By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds congressional Democrats in the best position they've held in 14 years, besting President Bush and Republican lawmakers on Iraq, the economy, health care, immigration, ethics and more.
All of which can mean only one thing: It is time for the Democrats to eat their own.
Right on cue, liberal activists including Cindy Sheehan and Ramsey Clark gathered yesterday at the Busboys & Poets restaurant and bookshop at 14th and V streets NW for what they billed as a forum on "The Impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney." But the participants, while charging the administration with "crimes against humanity," a "war of aggression" and even "the supreme international crime," inevitably turned their wrath on congressional Democrats, whom they regarded as a bunch of wimps.
"Does the Democratic Party want to continue to exist or does it want to ignore what 85 percent of its supporters want?" demanded David Swanson, a labor union official who runs "Impeach PAC" and other efforts to remove Bush from office. Singling out Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nev.) for derision, Swanson said that Democrats who do the right thing "are exceptions."
Sheehan, just back from Caracas, where she praised Venezuela's anti-American president, Hugo Chavez, and called Bush a "terrorist," said she expects Democrats will "seriously screw up" the midterm elections in November. Besides, "we can't wait" for the election, said Sheehan, who is mulling a primary challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
"Cindy for the Senate!" called out moderator Kevin Zeese, a Ralph Nader acolyte. "It's important for us to stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans and break out of this two-party straitjacket," argued Zeese, a third-party candidate for Senate in Maryland.
After the participants made their urgent calls for impeachment proceedings, John Bruhns, identifying himself as an antiwar Iraq veteran, rose for a clarification. If Democrats don't first "gain control of one of the houses" of Congress, he wondered, "how else can we impeach this monster?"
Swanson had a ready brushoff for Democrats who won't pursue impeachment because they're in the minority: "Just go home if you're going to talk that way." Offering the lessons of 1994, he said: "The way the Republicans got the majority was not by being scared. . . . It was by going out and speaking on behalf of their base and letting themselves be called radicals."
Bruhns, wearing a crew cut and business suit, disagreed. Somebody in the audience called for him to "shut up."
"They didn't answer my question," Bruhns protested after the exchange ended. "How do you get impeachment if you don't win elections? I'm being practical."
Elected Democrats and their liberal base are in one of their periodic splits between pragmatism and symbolism. Under pressure from blogs and liberal groups, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday attempted an obviously doomed filibuster against the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito -- and Kerry got only 25 votes.
Likewise, the chance of a Republican Congress moving to impeach Bush is close to zero. When one of the impeachment forum's sponsors posted an item on its Web site about news coverage of the event, a reader responded that, without conservative support, "this becomes a cartoon image of the old pinko commie left, and fair game for the wingnuts at Fox."
The lineup of speakers indeed could have been a Bill O'Reilly fantasy: Saddam Hussein's lawyer (Clark), Hugo Chavez's friend (Sheehan) and the man who denied Al Gore the presidency in Florida in 2000 (Ralph Nader).
Nader, as it happens, couldn't make it because of a death in the family. But Fox News was there -- and the other speakers did not disappoint.
Clark, on a stage decorated with portraits of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr., said the administration is "the greatest threat to peace, to human rights, to economic justice worldwide." The former attorney general proposed a 75 percent cut in the military budget and complained that Democrats are just as warmongering as Republicans.
Marcus Raskin, the longtime antiwar activist, compared the Pentagon's "shock and awe" to the Nazis' blitzkrieg. "What we have now is nationalist triumphalism," he said.
Swanson announced that he will be forming a committee to pressure the D.C. Council to "send charges of impeachment to the House of Representatives."
Sheehan, in a sweet voice, condemned the administration's agenda "to spread the cancer of empire."
The first questioner, getting into the spirit of the forum, declared of the administration: "These criminals and gangsters, thugs as I regard them, I believe engineered 9/11."
Many in the crowd applauded. But others were skeptical. "I've heard a lot about accountability" from the panel, said one questioner. "Seems to me the first opportunity we had for accountability was in the last election."
"Elections," moderator Zeese replied, "are not the determining factor."