Weekly Standard: On "The Impeachment Hearings"

"It was no honor to be there in the circumstances," said Professor Jeremy Rabkin of his recent experience as a witness invited by the Republican members to testify at the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on "executive power and constitutional limitations" in July.

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Rabkin described the hearing, dubbed by a Republican committee member as "impeachment lite," as consisting primarily of testimony in which witnesses maintained President George W. Bush lied to the nation in justifying the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with other criticisms of the president, many not germaine to the question of impeachment, also presented. Stretching to a length of six hours on a Friday afternoon, the hearing was watched by a capacity crowd of visitors who were reminded repeatedly of the rules of decorum by committee Chairman John Conyers.

Inside the Bubble, The Weekly Standard, August 11, 2008. By Jeremy Rabkin.

"You might think of the hearings as a gesture of appreciation for the Kucinich supporters. The congressman was cheered when he entered the hearing room (hand in hand with his 30-year-old wife). At one point, when Conyers told Cindy Sheehan she would have to leave if she didn't stop shouting from the visitors section, he called her by name, as if she were a special constituent of his. Which, in a way, she is now. Conyers didn't try very hard to keep the crowd quiet. He called them 'visitors' but they were more like clients or patrons of the proceedings.

"Almost every witness claimed that Bush was guilty of dragging the nation to war through lies and deceptions. In recent weeks, even formerly cautious voices in the Pentagon have started to talk about our impending 'victory.' Not the best time to rehash old debates about what happened six years ago? None of the witnesses seemed to notice. Certainly none made any reference to anything occurring on the ground in Iraq. Their main point seems to have attained the status of a ritual incantation-'Bush lied. His claims have been shown to be false. He lied.'

"No one bothered to explain what motive could have impelled the president to lie. Wouldn't he fear to be found out, if he knew there were no WMDs to be found in Iraq? If he didn't know, should mistaken claims really be called 'lies'? Was it reasonable to expect that everything claimed or predicted by intelligence estimates would later prove totally correct? No one was interested in arguing past any such obvious objections. 'Bush lied' is now an article of faith.

"Yet it doesn't seem to have the punch you would expect, even with those who invoke this claim. If you believe the president really told deliberate lies to take the country to war for personal or idiosyncratic reasons, you must believe the president behaved monstrously. But none of the Democratic witnesses-and none of the Democratic members of the committee-could keep their focus on the war. They also wanted to talk about Bush's abuse of executive privilege (by refusing to let White House personnel testify in congressional investigations), his abuse of signing statements (putting his own interpretation on enrolled bills while still signing them into law), allegations that he gave preference to Republicans at the Justice Department-charges that shouldn't be in the same league with wrongly dragging the nation into war.

"I made this point in my initial statement. Why talk about anything else, if you really think the president is guilty of starting a war for personal or frivolous reasons? It's what I meant when I said the committee should recall that 'the rest of the country is not necessarily in this same bubble in which people think it is reasonable to describe the president as if he were Caligula.' No one noticed. We went on for hours reviewing the possible illegality of executive privilege claims, detention policies at Guantánamo, and other issues of secondary rank."

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