Tuesday, March 07, 2006

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Doctor Benjamin Franklin: "Impeachment Is a Win-Win!"

At least that may be the way he would put it if he were in the Senate today.

“Follow the money,” other folks say, when you want to know what’s going on. With Impeachment (I capitalize it because it seems so right to use it for a noun that names something perfectly "proper" in this case), Ben Franklin might suggest that you “follow the gains.” If we followed the money in regard to Impeachment, it wouldn’t show us much.

The only way the American people can gain financially anymore is to oppose the WTO, CAFTA’s implementation, and FTAA (which will be back, most likely under an assumed name) and further rein in manufacturers with increased environmental regulations that will bring back healthy soil, healthy food, clear streams, clean air. The best way to cut back on the cost of health care is to grow healthy citizens. We have been making them sick for 50 years now, sometimes knowing it, but selling our chemical injections into the earth, our food, and our streams anyway. Some of the effects of that vicious willingness to ignore warning signs from sound science include genetic deformities in humans such as low and declining sperm counts in men,and duplication of genitals in women as well as in frogs and other critters. That not only inflicts pain and confusion on the present generation, it does not bode well for robust future generations.

We could also go into emergency mode for new sustainable energy sources, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is another example of corporate willingness to ignore science and inflict damage on the planet and its occupants in exchange for profit for a few. Any company that does not thoroughly explore the warnings we’ve had from science, and examine its own practices in light of them, or deliberately tries to hide its practices with bought science, should lose its business license and its corporate status as soon as that is discovered.

There are other things we could do to improve our economy:

Increase the minimum wage. Reset the standards by which we measure our Gross National Economic Health, recalibrate our poverty levels. Re-establish a progressive income tax, so that the current welfare recipients making over a $million a year pay their fair share. These are but examples.

But Impeachment won’t affect our incomes at all. Even an election won’t fix that, since both parties are determined not to accomplish any of those things outlined above. So there is no need to follow the money. But take a look at who gains and who loses, for economic gains are not the only gains to be made.

So who does gain, and who loses from Impeachment? And how?

First big winner is the American people. They might get their freedom back. No Un-"Patriots Act." No unwarranted surveillance. If we Impeach all the Impeachable (“The Impeach-a-ble Dream”), and jail all the corrupt, we would not need to worry about succession in the Executive Branch. Mr. Cheney would be gone. The Speaker of the House would be in jail for hiding his conflicts of interest. A host of his cronies would be out of the way. We’d get so far down the succession list that only Feingold or Kennedy, Conyers or Waxman would be left.

Great wins for the American people.

And mr. bush, the president, also gains. Gains? Yes, absolutely. Ask Ben Franklin. Follow the Founding Fathers.

Franklin would declare Impeachment is a true Win-Win for both the people and for the president and his immediate successors. How so? The answer lies in James Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. Forget for a moment that Madison’s Notes make the debate over Clinton’s impeachment seem like the thoughtless prating of ignorant school boys by comparison with the intelligence of the stately debate of 1787. Turn instead to Madison's Notes from Friday, July 20, 1787.

It was a hot summer in Philadelphia, and a hot debate over whether to include an Impeachment clause. Smack in the middle of that summer – about 10 weeks into the Convention which was to begin on Monday, March 14, but really began the 25th, and 10 more hot weeks before its conclusion on September 17 -- the Convention decided on how to elect a President. The citation I'm referring to also comes right smack in the middle of Madison's book as well, page 330 out of 660. As soon as the election process was settled, the discussion turned immediately to debate whether, and how, to get rid of the President if he turned out to be criminally inclined.

First they settled the matter of allotting electors to the Electoral College. They decided, on Mr. Williamson’s move, that “the number of Electors to be appointed by the several States shall be regulated by their respective numbers of Representatives in the 1st Branch pursuing as nearly as may be the present proportions.” This was another way to compensate for the injustices inherent in the population differences in the states.

The next motion, by Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Governor Morris, was to strike the part of the resolution that allowed for “impeachment and conviction for mal practice or neglect of duty.” Madison notes that, “Mr. Pinkney observed that he ought not to be impeachable whilst in office.”

