Guest opinion

Are more closet Democrats in Tuolumne County coming out? Are more registered Republicans turning against their party? Are more Independents eschewing Republican policies?

Based on recent opinion pages in The Union Democrat, all of the above is happening here. A recent letter to the editor described our county as a "backward, redneck cesspool of war-loving, speed-addled trash." What made this opinion by a non-resident stand out was its placement among five other opinions by county residents denouncing the Iraq War and various other actions of the Bush administration.

Tuolumne County appears to be in tune with the rest of Americans, roughly three-quarters of whom think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Presidential hopefuls of both parties should be challenged to address mounting concerns not only about the war, immigration and health care, but many other domestic issues in need of reform.

All presidential candidates should be asked what they intend to do about the increasing inequality of income and wealth, and the incredible shrinking middle class. How do they plan to fix the corrupted federal tax code which allows the wealthiest players to decide for themselves how much tax they will pay?

How will they go about redeeming government as a trustworthy agent for the general welfare? With the current administration's growing loss of credibility, a truly reforming president will have to cut corporate power down to a size society can tolerate.

Every candidate should be asked how they would fix our dysfunctional regulatory system. Agencies we trusted, like the Food and Drug Administration are now being run by the industries they are supposed to regulate. Pollution control measures are controlled by the polluters. A presidential hopeful should be prepared to answer how he or she would re-regulate the banking industry and financial systems in order to protect us from corporate gouging and crimes of fraud.

When and how will the candidates deal with all the past and ongoing corruption in Iraq reconstruction? Of the $30 billion given by Congress to rebuild Iraq, nearly $9 billion has disappeared. Whistleblowers who have reported this corruption on the part of U.S. contractors have been fired, demoted and even imprisoned by the FBI. Why isn't this of concern to Congress?

Our country is at a turning point. We need momentous reform, not business as usual. The American people, regardless of their political persuasion, want more government accountability. The polls show there are tens of millions of Americans worried about the next generation, as well they should be.

PBS' Bill Moyers Journal recently devoted a program to the subject of impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. After the program aired, 54 percent of those polled said it's time to open impeachment hearings on Cheney's misdeeds, and only a slightly smaller number favored the process for Bush. Neither the Sneerer nor the Smirker are discouraged, however, vowing to do whatever they please for the remaining term by invoking executive privilege.

The purpose of impeachment, as defined in the Constitution, is not to punish office holders, but to protect against dangerous expansion of executive authority. If the current abuse of the system of checks and balances, lying about reasons for war, approval of illegal spying and torture, schemes to punish political foes and refusals to cooperate with congressional inquiries are not judged as impeachable crimes, then the next president may assume the same authority to exercise these illegal powers.

Having stretched the Constitution to the breaking point, the White House now uses "executive privilege" to hide its misdeeds. The Constitution embodies the presumption of disclosure. The founders make no mention, anywhere, of "executive privilege" as an amendment or license to wield unfettered monarchial executive power. The Bush Administration's unprecedented use of this tactic is also a calculated strategy to avoid accountability. By playing hardball until his term runs out, the President hopes to accomplish as much of his agenda as possible and shirk all accountability for his failures. For congress to ignore this obvious ploy sends the message to future presidents that they can do the same.

Articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney have already been introduced by one congressman. Whether or not the legislation gains the necessary Congressional support, the burgeoning movement for impeachment on the part of the American people tells this administration and all the presidential hopefuls this: An executive branch that imagines itself superior to congress and the Constitution will arouse popular dissent.

No presidential candidate can duck the need for reform, and none should run on populist politics and finance their campaign by corporate lobbyists. That public dissent being aired in Tuolumne County is encouraging and indicative of the mood of the country. For when all is said and done, it is only the people who have the real power to force change on political institutions, including both Republican and Democratic parties.

Beverly Lovejoy, of Groveland, is outreach chair of the Tuolumne County Democratic Central Committee and a member of the Democratic State Central Committee.