In much the spirit of small-town Illinois in 1858, Carrboro hosted a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on the question of the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The event, organized by Coalition for the Constitution, played out Jan. 15 at the Carrboro Century Center. It was moderated by Hodding Carter III, a professor of leadership and public policy at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In favor of impeachment stood Republican constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein.
"We are at a precipice that—if they go un-rebuked—this democracy does not have a long shelf life," Fein said in his opening statement.
Michael Tomasky, a progressive journalist and editor of GuardianAmerica.com, countered Fein with legal arguments, rather than political ones, against impeachment.
"It's manifestly clear to anyone that has been watching this administration operate, in all the ways Bruce talked about, it is above the law—considers itself beyond the law—and just doesn't give a ... well, I won't complete the sentence. The argument that I'm here to make is a different one," Tomasky began.
Following the formal debate, members of the standing-room-only audience of about 300 clamored for the chance to pose questions. Following is a selection of questions and the debaters' (and moderator's) responses.
The struggle is in provoking the question of polarization—that's been a uniquely Republican pastime. It has had the effect, nonetheless, of providing you with a party with teeth versus a party with no teeth. If the situation were reversed and the circumstances were simply flipped and this was a Republican bare majority, in the Senate and the House, would they be twiddling their thumbs or would they be going all out?
TOMASKY: A lot of us in Washington have had many of these conversations. Let's take it a little further and make Al Gore the president when 9/11 happened. I think a lot of people think that Gore would have been impeached.
9/11 wouldn't have happened.
CARTER: My uncle was always extraordinarily sorry that Franklin Roosevelt died, not because he died, but because he wished to have him impeached for having allowed Pearl Harbor to occur.
I'd like to ask Bruce if he thinks there's a Republican candidate who might treat the presidency with more respect.
(Another audience member shouts "Ron Paul!")
FEIN: Other than Ron Paul's statement that suggests he understands the use of power, I don't see the other candidates doing anything but further brandishing the authority. Some of them campaign on the idea that they want to raise the number at Guantanamo Bay year by year, serve sort of an escalator clause, and the great earmark of success is that they can get these thousands, which is really quite alarming.
Republicans devoted to Bush are saying he's a good God-fearing man and he is very unhappy about the fact that things aren't going very well right now. And so my question for you is, do you actually believe that there is some persuasive evidence that hasn't already been made public and yawned at that we could present that would, in fact, disturb people who are inclined right now to like George Bush pretty well?
FEIN: The Constitution, the Founding Fathers, those who fought at Valley Forge and Cemetery Ridge, the Battle of the Bulge and otherwise, prevent those largely from parting. Moreover, they have their minds concentrated wonderfully on the idea that if they bring a Democrat into the White House in 2009 that these principles are rebuked and they won't get any oversight over that democratic—big d or little d—administration or otherwise. That this is a double-edged sword and it is not in the powers that Bush leaves that will be utilized by a successor even if it is a Democrat.
Now, is this a guaranteed success? I don't know. I do know that the heart of democracy are groups like this getting together and attempting and voicing their concerns through the proper political channels. And that process itself justifies going forward, it's what gives us dignity as being citizens in a democracy that celebrates government by the consent of the governed.