RUTLAND, Vt. -- Over the weekend, I traveled Vermont with three of the most remarkable defenders of democracy I have met in a long time: former Army Sgt. Drew Cameron, former Marine Cpl. Matt Howard and former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne.
We were on a mission: A mission to end an unjust and horrific war, and a mission to hold to account the men who launched that war.
What made the experience of appearing in close to a dozen communities with the local Iraq Veterans Against the War campaigners was not that these courageous young vets had chosen to speak so openly and so directly about the reasons why they favor ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. IVAW members and supporters are speaking up all over this country, more boldly, more aggressively, every day, telling the fundamental truth that Drew Cameron, who served as a field artillery soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, spoke: "Democracy is not taught through the end of a gun."
Rather, the experience was remarkable because these veterans had come to the same conclusion as that reached by a growing number of honest critics of the war: If we are determined to bring the troops home, we have to get serious about addressing the lawlessness of those who brought this war on and who now seek to expand it.
We do not do so by promoting "non-binding resolutions."
We express our seriousness by sending a signal that the need to end this occupation of a foreign land is so pressing that we are prepared to speak of impeaching the men who promise to maintain their military misadventure for so long as they occupy the White House.
"If you want to support the troops, you need to support the Constitution," explained Kinne, who served in the Army from 1994 to 2004 as an Arabic linguist in military intelligence, "And you need to recognize that if you support the Constitution, you must support impeachment."
There are millions of Americans who would like to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney for the long list of high crimes and misdemeanors that have been associated with the names of these errant executives over the past six years. For instance, polls suggest that a majority of Americans favor impeachment if it is proven that the president lied to the America people about the reasons for going to war in Iraq.
But there are still those casual citizens who suggest that impeachment is a "distraction" from the important business of the day.
The Americans who established the power to impeach had just finished a revolution against a king named George. They fought that revolution on the premise, spelled out by a young Virginia farmer named Thomas Jefferson, that the people had the power to remove leaders who disregarded the rule of law and the mandates of morality. "A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," wrote Jefferson, who worried that the presidency would devolve into a circumstance where an occupant of the Oval Office would govern as a king for four years.
An "elected despotism" is not what we in America fought to achieve, explained Jefferson, who established that both members of the U.S. House and state legislatures would have the authority to submit articles of impeachment.
Impeachment is not a casual act of political retribution. It is not a game. It is an essential act of the republic, established and defined for the purpose of preventing presidents from governing as warrior kings.
We are not talking about stained blue dresses anymore.
We are talking about a war that has cost more than 3,000 lives and ruined tens of thousands more -- need we mention Walter Reed? -- a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, a war that is emptying our federal treasury at a rate of $200 million a day.
Impeachment, as intended by the founders who created a system of checks and balances in order to "chain the dogs of war," is a political act -- initiated, at its best, with the purpose of preventing a president from maintaining a course of action that affronts the Constitution, endangers the republic or damages democracy.
The war in Iraq does all of these things. And, yet, as the Bush-Cheney administration proposes to surge 21,500 more young Americans into the quagmire that is Iraq, and as the Congress debates non-binding resolutions that, by virtue of their very names, are guaranteed to be inconsequential, there are those who would dare suggest that impeachment initiatives might distract the House and Senate.
There is no more serious work than ending the war.
The veterans I traveled with this past weekend put no faith in non-binding resolutions.
Instead, they expressed a faith, born of bitter experience, that only a serious movement to impeach Bush and Cheney will meet these maladministrators with a response equal to the crisis the president and vice president seek to perpetuate.
"The first thing I did in the United States military was swear to defend the Constitution," recalled Howard, who served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. "I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and that is what I'm doing now by speaking out against the war and against this administration."
Over the course of three days, we spoke in schools, churches and community halls across the state of Vermont about the war and impeachment. We were encouraging Vermonters to vote for impeachment resolutions at today's town meetings -- as part of a process to convince the state legislature to forward articles of impeachment to Congress and to get Vermont's U.S. representative to propose and promote such articles. We were joined by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain Iraq War veteran who has long been an advocate of the "Impeach for Peace" movement, and by Dan DeWalt, the instigator of Vermont's grassroots impeachment campaign.
If the call for impeachment is raised by the town meetings of Vermont today, it will not be a "symbolic" act.
It will be the right response to the wrong war. It will be the response that our bravest veterans counsel that we must embrace if we want to get about the business of bringing the troops home. As Drew Cameron said, "They're sending us to these aggressive wars overseas and democracy is eroding beneath our feet here at home so… it us our duty, it is our service to say something about that."
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"