Thursday, June 30, 2005

Baffled by Zogby

Let me start off by saying I am not a big fan of polls like this one - it skates the line between legit polling and push polling to ask questions that begin with "If X factual thing were to be proven about Y person, would you..."

That said, this recent Zogby poll is fascinating to me on a number of levels. The key paragraph:

Impeachment is overwhelmingly rejected in the Red States—just 36% say they agree Congress should use it if the President is found to have lied on Iraq, while 55% reject this view; in the “Blue States” that voted for Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry in 2004, meanwhile, a plurality of 48% favors such proceedings while 45% are opposed.


Certainly there can be differences of opinion on whether the president lied us into war. His words in the runup to the Iraq invasion were weaselly enough that if you squint, you can see how maybe he thought he was telling the truth, even though in hindsight the presentation did not accord with the facts.

But only 48% of people in blue states favor impeachment IF BUSH LIED TO START A WAR? What the fuck is impeachment for, then?

This really casts the whole Clinton impeachment in a particularly funny light, considering that according to this poll, 70% of Republicans oppose impeachment if it is proven that Bush lied America into war. These are the same people that howled endlessly (and continue to howl to this day) about how we should have removed Clinton from office for answering the question "Did you have a relationship with Monica Lewinsky?" with the statement "There is no relationship."

I'm going to have to get my outrage meter recalibrated - seems it's jumping up into red numbers quite a bit these days.


heatkernel said...

We all know what the Republicans would say: "Clinton didn't just lie, he perjured himself. Lying to the American people is not a crime, but lying under oath to a court of law is."

Whatever you may think of this argument from a legal standpoint, what is interesting about it to me is that it (inadvertently) reveals why large segments of the public did accept Clinton's impeachment, but would (at this point at least) still not accept the same action taken against Bush. The reason is that testifying in a court of law (that is, "submitting to a grilling under oath") in and of itself signifies weakness, and therefore, undermines a leader's standing. Recall the strenuous efforts, ultimately successful, of Bush and Cheney to avoid testifying publicly before the 9/11 commission. Their handlers, it must be conceded, learned the Clinton lesson well and understand the iconography of testifying-under-oath.

The majority of the people who give the above answer are not even aware of it, but they instinctively believe that if Clinton was sufficiently powerful he would have been able to avoid being placed in the un-dominant position of submitting to a grilling under oath. People may not like it when a president lies to start a war, but it is not as harmful to his standing as being forced publicly to answer humliating questions about his sex life. The former has happened many times before (with Polk and the Mexican War, McKinley and the Spanish War, and LB Johnson with the Vietnam War, just to name a few well-established examples) and is tacitly accepted by large parts of the establishment. Just imagine, if you like, Alexander the Great submitting (a la Socrates) to a trial in the law courts of one of the city-states he ruled, and how quickly that would undermine his godlike standing. Despite the relatively recent and thin overlay of democracy and egalitarianism, basic human psychology hasn't changed much in 2300 years, and nor has the widespread yearning for godlike leaders, above the law, dissipated.

Adam P. Short said...

You have to be careful making these sorts of "Republicans might say" arguments, because if you present an argument that has a clear refutation, and you don't present the refutation, you're basically advancing the argument in the sense of giving it more credibility than it deserves.

The President cannot lie to Congress. He is implicitly under oath when he goes before either the House or Senate or any committees or subcommittees. Thus if Bush at any point lied to Congress, or sent his underlings to do so, he is guilty of perjury at the very least.

metafiz said...

Bush, as a professing Christian, should be held accountable as such, ie "Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned. -- James 5:12.

Whether a lie in a court of law, a lie to the american people, or a lie to the world in general is irrelevant. By his own standards, lying in a court of law is no worse than lying in general. I would hope that his supporters (the majority of which would, I gather - at the risk of generalizing - be classified as christian as well) would notice this too. Clinton lying in a court of law is not worse than Bush lying in general.

Ok, 'nuff religion...

heatkernel said...

Well, I was not engaged in an examinations of the arguments for and against impeachment, just using that comment as a springboard for a rant on the psychology of "leadership". But, now that you bring it up, I don't think it will be easy to show that Bush or other high officials lied to Congress or the American people, since that would require showing that they made a specific factual statement that they knew was incorrect at that time. They operate mostly on the level of inuendo and subtle (in the case of NPR/the NYTimes) or obvious (in the case of cable news) media manipulation. Naturally, I agree that this is the moral equivalent of lying, but it doesn't get in the way of the rationalizations that some would like to make for them. If I am proved wrong, and they did actually lie, then of course, everything might change.

With regard to impeachment in general, I suspect that virtually every president has committed crimes deserving of impeachment (and know it in the case of Reagan and certain others). However, both times it has been actually used (A. Johnson and Clinton) it was for manifestly political purposes, using a manufactured legalistic justification as the excuse. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that, regardless of the Founders' intent, impeachment has in effect become a political, not a legal instrument, and not a very successful one. For this reason, I think it is a dangerous and distracting fantasy for the Left to latch onto the idea of impeaching Bush and Cheney (one would have to impeach Cheney in addition, for anything to be accomplished.) Expecting the poltiical establishment, in the form of Congress, to turn on this gang for the crime of lying to start a war is, to put it mildly, unrealistic. At this moment, we see most of the Congressional leaders of the Democrats, the supposed opposition party, arguing for greater troop commitments to this war we were conned into (look up recent comments by Sens. Biden, H. Clinton, John Kerry). Only direct, external forces applied to the political establishment (such as an unprecedented military disaster, or a further plummeting of military enlistment), not some internal bout of conscience, will cause this establishment to turn its course away from continued or expanded warmaking.