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Framed: Impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney

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Framing Bush and Cheney for Impeachment

Before discussing impeachment, we need to define the frames for the debate. The following is a set of attack frames for those in favor of pursuing impeachment. In order to move this agenda forward, we must define the terms of the debate. This section provides the frames for controlling the context of the discussion.


Even responsible Republicans must admit that there are good reasons to impeach Bush and Cheney. Here are five reasons why every citizen should be in favor of impeachment for the President and Vice President (as well as many other officers of their administration).

The Rule of Law and Equality Before the Law

One of the most important concepts the United States has brought to the world is that no man is above the law. This fundamental statement of equality set a new standard for the behavior of government officials. It is therefore important to hold all public officials to this standard. If we allow important officials to take actions violating the law, we send a strong message to the world that we don’t believe in the rule of law and the concept of equality before the law, in violation of broadly accepted standards.

In the United States, federal law is formed only on the action of both Congress and the President and is always subject to appeal to the Supreme Court. It must also conform to the specifications of the Constitution. No branch of the government can perform outside the rules and limitations of the Constitution because there is no separate authority to do so. Appeals to powers not specifically granted in the Constitution have no validity.

Any violation of the standards for making and following law has a direct effect on every citizen of the United States, and to a lesser extent on everyone in the world. When the law is weakened, it is weakened for everyone equally because everyone has equal standing before the law. Violations of law by federal officials have an effect on everyone subject to the law. If an official holds himself above the law, then he necessarily materially reduces the rights of everyone subject to the law. Violation of the rights of any individual weakens the rights of all.

Democracy in America

Democracy means more than just voting for officials. It also means that the best interests of the people are served and that the will of the people is respected in the actions of government. To achieve these ends it is vital to adhere to the mechanisms of democracy. This means that policies are set and decisions made by fully informed stakeholders.

The stakeholders in this country are represented not only by the three branches of government, but also by the media and the states. No one representative should act alone, withholding information from the others. Transparency is the key to proper functioning of our government and trumps claims that secrecy is vital when making policy decisions. The mechanism of informing other constituencies and getting their agreement on policy decisions prevents mistakes. In an era in which our country must take responsibility for decisions that could end all life on earth, we must make sure that our decisions are sound.

Liberal democracy is the best form of government yet devised to handle the challenges of the modern world. Attempts to subvert democracy, or to rule through manipulating one or more branches of government, must be strongly opposed. The stakes are too high for cowboys to ride off with our government.

Return of Justice

When a public official misuses their office it is important for the sovereign people of this country to call them to account. The federal government of the United States is a trust not just for our people but for the people of the world. As the de facto leaders of the world we must make sure that justice is served, not just here but abroad, when it involves the actions of our officials.

Therefore, the people of the United States cannot tolerate the misuse of funds in governmental programs. Graft and corruption must be identified and rooted out. Public officials cannot be allowed to appoint cronies to office and use the power of their office to line the pockets of their friends.

Nor can we permit our government to cause wanton destruction abroad for political or personal purposes. The use of military force must be tied to objective needs to defend our vital rights and interests. The use of such force for any other purpose must be looked on as prima facie evidence of injustice. The moral authority of the United States depends on our strict adherence to international standards of justice in our operations abroad.

This specifically means close adherence to international standards of conduct for treatment of prisoners. As the world leader, we must be stricter in our interpretations of human rights than our enemies and opponents. To do otherwise is not only to lose our authority in the world but to lead that world down the wrong path.

A Light for the World

The United States has been a light for the world, establishing one of the largest open societies. That open society resulted in a flood of information serving mankind in all spheres: political, religious, cultural, philosophical, and practical. The free society of the United States has lifted the standard of living for every person on earth. It is as a result of work done in our country and free countries like it around the world that many people have been freed from disease and starvation, attained human rights that one hundred years ago were never dreamed of, and bathed in religious and philosophical awakening.

