A Means to Effect the Peaceful Overthrow of a Tyrant

The summer 2005 revelations by former FBI assistant director W. Mark Felt that he was the source known as Deep Throat that helped bring down Richard Nixon has revived talk among certain US residents regarding the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney.  While I have great reservations about the likelihood of such an event happening, I naturally support almost any move that would slow down this nation’s march toward tyranny.   My reservations regarding the likely success of any impeachment drive stem from the apparent stranglehold the current regime has on all branches of the government, not to mention sycophantic support from the media.  Impeachment doesn’t rid us of the corrupt and authoritarian system we live under; it only rids us of one of the humans administering that system.

American Civil Liberties Union, “The First Pamphlet Proposing the Creation of Committees of Correspondence to Redeem the Constitution of the United States by Causing the Impeachment of Richard M. Nixon” (24 October 1973)

In 1973, while living in New York City , I attended the first “Impeach Nixon” rally in October.  In late October, the ACLU released a pamphlet calling for the impeachment of Tricky Dick.  I don’t recall if this occurred before or after the rally I attended calling for Nixon’s impeachment and conviction, but I do remember Phil Ochs singing his updated version of “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” that he had re-titled “Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon” that fall day.  The important lyric is from the last verse:

And here’s to the government of Richard Nixon

In the swamp of their bureaucracy they’re always boggin’ down

And criminals are posing as advisors to the crown

And they hope that no one sees the sights and no one hears the sound

And the speeches of the President are the ravings of a clown

Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of

Richard Nixon find yourself another country to be part of.

Anyhow, some of the ACLU’s points are quite telling and, if one replaces Nixon’s name with Bush’s, s/he could easily argue for a similar fate for Dubya.

Fellow Citizens:

By this pamphlet you are now called upon to demand the exercise of congressional responsibility.

We seek to provide you a means by which to effect the peaceful overthrow of a tyranny.  There should be no mistake about it; a usurper has acquired power in America.  He seeks to make it absolute.

He and his aides lie to us on television and berate us for our disbelief.  He speaks to us flanked by a photograph of family and our flag, which he wears on his lapel.  Beside him stares a bust of Abraham Lincoln.  He confesses to crimes against the Constitution and believes he speaks exoneration.

He invites all of you to participate in his crimes.  He says “they all do it.”  He accepts “responsibility” but not blame.  The “blame,” he feels, belongs to those who opposed him on his rise to power.

He degrades our institutions by his appointments and causes essentially decent men and women to rationalize and engage in personal cover-ups.

In this manner he seeks to corrupt an entire people whom he invites to participate, with our House of Representatives, in a politician’s cover-up.

He speaks of law and order and discharges the public’s prosecutor. He secretly records the conversations of his friends and withholds them, then offers them, in a tantalizing gesture, to an outraged people.  He relies on Executive Privilege and the institution of their Presidency.

He orders generals to stop investigations and hires a general to issue his orders.  He uses lawyers to subvert the law, press spokesmen to lie to the press, investigators to cover up investigations, and patriotism to subvert the Constitution.

Mr. Nixon asks us to rationalize his way to our own corruption.  An untried Mr. Nixon confronts us with an unparalleled opportunity for the corruption not merely of our government and our Representatives, but, more importantly, our people — each of us.

This is truly a document of another time — or is it?  One could argue that it assumes an innocence that has not existed in this country since Nixon’s reign.  Indeed, Nixon did a lot to destroy that innocence, along with an accompanying faith in the political system.  The result is a predominance of cynicism and the rise of the New Right, which manipulated that cynicism into a dynamic that denies government’s role in maintaining a civil society while expanding its role in ensuring global capital’s expanding domination of everything.  This dynamic opposes the legislation of morality in the marketplace and on the battlefields at home and abroad, while simultaneously imposing its beliefs and will on the population on everything from the use of mood-modifiers to women’s right to control their own bodies, all the while forcing its personal inhibitions and mores on those who live differently, due to their poverty or their preference.  Furthermore, it requires the ever-increasing militarization of our society and the world, through the technological and numerical enhancement of the police and military.

