Recently, I was talking with someone who serves in Congress, a Democratic representative from a liberal constituency out west. My friend reported that people in the home district—especially those who make up the base—were furious with Congress.
“Over what?” I asked, “That you haven’t ended the war in Iraq?”
“No,” the Member sighed, “that we won’t impeach President Bush.”
This response startled me—perhaps it should not have. According to a poll released last week, 45 percent of American adults think President Bush should be impeached and 54 percent believe that Vice President Cheney should be. A few days before the poll hit the news, I was at my high school reunion in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sipping margaritas at a lovely hotel, many of my classmates—almost all of who had been Teenage Republicans back when—confessed anger about the current administration.
I do not like George W. Bush. I never voted for him. Following Sept. 11, when Bush had a 95 percent approval rating, I was one of the skeptical 5 percent. I think his policies have been consistently divisive, dangerous, and disingenuous. But I do not favor impeaching him.
The last time the nation went through impeachment was, of course, with President Clinton. We now know that the Republican crusade against Bill Clinton distracted that administration from increasing terrorist threats, leading almost directly to the events of Sept. 11. At this moment, it seems like impeaching Bush may play out in a similar way—distracting an already less-than-capable administration from issues with potentially deadly implications. I may not like them, but I want them focused on both terrorism and Iraq.
Of course, the “base” (of which I am part) may protest that Bush’s offenses are far worse than Clinton’s. Therefore, since Congress impeached Clinton, it should impeach Bush. From my perspective, the charge that Bush is worse is true. But the conclusion—that a Democratic Congress should now impeach Bush—strikes me as revenge politics rather than constructive policy. What is needed now is a reconciling national vision to pull troops from Iraq in the least harmful way, to restore American credibility in international affairs, and to direct attention toward the real threat of terrorism.
For religious voters, the call for impeachment should act as a call for discernment. What do spiritual and religious progressives believe God wants us to do? Since 2004, a renewed religious left has regained a voice in the politics. But much of that voice has been around policies—specific recommendations about poverty, immigration, and peace. But faith-filled politics is about more than policies. Progressive Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims ought to engage more than policy concerns. We also bring to the table dispositions and practices of faith, ways of being that strengthen the polis—things like mercy, charity, love, forgiveness, hospitality, and justice—that create more generous, loving, and honest community. Our policies should reflect who we are; our outer concerns and inner lives should interweave.
Impeachment is the politics of retaliation, a tool of political violence that should be used in the most extreme of circumstances (and something that was wrongly used against President Clinton). Religious progressives should not practice tit-for-tat politics. We are supposed to be peacemakers, agents of forgiveness, and those who build bridges across human divides. Drawing from this disposition, we are called to practice reconciliation—to create restorative possibilities for trust, healing, and shalom where no such hope currently exists.
Like many Americans, I am angry. And I am not particularly in the mood to forgive an administration that has endangered the course of human history for the next century. As much as I hate to say it, I am called to love George W. Bush and I do not think impeaching him serves that end. As a Christian, and as a religious progressive, I must move beyond revenge politics to reach deeply for spiritual dispositions and practices that nurture God’s dream for shalom. And I fear that if the religious left only becomes part of the “base,” our desire for a wiser and more just America will fail before it even begins.
Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) is the author of the award-winning Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Harper San Francisco, 2006). Her fellow 1977 Saguaro High School classmates remembered her as an officer in the Teenage Republicans—and were surprised that she is now a Democrat and writes for Sojourners.