Our light came from forming partnerships with those who would have us, not by bullying others into submission. This legacy is a trust for those running the United States. They cannot be allowed to draw a shade over that light. Examples of bullying, corruption and thuggery must be condemned wherever found, and attempts to move away from a liberty-based society must be thwarted. They form no part of our mission in the world.

Near-Term Accountability

When mistakes are made, our vital interests demand near-term accountability. History will certainly render its own judgment on our actions. But, we have a responsibility when we see the essential principles of our society bent and broken to use all legal means to hold those responsible to account. If we don’t, then history may be hard on us.

Defensive Frames

The following terms and phrases are recalled until further notice:


If you or someone you know is currently using one of these phrases, please go immediately to Forward Framing for repairs. If you can reframe any of the above yourself, do so!

Example of use (don’t emulate):

The Problem

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have caused untold damage to the country, but they are still in office. The list of problems caused by them and their neoconservative supporters would fill pages, but can be summed up as:

The Cost/Benefits of Impeaching and Removing the President and Vice President

The primary cost of impeaching and removing these officials is that the United States might lose tempo in solving critical problems we face. There is also a cost to the Democratic Party for pursuing impeachment based on hard feelings it will engender among Republican supporters. In the even that the impeachment or the trial fails, there could be further cost in that it could result in strengthening the President and his supporters.

The primary benefit is that it would set higher standards for the office of President. Future office seekers would be discouraged from using the office for private gain or for gain of a narrow segment of society. In addition, it would result in a Democratic president in office before 2008. With a Democratic President in office, it would be easier to deal with critical issues, such as global warming and dependence on foreign oil, which are unlikely to be addressed by the current administration. This is a huge benefit to the American people because these and other problems are undermining the security of the country at a time when we are increasingly competing with the other Super Players (China, India, and the EU) for world resources.

Realigning the Frame

Should We Impeach Bush and Cheney?

Yes. In Articles of Impeachment against Bush and Cheney, Eternal Hope lists fourteen grounds for impeaching Bush and Cheney. These grounds include:

  1. Leaking classified information by disclosing the identity of Valerie Plame to reporters.
  2. Lying to Congress--passing false information about Iraq's WMD capacities.
  3. Extraordinary renditions.
  4. Detentions without trial.
  5. Torture.
  6. Misappropriation of funds.
  7. Bombing Iraq without Congressional approval.
  8. Conspiracy to pass false information.
  9. Lying about Niger connection.
  10. Contempt of Congress.
  11. Illegal wiretaps.
  12. Concealment of the existence or nature of domestic intelligence programs.
  13. Destruction of evidence.
  14. The use of white phosphorus in Iraq.

It is clear that this administration has a pattern of breaking the law. There is sufficient evidence in the public record to justify an intrusive and thorough investigation of the administration on these and other matters. Congress needs to use its investigation powers to do a zero-based appraisal of what the administration has been doing on intelligence gathering, use of the military, oversight of contractors, and domestic operations. If clear evidence of criminality is produced, then this should be used as the narrow basis of charges against the President and Vice President for impeachment. These charges should then be further investigated specifically by the Senate, and Senators should vote to remove these officers if they have broken any federal laws or violated their Constitutional oaths.

Why should we remove these officers if all Presidents violate federal laws to some extent? Will this be good for the country?

Yes, it will be good for the country because it resets the standards for the office. Of course, Presidents from Washington to Bush have technically violated the law, and many have failed to enforce parts of it they disagreed with. The behavior of this administration is qualitatively different. The neoconservatives have sought to undermine the law itself, and they did so to help out a narrow segment of society, their rich corporations and friends. They introduced the idea that the President is above the law. Impeachment sends a strong signal that this is not the case.

The President has enormous power, and that power affects people all over the world. Its occupant must look out for what is best for us all. To do that, they must operate within the bounds of the Constitution. No one person can always understand and do what’s best. That can only come out of the legitimate operation of the system, where checks on power can limit personal influence and many minds can look at the information to render the best course of action.

