August 5, 2007

Let's Recall the President

I don't think it's going too far to say that the Bush years have revealed some glaring weaknesses in our system of government, not least of which concerns executive accountability: The barriers to prosecuting an impeachment are extremely high, and given the dissatisfaction of so many Americans with the President's policies, and the inability of Congress to successfully oppose the administration, we have the situation we have now, where the President can pursue policies in outright defiance of the will of the American people with impunity. And, since the President is term-limited, we can't even vote the bastard out of office.

This is why this op-ed by Robert Dallek in the Sunday Post is so fascinating: He proposes amending the Constitution to provide for the recall of the president and vice president, to be initiated by a 3/5th majority in both houses of Congress, and decided by the voters. This is an idea I've actually been toying with myself for a few weeks, and there's some merit to it:
  1. It treats the presidency and the vice presidency as a unit, which impeachment does not do, and which would be more in accordance with the post-12th Amendment Constitution;
  2. The supermajority barriers to recall are lower than impeachment;
  3. It grapples with the need to apply more accountability to the modern, term-limited, and imperial presidency;
  4. And the decision to recall ultimately rests with the people, thus maintaining a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
It also passes the Clinton test; i.e., if a recall motion were initiated against Bill Clinton instead of impeachment, the result would have been the same -- failure. So Democrats supporting this can feel secure against charges of opportunism or Bush-hatred. (Republicans, of course, will wait until the next Democratic president to extol the virtues of recall.) Moreover, the impeachment provision would still be useful against lesser members of the executive branch.

On the other hand, there are still a number of things that even the current Congress can do to check the executive -- that is, if they showed a little more spine.

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