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At the Heart of Who We Are As a People

By John Frohnmayer

10/03/07 "
The Oregonian " -- - Suppose you hire a person to check groceries but, instead of doing so, he tells customers to put their items back on the shelves. Do you fire him? Of course you do.

Now suppose we hire a president whose constitutional job description is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Instead, he issues more than a thousand signing statements saying, in effect, he’s not going to execute parts of the very laws he has signed. Do we fire him? Of course we do.

Impeachment is not a political issue. It’s a constitutional issue. The U.S. Constitution describes impeachment more fully and carefully than practically any other power delegated to Congress. Impeachment is mentioned six times in the Constitution as the remedy for any misbehavior of our high officials. Yes, President Clinton’s impeachment was a political circus, but impeachment of President Bush is necessary to maintain our government’s separation of powers, our checks and balances, our Constitution’s integrity.

While The Oregonian’s recent editorial (”The emptiness of impeachment,” Sept. 29) opined that impeachment would be “pointless,” my view is that it is essential because, after all, the Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.” What could be more important than preserving the rule of law? It is the bedrock of our democratic society.

Let me give you an example of a signing statement, this one issued on March 9, 2006, when Bush signed the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. Part of the signing statement says: “The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information . . . which could impair the deliberate process of the executive.” In other words, Congress cannot expect the reports of FBI activities that the law requires. Not only will President Bush not enforce the law, but he also has told Congress to pound sand.

As The Oregonian points out, Congress has “waived its own oversight responsibilities.” But just because Congress is weak-kneed doesn’t mean that we ought not to require it to execute its constitutional duties — for the House to impeach and the Senate to try President Bush on the basis of his refusal to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

There may not be much time left. There may not be much political will among our elected representatives. But this issue goes to the very heart of who we are as a people. Either we are a nation of laws, or we are nothing.

President Bush has taken the oath of office prescribed for him in the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Instead, he has engaged in a concerted course of constitutional vandalism.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

John Frohnmayer, a Corvallis lawyer and former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, is running as an Independent Party candidate for the U.S. Senate.

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