When the President violates the Constitution and operates outside the checks and balances of the other branches of government, they take the country off track. This is directly related, as we’ve seen, to how well (or poorly) our government performs.

If we don't impeach Bush and Cheney, who have deliberately operated outside the limits of the Constitution and federal laws, then some other person will try to do the same thing in the future. Neither we as a country nor the world as a whole can tolerate that.

If it were simply a matter of not enforcing controversial laws until the Supreme Court had decided, then bowing to that decision, and if it were not just a matter of operating according to the best judgment of the administration until Congressional investigation and oversight indicated a change of course, then we could tolerate this administration. They have a very different concept of what is right than the average American and certainly different from what Democrats would prefer. But we can and should tolerate this difference of opinion from anyone working within the system. It is the fact that the Bush Administration has gone outside the system that warrants impeachment and removal.

Can It Be Done?

Yes. While there is not the political will in Congress at this point to remove these officers, that is only because we are still early in the proceedings. A case needs to be built against them and a political movement among the people needs to reach a critical mass before there will be enough political will to finish the job.

The most important component of that is a set of Congressional investigations of the administration. These are, in fact, inevitable. Leaders, including Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Henry Waxman, have already put in motion these investigations. As they continue, the evidence of impropriety and outright criminal behavior will inevitably be brought out.

What we must do is to support this process by keeping up pressure for investigations and framing the argument for impeachment.

Remember, the impeachment of President Nixon took over a year and considerable Senate investigation. It was the continual drumbeat of evidence coming out of Senator Sam Ervin’s investigation that built the political will to bring down Nixon.

Conversely, the failure to remove President Clinton shows that an investigation of a relatively trivial matter, even with enormous beating of drums by partisans, was not sufficient. Whether Bush and Cheney will be removed by the Senate is mostly a matter of the evidence. Nevertheless, we will only see if there is sufficient evidence if we pursue the matter through the whole political process.

What Progressives Value and Want

Fairness. The standards of conduct should work for all people. The grounds for impeaching and removing Bush and Cheney should be the same grounds on which we would be willing to impeach and remove a Democratic President. Sustainability. Our beliefs and values about impeachment should be ones that truly further the interests of the country and the world. Consistency. The rules should be internally consistent so that they work regardless of the situation. We are looking for a set of rules that will guide future Presidents. Working within the Constitutional and legal framework is vital to consistency.

Other Considerations About Impeachment

Eternal Hope adds:

The people want impeachment if Bush is guilty of these crimes. And he is. If we fail to do so, we will be seen as the same spineless cowards that they voted against when they rejected Dukakis and Kerry. If we do impeach and the Republicans block it en masse against the wishes of the people, then they will be on record as supporting known criminals. The 2008 electoral bloodbath will not be pretty. I want to turn our GOP legislators into walking arguments for why the GOP should get permanent minority status.


Bush and Cheney are still incredibly dangerous. Look at all the angst about a possible bombing or invasion of Iran before the election. A large part of the neocon belief system is that the U.S. is morally superior to other countries and that we should use our power coming out of the Cold War to reshape the world to our liking. Their belief system disposes them to take dangerous risks with our military.

While they are in office, they are giving the CIA and other agencies cover to continue to torture people. Not only is that disgusting and morally wrong, it's the wrong strategy.

They are incompetent at running the government because their ideology undermines them at every turn. Suppose there's another big hurricane next summer. Do you think these guys, who don't believe in government, are competent to handle it?

They are not trustworthy. Do you trust these guys, admitted liars, to go through your mail, e-mail, phone calls and possibly even show up on your doorstep to search your house?

Finally, they aren't willing to give the courts effective oversight, and they've packed the courts. They aren't willing to give Congress effective oversight and they had packed Congress. Thankfully, the American people cleaned House in the last election, but that is scant comfort when they've demonstrated so many other scary tendencies. It is their tendency to operate outside the system that ultimately justifies removing them from office.


