July 12th, 2007

In Which Peter Welch, the Base Coward, Destroyer of Our Democracy and of Our Constitution, Is Stoned Unto Death

by Philip Baruth

People think that George W. Bush cares nothing about the Constitution. People are wrong: Bush cares deeply about it.

Why? Because he earnestly believes that it grants him executive authority sweeping enough to justify torture, assassination, and pre-emptive invasion of “opportunity regimes” around the world.

That’s the danger, in a nutshell: Bush is a fundamentalist with regard to the Constitution, not simply the Bible.

That is, his interpretation is the interpretation.

Are you kidding me? Bush loves the Constitution. It deifies George W. Bush, and in his mind that deification is not simply convenient, but quintessentially American.

That’s the danger in any originary document, the danger with bibles, constitutions, sacred writs. Humans begin to use them more or less unthinkingly, reflexively, to justify their own ends.

And that can happen here as well, don’t kid yourself. And on the Left as well as the Right.

True, Vermont has been the winter refuge of Constitutional liberties during the Bush administration, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the dangers of fundamentalism, as a default mode of thought, and as a bare-knuckle political tactic.

Case in point: yesterday’s press gambit by Newfane activist Dan DeWalt.

DeWalt began calling reporters yesterday, promising that his Vermont impeachment organization would field a candidate against Welch in 2008. Like Cindy Sheehan, DeWalt is up front about using the threat of an independent challenge to try to force movement on the impeachment issue.

“There’s plenty of issues that we and Peter Welch can agree on,” DeWalt argues,but I don’t think we can allow someone to represent us who ignores the fundamental principles that make this country a constitutional republic.

Got that? Welch is not just a shade less activist than DeWalt might prefer: Welch doesn’t understand or respect Constitutional Democracy.

In fact, Welch “ignores” the basic principles of American government, which overtly suggests dereliction of duty, but even begins to hint subtly at treason.

And hence, Welch must be attacked.

It all begins to sound a bit like the from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: the righteous begin to stone anyone in sight, including themselves, with equal fervor.

life of brianDeWalt’s argument amounts to this: because Welch hasn’t moved to impeach at the pace DeWalt might prefer, he isn’t moving at all; because Welch hasn’t managed to restore habeus corpus or outlaw torture in his first six months, he cares nothing at all for the issues; and because Welch has failed the Constitution so spectacularly in those initial six months, the Constitution itself is crying out for DeWalt’s intervention.

Look, let’s bring the discussion down to some durable facts on the ground.

First, by the time the 2008 election yields a new Congress, impeachment will no longer be a subject for debate: it will be physically impossible. Bush will have about two weeks left in his Presidency at that point.

Anyone wishing to impeach Bush or Cheney in January of 2009 will need a time machine to do so.

That being the case, there’s something inherently disingenuous about a challenge based on impeachment. DeWalt knows full well that impeachment will not be possible, but he (like Sheehan) is banking on a grass-roots desire to punish the incumbent for not having produced impeachment while he supposedly had the chance.

And it is that punishment ethic that seems so out of line with reality.

Suddenly Welch is to be sacrificed to pay for Bush’s sins.

Taken together, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch comprise perhaps the most left-leaning delegation in the nation. Not incidentally, over the last six months, they together have done more to reverse the course of the Bush Presidency than any other three individuals in Vermont, and quite possibly in America as a whole.

And yet all three have had their offices picketed, and briefly occupied.

Which was, to put it bluntly, plain silliness: the protestors might easily have made the five-hour drive to Joe Lieberman’s office, and there they would have encountered someone worthy of their rhetoric.

There they would have found a true Republican in Democrat’s clothing. There they would have found the hard-core support for the War they seek to end.

But Peter Welch? Please.

Our entire delegation is working to restore habeus corpus; our entire delegation is investigating the Bush Administration; our entire delegation is actively leveraging the increasingly stark divide on Iraq within the GOP.

Those are facts of which we can be justifiably proud.

But let’s stipulate that DeWalt doesn’t share that view; let’s stipulate that there are hundreds or even thousands more ready to follow DeWalt.

Well and good: go ahead and run a third-party challenger to Peter Welch, and take your case to the people. I don’t think they’ll share your distaste for Welch, and the achievements of his first two years in office.

Still, that’s democracy, and God love it.

But don’t wrap yourself in the Constitution as though no one else has righteous access to it, as though no one else can hear its cries for help. Don’t accuse your Democratic opposition of impurity, of treason against the basic principles of this country, as a way of moving votes.

Don’t start calling for heads, based on your higher understanding of the sacred writ, your loyalty to the revolution.

Because it’s a funny thing about guillotines: they’re a great deal easier to trundle out into the Square than they are to eventually trundle back in.