The "I-word" got a little movement last week. A resolution to begin the process for "possible impeachment" sprouted as an exotic political weed just before Christmas.
Introduced in the House by Michigan Democrat John Conyers Jr., it quickly attracted a handful of cosponsors on the party's militant left, such as Jerrold Nadler and Charles B. Rangel of Manhattan.
Then it just lay there over the holidays and through January, looking bizarre and isolated. In recent days, however, Conyers' resolution snagged endorsements from two members who get attention from everybody -- James L. Oberstar of Minnesota and John Lewis of Georgia.
Oberstar has husbanded every major transportation initiative passed in the past two decades, and Lewis is the battle-hardened warrior of the civil rights movement.
There are now 26 sponsors in all.
While it is miles from becoming a menace to George W. Bush, Conyers' bill now is more than just partisan mischief. This grievous insult is what happens to presidents who repeatedly play games with the law, especially when their popularity flags. How this resolution fares this year will be a barometer of outrage and frustration in the Democratic Party.
The bill doesn't mention Bush. It doesn't have to.
It creates a committee "to investigate the administration's intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment."
Lewis reportedly said he would back impeachment over the issue of illegal wiretapping, but the bill was introduced before that controversy surfaced.
Conyers argued furiously against the Republican impeachment of President Clinton. If the Democrats wrest control of the House from the Republicans in November, Conyers' bill will be taken seriously. He would become chairman of the same Judiciary Committee that sent the Clinton impeachment resolution to the floor.
Until the last couple of months, impeachment was a cottage industry for bloggers of the radical left.
Last week, the idea was voiced by a surprising commentator: John Dean, the former White House counsel who told President Nixon that "a cancer was growing on his presidency" in the aftermath of the Watergate Apartments break-in.
Speaking in a forum here, Dean said "in a parallel situation today I would tell [Bush] he has a very serious problem . . . He has made such a radical reading of his powers, not unlike Nixon, and those operating in his behalf (sic) who pursued those policies that it could well wind up where we were in the Nixon White House."
"There is no question in my mind that this president has already committed one or more technically impeachable offenses . . . For example, going to war in Iraq by misrepresenting to Congress what he was doing and why he was doing it. That's a crime to go before Congress and make material misrepresentations."
In the same program, Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe said the National Security Agency's controversial data mining program is the product of Bush's asserting wartime powers that don't exist.
"That kind of free-floating inherent power -- the very thing we fought a revolution against -- is the very thing the Supreme Court has set its face against," Tribe said.
The forum was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union. That's where things like this get said.
In addition to Rangel and Nadler, other New York Democrats sponsoring the bill are Carolyn B. Maloney, Queens: Maurice D. Hinchey, Hurley; Major R. Owens, Brooklyn, and Nydia M. Velazquez, of Manhattan.