“You don't have the numbers.”

Well, it’s too early in the process to say that. Bush didn't have the numbers to be elected President when he was governor of Texas. A few people wanted him to get elected, but he just didn't have the votes. The way he got the votes was to campaign. After he campaigned, then he had enough votes and he got elected.

Getting enough votes to impeach these guys will require a campaign. That means research (investigations), publicity, debates and ultimately a GOTV effort in the Senate.

“It's not going to happen.”

Yes it is. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!

Anyone can have an opinion on this, but the future isn’t the now yet. You could say the same thing about any other event. “Look out for the bus! – It’s not going to happen! – Splat!”

“Let them twist in the wind”

While they are being impeached, they can still be twisting slowly, slowly in the wind. It’s not mutually exclusive with getting rid of them.

Keeping them around risks a lot of problem. They have a proven track record of getting us into trouble. Do you want to take that risk? I don’t!

“This would be or be seen as nothing but a vile power grab in the current partisan atmosphere”

Not if it’s done right. First, the key to making this non-partisan is to stick to the Constitution. The Constitution calls for three co-equal branches with checks and balances. All power for the executive comes from the Constitution. Therefore, the President cannot legally violate the Constitution. The Constitution itself forces the President to take an oath or affirmation to protect and defend not the United States but the Constitution itself. Any action by the President that violates that oath is grounds for impeachment.

Second, we don’t have to convince everyone that this is not a partisan attack. Republicans might well find it partisan, but they will accept it if they think it is good for the country, just as they accepted a Democratic majority in Congress in the last elections because they believed it is good for the country. Many Republicans either accepted or wanted Nixon to be impeached in 1974 because they came to believe it was good for the country.

What’s good for the country trumps partisan politics. If we didn’t think this was good for the country, few of us would back it to begin with.

Third, would Republicans be comfortable with a Democratic President that had those powers? What if the next president is Hillary Clinton and she decides she wants to torture all male ex-presidents? Is that okay?

“Only a small number of people care about this.”

First, the number of people who want Bush, at least, impeached, probably far exceeds the number who ever cared about Nixon’s improprieties. His case is so much higher profile and has affected so many more people (including, directly, hundreds of thousands of relatives of soldiers in Iraq) that whatever it is, it isn’t a small number.

Second, it’s about addressing a severe threat to our democracy. The number of people who care isn’t the main factor in whether it is something we should do. If it were very popular, but it was a bad idea, would you still favor it?

“Regular people will reject this idea.”

If you went down the street and asked people whether they thought Bush and Cheney should be impeached, you would not get a majority, it’s fairly certain. Two things need to take place. First, there need to be thorough investigations. Second, the results of those investigations need to be widely publicized. This is what happened with Nixon. He was extremely popular when Watergate first broke. It was the investigations and the stonewalling that went with them that convinced the majority of people that he had to go.

“Bush is almost out of office, so don’t waste time on this.”

First, every day Bush and Cheney remain in office is one more day of danger. In the first eight months of his administration, Bush managed to have the biggest attack on American soil in decades. Imagine what he could do in two years.

Second, even if Bush was convicted on his last day in office, or if he were never convicted but the process brought the true nature of this administration to light and educated the American people about what right conduct in that office entails, it would still serve an important purpose.

Third, the process need not take very long. As Marchtoimpeach points out in Conyers: 3 More Congress Members and I'll Impeach:

Bush and Cheney's lies about Iraqi ties to al Qaeda are on videotape and in writing, and Bush and Cheney continue to make them to this day. There was no al Qaeda in Iraq until the invasion.

Their claims about Iraqi weapons have been shown in every detail to have been, not mistakes, but lies.

Their threats to Iran are on videotape.

Bush being warned about Katrina and claiming he was not are on videotape.

Bush lying about illegal spying and later confessing to it are on videotape. A federal court has ruled that spying to be a felony.

The Supreme Court has ruled Bush and Cheney's system of detentions unconstitutional.

