Talk of censure and impeachment has begun swirling around President Bush.  Can Vice President Cheney come to the rescue?  He will do so if enough of Bush's opponents adopt the position of this Philadelphia Daily News op-ed writer -- the position that impeaching Bush would be a mistake, since Cheney is worse than Bush.

That position is already fairly widespread on the left in the United States, and is typical of the left in the United States.  Why must we get five steps ahead of ourselves in order to fantasize about defeat, precisely at the moment when we should be on the attack? 

The Republicans impeached Clinton over his sex life without any hesitation.  They did not remove him from office, of course.  No one has ever (nonviolently) removed a president from office.  But the impeachment of Clinton destroyed most of what little was left of a Democratic Party. 

Now the fantasies of defeat include making Cheney president, making the Speaker of the House president, and so on down the line of succession.  There's also the fear that if Cheney were removed first, Bush would nominate a more attractive replacement.  Then there's the fear – expressed even by some who fear impeachment – that censure would somehow block impeachment.

Let's examine these a little.  Exactly how horrible would it be for Cheney to become president?  Here is a man who couldn't win an election against a year-old pile of road kill.  He'd be a lame duck and a major advertisement for voting against the Republican party.  Currently he runs the show, but he does so backstage.  The prospect of Bush replacing Cheney with someone else, should his heart fail, should give slightly more concern, but not much. 

Let's step outside our role of amateur pundits for a moment and try on the role of citizens, just for laughs.  As citizens of a democracy, it is our sacred duty to demand the impeachment of a president and vice president who have committed high crimes – and there can be no higher crime than taking a nation to war aggressively and on the basis of lies.  The targeting of civilians, use of depleted uranium, use of white phosphorous, ghosting of prisoners, use of torture, illegal spying, and so forth – that's all icing atop the strongest case for impeachment conceivable.  If we do not impeach for this, we can never impeach – or impeachment must be reserved for sex. 

If anything can provide immunity from impeachment here, it must not be the presence of criminal underlings in the line of succession.  What a precedent!  Imagine if we'd made Nixon a dictator because we didn't like Agnew!  Where does this thinking come from?  Our duty here is to save international law and our constitution and to put a holy fear of popular revolt into every future executive who contemplates lying us into a new war.  It matters less who sits in the Oval Office than whether he or she is terrified of being the next person investigated and impeached.

As a practical matter, of course, there is no way imaginable to conduct a serious investigation of Bush or Cheney without incriminating the other.  It cannot be done. 

But to even fantasize about it is to get two steps ahead of ourselves and try to talk ourselves out of action that it is our duty to take.  An investigation – a real one, with subpoena power – is a step in the right direction and also an end in itself.  It serves an educational purpose.  As does a debate on censure.  And censure – far from blocking impeachment – focuses attention on impeachable offenses.

Can you imagine the good it will do the Democratic Party and the country as more and more Democratic congress members speak out for impeachment?  If enough of them show Americans where they stand, they might just win a majority and be able to act on their intentions.

And can you imagine the damage that an investigation will do to the Republicans?  Can you?  Or are you too scared of Cheney to think straight?