When to impeach

2005/12/20 at 16:11

In light of the news that the administration has been spying on Americans, John Scalzi posts his thoughts on if and when a president should be impeached. As usual with John, it’s a well written blog post (hell, it should be well written; he’s a professional writer!).
But I take issue with John on a couple of points. He writes:

Now, let’s posit that the president knew his actions were illegal, but didn’t care. Would that merit impeachment? In my opinion, no — if the president could prove that his actions saved Americans from imminent harm that following the law could not have prevented.

In reference to an even more extreme possible circumstance, John writes:

If we granted that the president both knew what he was doing was illegal and that it was determined that such evasion of law was entirely unnecessary, now are we talking impeachment? This is the point where I go “gaaaaaaaaah” and raise a point that will be entirely unpersuasive to many, which is that I genuinely believe that Bush wants to protect Americans, and that matters to a non-trivial extent. I’d be loathe to impeach a president for that, and I would find it difficult to support people who would. There, I’ve said it: I don’t think you get impeached for trying to protect Americans.

That may work with captains of fictional star ships named Enterprise, but I don’t buy it in real life. As some commenters to the post remark, this is the top of one long slippery slope. The law doesn’t account for good intentions (ok, ill intent is a critical part of many laws, but generally, you’re still breaking some law whether you do it with good or ill intent; it’s just that ill intent gets you a harsher punishment).
I’m not sure this is completely relevant, but John’s blog post reminded me of a common parenting situation:

  • Child #1 is doing something stupid that could result in harm to child #2.
  • Parent tells child #1 to stop because it could harm child #2.
  • Child #1 ignores parent
  • Child #1’s action results in anticipated harm to child #2
  • Parent turns his/her attention to child #1, and even before the parent can open his/her mouth, child #1 is screaming, “But I didn’t mean to harm child #2
  • Parent responds: “Well, I’m assuming you weren’t doing this reckless action in order to harm child #2. But the fact remains that you ignored the possible consequences and an order to stop it lest you harm child #2. You’re still just as guilty.

President Bush: go to your room without your dinner. No TV, no telephone!