TIP'S WAY. Of all the reasons for Democratic politicians to remain pessimistic about the midterm elections, one of the most telling to me is the fact that Nancy Pelosi is apparently telling everyone she can tackle that impeachment is "off the table" should her party manage a majority in the upcomings. This strikes me as, at best, precipitous and, at worst, cowardly, as though she sees some numbers somewhere that indicate the public needs to be assured that the Democrats won't behave like drunken Ostrogoths if they get some power back.

Impeachment should never be the first club out of the bag, god knows, and it shouldn't be swung around for political purposes. (Ann Coulter, you'll be amazed to learn, is wrong about that.) However, if a new Democratic majority doesn't vigorously revive the oversight function of the Congress, and if it doesn't do so regardless of where the investigations may lead, then it will not deserve to survive the next election cycle. (My choice? Extended televised hearings into war-profiteering.) If it were up to me, I'd put an armed guard around every paper-shredder in the West Wing about 30 seconds after the polls closed on Nov. 7. I don't think impeachment hearings are remotely close to a good idea right now -- but there is absolutely no way anyone can say that in perpetuity, given what we know about this administration's penchant for secrecy and chicanery. And, let us face facts. The president has admitted violating FISA, hanging his reasons on a very dubious interpretation of his constitutional functions.

The template, if there is one, is the way Speaker Tip O'Neill handled his fractious caucus as Watergate gathered steam. (You can read about it either in Jimmy Breslin's How The Good Guys Finally Won, or in Jack Farrell's definitive biography of O'Neill.) He hedged. He temporized. He cut premature resolutions -- like Robert Drinan's attempt to impeach Richard Nixon over the bombing of Cambodia -- off at the pass. He chewed his cud and told people he really didn't know how impeachment should be undertaken. But he never, ever, took any option off the table.

--Charles P. Pierce

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