Yet there is hope.  These usurpers, these wannabe tyrants, can be dethroned.  This is the lesson from Nixon’s downfall.  Or his regime could declare martial law.  We feared the latter in 1973, only to watch the ruling class turn in on itself like two pit bulls in a pit.  After the fight was over, though, the one thing that became apparent was that the system had survived.  In addition, the most serious charge (and one that much of the Congress conspired in) involved the illegal bombing of Cambodia and was dropped in the House Judiciary Committee because the committee majority did not think so-called matters of national security would be considered impeachable offenses.  The most serious charges against Bush revolve around his lies that sent the US military to war in Iraq and were consented to by most of the Congress.  Therefore, it is unlikely that those charges would be the easiest to push through, despite the fact that the constitution makes it quite clear that they are impeachable offenses.  Other charges include the illegal abuse of the Bill of Rights, especially as regards the recent revelations concerning domestic spying by the military and National Security Agency.  Indeed, although there were similar allegations against Nixon (and a similar defense by the White House), even Nixon listened to advisors who recommended that he not officially consolidate all spy and police agencies into one.  This was why the so-called Huston Plan (named after Tom Huston) was dropped almost as soon as it was adopted.  Nixon, being ever-so-slightly less arrogant than George Bush, recognized its unconstitutionality and decided to continue the plan using his own extralegal means. 

Although Watergate was (to quote the Weather Underground document Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism) a “domestic reflection of the empire in crisis,” the results proved that the system of capital and power known as the United States Empire was stronger than any one man.  Nixon was sacrificed at the altar at which he had served and we learned another lesson about the system’s gratitude.  Even if Bush is dethroned, there are others who would willingly fill his role.

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ACLU: Nixon Lied to the American People and Broke the Law.  So Did He.

Right now, there is no real movement to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney, despite the fact that their crimes rival those (or even surpass) of Tricky Dick’s.  This has less to do with the nature of the crime than with the nature of the prosecution.  In short, there is close to none.  Sure, it was the US Congress that took up the investigations that dealt with Watergate and its associated criminality, but this only occurred because of the extra-parliamentary movement in the streets.  It was the breadth and determination of this movement, which had ended racial apartheid in the US and was essential to ending Washington’s imperial exercise in Southeast Asia, that convinced the progressive elements in Congress to challenge the president’s insistence that he was “not a crook.”  Once the scope of his crimes became clear, even stalwart Nixonites who supported every one of his policies jumped ship.  So Nixon left after ensuring his immunity from prosecution and the empire’s continuation.  (You don’t think Nelson Rockefeller was made Vice President because Nixon liked him, do you?)

Today’s Congress is even more sycophantic than the one Nixon dealt with.  In fact, many of the men and women in that body are even more corrupt and fascistic than the White House.  Consequently, it is very unlikely that any investigation it launches into the criminal escapades of the Bush administration will dig very deep.  After a few peeks behind the peeling paint that is the façade behind which Bush and Co. lurk, the broad brushstrokes of a whitewash will cover up any misdeeds that might be exposed.  Unless, of course, the people refuse to grab onto one of the brushes the administration will be sure to proffer a la Tom Sawyer at his Aunt Polly’s fence.  If the antiwar/occupation movement can make it clear to the American people that neither they nor their elected representatives have anything to gain (and much to lose) from lending Bush a hand at the whitewash he is now perpetrating, we can rid this nation of this man and his band of criminals.  Then, hopefully having learned from this debacle, we can watch the next bunch a lot more closely.  Bush’s departure, like Nixon’s, is a beginning, not an end.

It is important to remember that Nixon was not impeached.  He resigned before the charges were heard by the Congress.  One of his reasons for doing so must certainly have been the retirement monies he would lose.

NYT: Nixon Resigns

Indeed, the first president to be impeached since the 19th century was not impeached for leading the nation in a war under false pretenses or purposely circumventing the constitution, but for carrying on a seedy sexual affair in the White House.  Yes, I am referring to Bill Clinton, who was the target of a concerted effort to destroy him and his politics from the moment he arrived in the White House.  Some observers have gone so far as to state that the entire process against Clinton was revenge by the right wing for the proceedings against Nixon some twenty years earlier.  It is interesting to note that Hilary Clinton, Bill’s wife, was part of the staff that drew up the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon.  In fact, she is credited with arguing for the article regarding the illegal bombing of Cambodia.  One wonders where she is now?

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <rjacobs3625@charter.net>.