time that a willful, combative President fought with a Congress that was unwilling to back down in it’s demand for acquiescence, the political fire broke out of control.

It’s called impeachment, the last drastic power of the Legislative branch to rein in and remove the elected head of the Executive.  Despite what the Constitution states, that impeachment is only for the removal of officials who have committed, “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, impeachment is in practice the nigh-ultimate political tool for cowing an uncooperative President.  (The ultimate is of course, removal.)  Of course, it has never worked as well as Congress or the Founders intended.

Impeachment is occasionally mis-associated with the Latin word impetere, which means “to attack”.  Impeachment actually is derived from the Latin-rooted French word, empêcher, which is translated as “to prevent”, and the modern English impede.  In short these words express the idea that the impeached official (The President in particular) has become caught or entrapped.  (Michael Gerhardt, The Federal Impeachment Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis, Second edition.)  The linkage of impeachment to ‘entrapment’ and impediment bodes several clues about the real uses of this power in actual governance.

All impeachments derive from a Causus Belli.  With Clinton, it wasn’t the improper use of an intern, but the cover-up and perjury that followed which led to Clinton’s impeachment.  In the one other example of Executive impeachment, and the important one of note,  Andrew Johnson was entrapped within a Republican cabinet and Congress that he was bound and determined to defy in his handling of Southern Reconstruction.  After setting a trap in that was in possible conflict with the separation of powers, the House overwhelmingly impeached Johnson on the grounds that Johnson was interfering with Congress’ ability to monitor the Executive Branch.  Johnson escaped removal by one vote three times.

Wikipedia’s commentary of the Johnson impeachment says something fascinating, (my bolding):

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson is widely regarded as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Federal Government. Had Johnson been successfully removed from office a precedent would have been established that a President could be removed not for “high crimes and misdemeanors” but for purely political differences.

Considering the run-up from 1992-1998 with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and the Whitewater controversy, that’s a fairly dishonest statement.  It may have been true considering the gross nature of the laws broken by Richard Nixon and his administration, but the Clinton Presidency is marked by the endless number of investigations executed by the opposition that were either harassing or spurious at their outset.

The consequences of impeachment have been fairly bad.  The Congress of 1868 saw their work as going for naught, adjourned to their presidential nominating conventions, and then lost the votes for removal in May 1868 after Johnson lost his long-shot party bid for re-nomination.  (Johnson had managed to alienate even his own party!)  Both branches entered into a short period of détente as the fall general campaign geared up.  Since Reconstruction limited white Southern participation, Republicans easily retained majorities in Congress and gained the presidency with Grant.  Grant may have been an excellent military leader, but he was a poor President.  In 1998 & 2000, Republicans pursuing impeachment actually lost seats in the House while keeping a narrow majority, and Republicans lost full control of the Senate in 2001.

It’s now considered political common sense that the Republican Majority will lose the House of Representatives, and possibily the Senate, in November because of the Mark Foley scandal and long-building dissatisfaction with the War in Iraq and Congressional compliance with the lack of oversight in the war.  President Bush has shown little intention of complying with or acquiescing to Congress when controlled by his own party.  If one or both houses of Congress are lost to the Democrats, Democrats will obviously have the power to at least investigate George Bush on a number of issues from interference in Congressional oversight to lying about weapons of mass destruction to obtain war powers in Iraq.  Bush will resist, probably with about as much political ordinance as he can muster.  Democrats can finally impeach, but removal from office is the ultimate long-shot since a 2/3rds majority in the Senate is required for removal.  The Republicans in both the House and Senate have been known for voting in partisan formation – and an impeachment trial is about as partisan as it gets.  In order for impeachment to succeed, this administration must be revealed to have committed gross domestic crimes and abuses of power seen in the Nixon White House after Watergate was exposed, and for those crimes to make such an impression on the public that impeachment is seen as the only solution.

The real question is if Democrats can manage to keep their pack together in the face of a frightening , snarling but defeatable opponent.  And keep the investigations or impeachment from blowing back on themselves.

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