Mr. Davie protested that, “If he be not impeachable whilst in office, he will spare no efforts or means to get himself re-elected.” Madison writes, perhaps wryly, that, “He (Mr. Davie) considered this (Impeachment) as an essential security for the good behaviour of the Executive.”

Mr. Governor Morris then raised the question of who should be charged with the power to Impeach, and continued with another question. “Is the impeachment to suspend his functions? If it is not, the mischief will go on. If it is, the impeachment will be nearly equivalent to a displacement, and will render the Executive dependent on those who are to impeach.”

Colonel Mason countered, “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all, shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?” Madison says that the Colonel “approved of that which had been adopted at first, namely of referring the appointment to the Nat’l Legislature.” One objection to letting the Electors Impeach “was the danger of their being corrupted by the Candidates; & this furnished a peculiar reason in favor of impeachments whilst in office.”

The Notes are not clear on whether the next comment came from the Colonel or from Madison, but it is a fine question, and given the Colonel’s predilection for punishment, probably came from him: “Shall the man who has practiced corruption & and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”

Having established how to get a President, the delegates were not willing to let him go because of ignorance or incompetence, but they knew the corruption of power and its lure. They were also, it turned out, unwilling to let him "be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt." They understood human nature and the capacity for greed or other failings. They understood because they recognized it in themselves and their friends, and wished to limit, indeed prohibit, themselves and their successors from grasping for power they knew would destroy the very government they were trying to create. Thus the debate over Impeachment.

Enter Doctor Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the most experienced and pragmatic human being among that group of military leaders, plantation owners, attorneys, scholars, and business men seeking to craft a worthy Constitution. Where others sought to protect the country with an Impeachment clause that could protect it from further depredations by a corrupt Executive, Franklin held that such a clause was in the President’s best interest.

Franklin simply asked the Convention, “What was the practice before this in cases where the chief Magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why recourse was had to assassination in which he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.”

When I first read Madison’s Notes, some 20 years ago, I had this fantasy that what Franklin, being an earthy type, really said was more like, “Gentlemen, if we can’t impeach him, some one who truly loves the country will shoot the S.O.B.” In my fantasy only Madison’s refinement and decorum denied Franklin the direct quote.

The argument went on for a while, but Franklin’s comment drew out Madison’s support and after that there was little question of the outcome. Governor Morris spoke in a fashion that is no longer fashionable: he changed his mind. After originally speaking to strike the impeachment part of the resolution, he said to the Convention, that his “opinion had been changed by the arguments used in the discussion."

Mr. Governor Morris declared that he had not been sensible of the necessity of impeachments, if the Executive were to continue for any time in office. But if he were not, "He may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust; and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in forign (sic) pay, without being able to guard against it by displacing him. One would think the King of England well secured against bribery. He has as it were a fee simple in the whole kingdom. Yet Charles II was bribed by Louis XIV."

Madison adds that Morris believed, “The Executive ought therefore to be impeachable for treachery; Corrupting his electors, and incapacity were other causes of impeachment.”

Again it is hard to determine whether the following is Morris talking or Madison thinking, but the Notes continue, “This Magistrate is not the King but the prime Minister. The people are the King. When we make him amenable to Justice however we should take care to provide some mode that will not make him dependent on the Legislature.”

Those opposed to Impeachment moved and seconded that the vote on it be postponed. The motion lost with only two states voting for. The resolution, including the Impeachment section, was adopted. The Convention then agreed to pay the President out of the “National Treasury,” and the floor moved away from Impeachment -- except for this: "To protect against the possibility that the President might be held in thrall to the Legislature, and to make sure that the Electors in the Electoral College could not be corrupted," Mr. Gerry and Mr. Governor Morris moved “that the Electors of the Executive shall not be members of the Nat’l Legislature, nor officers of the U. States, nor shall the Electors themselves be eligible to the supreme magistracy.” Three brief housekeeping comments about other matters and the session adjourned for the day.

So, according to the Founders, Impeachment is a good thing for the people and for the Executive. It might save the public from excessive and continued corruption, and save the president his life and his honor. A win-win for everyone. Mr. Bush should welcome impeachment as his patriotic duty.