Torture, openly advocated for by Bush and Cheney and their staffs, is documented by victims, witnesses, and public photographs. Torture was always illegal and has been repeatedly re-criminalized under Bush and Cheney. Bush has reversed laws with signing statements.

Those statements are posted on the White House website, and a GAO report found that with 30 percent of Bush's signing statements in which he announces his right to break laws, he has in fact proceeded to break those laws.

For these and many other offenses, no investigation is needed because no better evidence is even conceivable. This impeachment will be swift.

“The Democratic leadership don't want it/will try to block it.”

Democratic (small D) leaders are notoriously behind their constituencies on most important matters. That’s not just a cynical comment; it’s a tribute to democracy. Usually, we want them to move only when there is a significant groundswell of opinion to do something. There’s really nothing wrong with the leadership saying they don’t want impeachment and only taking it up when the American people have come around to the idea, more or less on their own.

As for blocking it, the leadership would be ill-advised to do that. This President has been over the top in destroying Constitutional safeguards and guarantees. What kind of a country do they want to live in? The effect of accepting Bush’s behavior is to create at least a mild dictatorship. That’s extremely dangerous.

“Impeachment will take up time better spent on other (more important) things.”

Those “more important” things would no doubt be blocked by Bush, anyway. What important programs do Democrats think they are going to get passed without a veto?

This also implies that literally nothing else will get done. Famous and engrossing as Sam Ervin’s hearings were, they were not the only things going on in Congress in the mid-1970s. Impeachment might slow down the presidency, even bring it to a halt. That does not imply that nothing else will get done.

“We need an airtight legal case against {Bush, Cheney}.”

Whether the President or the Vice President has done anything that would enable them to be convicted in a court of law may be beside the point. The trial is in the Senate and precedent is that the Senate can make its own rules of evidence and its own procedures.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This language leaves open to interpretation what “other” offenses are impeachable.

Impeachment is a process that Congress is supposed to undertake. It is not fundamentally a legal proceeding. Why, in fact, didn't the authors of the Constitution have the Supreme Court instead of the Senate try the executive? Maybe they knew it was always going to be a political proceeding, not a legal one.

The need for a clear violation of the law is an issue that came up during the Watergate hearings, but, to my knowledge, was never resolved. Precedent suggests that Congress wants at least a misdemeanor to hang a count on, but that’s because politicians are risk-adverse creatures at heart.

This is not to say that an airtight case would not immensely ease the burden on those who want to see Bush/Cheney removed from office and make the outcome a great deal more palatable to the general public. Of course it would, and a thorough investigation of the administration is the best way to produce such evidence.

“Convicting both Bush and Cheney together is a long-shot, and removing Bush without removing Cheney is not a worthwhile goal.”

Well, you have a point. Yes, convicting both Bush and Cheney at the same time is a long-shot. Worse than that, it’s much more open to attacks of partisanship than impeaching Bush alone, because it makes it look like Democrats are simply in it to prematurely take over the Presidency. That doesn’t detract from its appeal as a laudable goal.

If you look at it from the perspective of removing from office those whose policy is to undermine the Constitution and abrogate all power to the executive, then removing both is the only way to accomplish the task. You can’t trust either of them to remain in office or to nominate a replacement.

Is it unlikely? The true probability of success cannot be judged without a lot more information. If investigations show solid evidence against both parties, then the effort may well be worthwhile. If each case would be hard to prove individually, then it may not be worth it.

As for removing Bush without removing Cheney, it’s not a very desirable outcome. It loses a key benefit, that of clearing the boards so we can move on to other major issues. It also would provide a Republican President who can run for re-election in 2008 and maybe even 2012. As for Cheney himself, we only have it on his word that he doesn’t want to be President!

Why would this be worthwhile? There is still the precedent it sets. Remember that the whole purpose of this is to restore the Presidency to its rightful place in the government as a co-equal branch and to set public expectations about limits on the Presidency. These goals will be accomplished by impeachment even if neither officer is removed or if only one of them goes.

