In a packed hearing room on Feb 19th, under a carved wooden sign reading "Live Free or Die", the New Hampshire House committee of State-Federal Relations and Veterans' Affairs heard testimony on Representative Betty Hall's HR 24, which calls on the U.S. Congress to begin impeachment hearings for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
What was most notable about the four straight hours of testimony was not that opponents of the resolution could only muster two people willing to testify against it, both Republican stalwarts using selected excerpts from Jefferson's parliamentary manual or from the bill itself, whose arguments were embarrassingly empty.
It was not that Kris Roberts, the committee chair, had taken this hearing seriously enough to have researched the law, history and nuances of the subject, and that he used this to inform the proceedings in a reasonably fair manner.
It was not the fact that after the hearing ended, several pro-impeachment witnesses were approached by committee members and thanked for their clarity and useful testimony.
It was not even the novelty of the interjections by one committee member that would periodically steer the conversation abruptly into Rockefeller/Trilateral Commission territory.
The most remarkable moment came late in the afternoon when Republican House member Steve Vaillancourt strode into the room to testify. After passing out copies of the second chapter of Patrick Buchanan's "Day of Reckoning" as supporting evidence, Vaillancourt opened his remarks quoting "fools rush in where wise men fear to tread", and it sounded like a set up to condemn a rush to impeach. But instead he said that Betty Hall is neither fool nor wise man, but is a model of courage and that her impeachment resolution should be supported.
And then the fun began.
Member Vaillancourt then gave a short history lesson, telling the committee that until Bush/Cheney, America had never engaged in an offensive war [sic.], and pointing out that the Truman, Eisenhower. Kennedy and Reagan "Doctrines" had all been based on defense and had not been offensive in nature. Warming to the subject, he delved into the ramifications of Bush/Cheney's actions, saying that their reckless foreign policy has been anti-American, unconstitutional, and ruinously costly to the nation.
He was fairly thundering by the time that he pronounced that not only should Bush and Cheney be impeached, but also they should be tried as war criminals in a Nuremburg style trial for crimes against humanity. He flatly stated that the war in Iraq has provided grounds for war crimes charges against the President and Vice President. And there was not one word of protest from a single committee member. They may or may not support this resolution to impeach, but there seems to be no one left with a credible argument to defend Bush/Cheney.
Vaillancourt said that he spoke not as a Republican, a New Hampshire citizen or an American, but as a member of humanity. His remarks made a common sense plea for an honest appraisal of our current political situation, for the acknowledgement that we have a duty to act as a decent and responsible people, and that principle be the governing factor of our government's actions. These are all values that should, and once did, cut across party lines. If the current political parties have forgotten this, and become so degraded as to allow the lawlessness and criminality of this administration to go unchecked, the people have not.
And at that hearing the people had their chance to speak. One member of the committee remarked that she had never before seen such a wide range of viewpoints as represented by the witnesses, to be so united on one issue.
After deliberation the next day, loyalty to party leadership proved a stronger pull than reasoned argument, for five committee members voted to recommend the bill, with eleven voting against. Now facing an uphill battle to get it passed in a full House vote in March, Betty Hall was still encouraged by the committee hearing and vote. She has received much more support for this resolution than she did with a similar effort last year, and is already working to get grass roots supporters out between now and the vote to get their legislators' attention.
If the grass roots continue to pour out as they did on Tuesday, and if there were a few more politicians like Steve Vaillancourt and Betty Hall, we might see things begin to change. It's instructive to remember that some politicians who are now leading the charge for impeachment did not want to talk about it only a few short months ago. The spotlight is now on the New Hampshire House, the third largest deliberative body on the planet, and arguably one of the more democratic representative systems anywhere as well. These representatives may listen to an outsider's viewpoint on what to do about the Constitution, but they will be influenced most by the neighbors whom they represent.
The question is, is New Hampshire angry enough and organized enough to convince the legislature to call for impeachment? For those outside of New Hampshire the question is, how can we raise the temperature everywhere else, making it all the more plausible that the Granite State will reach the boiling point.