“You’re getting the cart before the horse.”

The argument here is that we should wait to decide whether to impeach until after we have investigated and found clear evidence of significant wrongdoing on which to base charges.

That has nothing to do with framing the issues around impeachment. Whether actual charges should be brought can only be determined after more investigation. Whether it is worth trying to get a conviction can only be determined after we know which charges could be brought and we counted noses in the Senate.

What is certain is that no impeachment will happen if we just shut up about it and trust in our leaders. They would be quite comfortable if the whole issue went away. But that would undermine the very thing they stated before the last election that they considered highest priority—cleaning up corruption. How do you do that if the executive is breaking the laws?

Do we know that laws have been broken? There are two standards of knowledge here. One is a legal certainty. That would come after a trial in which there was a conviction. The other is a common sense certainty. That is what each individual decides based on what they directly know and what they’ve heard from other sources, taking into account the reliability of those sources. I think that we can agree that we have common sense certainty that laws have been broken, even if we won’t get the legal certainty until after an actual trial.

“It would take too long to impeach them.”

It need not take very long. The actual investigation of President Nixon that ended with the threat of impeachment, from start to finish, lasted a little over a year. Senator Sam Ervin’s Senate Watergate Committee began hearings on 17 May 1973 and Nixon resigned on 8 August 1974. It doesn’t have to take even this long to investigate Bush and/or Cheney. Did he violate FISA? Did he knowingly permit torture? Did he knowingly allow his administration to violate habeas corpus at a time when there was neither insurrection nor an invasion going on? None of these issues need to take very long to investigate.

What about Cheney? Impeachment doesn’t require a federal offense. Has he had a valid hunting license on all those hunting trips he’s been on, for example? (Answer: No.) So, it may take even less time to investigate Cheney and come up with an impeachable offense than for Bush.

“This will ruin the Democrats chance in the 2008 elections.”

Not. In fact, it could help Democrats be elected in 2008 for at least two reasons:

  1. President Bush is incredibly unpopular, just a few notches above Truman at his worst. Taking action that the American people see as necessary and beneficial to them is likely to increase popular support for the Democrats.
  2. The Democrats are perennially seen as weak. Taking strong action shows they have spine and will stand up for what the American people need. It will restore respect for Democrats with the voters, something sorely lacking for many years.

But, when you step back and look at this question, it’s detrimental to Democrats in another way. As Vtfinest points out in Southern VT sound-off: Debunking the myths of impeachment:

IMHO, if this is the reason why the Dems shouldn't pursue investigations into impeachment then IMHO then that just rings rather shallow to me. The fact that the Dems put winning elections ahead of preserving and protecting the sanctity of the Constitution and the Democratic Experiment the Founding Fathers put forth seems rather selfish.

Democrats need to put aside their personal concerns and act for the good of the country. Even in the unlikely event that impeaching Bush/Cheney would hurt them in the next election cycle, they need to look beyond partisan politics and act in the best interests of democracy. In the event, that’s to pursue impeachment.

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Other Resources to Draw On

Overton Window

Here are the steps in the Overton Window (which breaks down the stages concepts go through from being fringe ideas to accepted policy):


Remember: George Bush and Dick Cheney fully deserve to be impeached and removed from office. They deserve this because they tried to operate outside the framework of the Constitution and outside federal law. This is not a technical violation of the law and it is not the same as faithfully executing the laws within their prerogative to conduct their offices according to their own beliefs. It would be dangerous to our country, and possibly the world, for them to remain in office. Congress needs to carefully build cases against them and go wherever the evidence leads. However, looking in from the outside, it is clear that evidence already in the public domain indicates they are guilty of high crimes (violating the Constitution), so there is sufficient reason to charge them. It is the responsibility of Congress to pursue impeachment for the good of the country.

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This page was last modified 06:51, 17 December 2008 by Rich Wingerter. Based on work by Chad Lupkes. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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