Democrats and their camp-followers in the Mainstream Media have had great sport lately, accusing Republicans of plotting to impeach President Obama upon their return from the August Congressional recess. Of course, the tale is purest moonshine, since even kindergarteners know that any real move toward impeachment would totally befoul the fall elections – almost certainly destroying the GOP’s chances of gaining a majority in the Senate. Although Republicans are famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even they might be too smart to let it happen this time.
However, Democrats have convinced themselves that even a bogus impeachment-scare can serve the same purpose as genuine proceedings. The merest mention of the I-word tends to rile their party’s base – motivating them to cough up gazillions to fund Democrats who are hanging onto Congressional seats by their fingernails. Party poo-bahs also hope those yellow-dog Dem-voters will also forget what a mess Dr. Obama – a.k.a. “The Death-star” – has made of the country, and will flock to the polls to help the party hold the Senate. It’s a strategy of desperation, but certainly worth a try. Nothing else is working. In fact, early results are encouraging. Party bigwigs report taking in over $1 million in a single day, following mailed “warnings” about Republican impeachment plans. No doubt they’ll keep ringing that bell as long as it brings in the bucks.
On the substance of the impeachment issue – rather than the Democrats’ fantasy thereof – Republicans certainly have a reasonable case about the president’s conduct. He has repeatedly strayed outside Constitutional limits on his power and authority, while crassly inviting Republicans to “sue me.” It’s doubtful that any president in history has stooped to such street-agitator talk. (Did he actually call for Speaker Boehner to meet him in front of the saloon at high noon?) Truly, I was embarrassed for him and for the people who thought he was some new kind of lofty, apolitical personage.
Despite a strong jurisprudential case, impeachment would be a flawed strategy on several counts:
1. Diversion. The drama of impeachment would suck all the air out of the political room, completely diverting both news media and voters away from the manifest failures of the Obama administration that should be front and center as the elections approach. The hugely damaging scandals of Benghazi, IRS corruption, NSA snooping on Americans, CIA snooping on senators, disastrous foreign policy, and the flood of illegal South American children would all be forgotten by the Mainstream Media as they joyfully paint Republicans as sore losers, right-wing zealots, racists, and many other damaging labels. Mr. Obama’s prosecutors would become the issue far more than Mr. Obama. Even the mechanics of impeachment would contrive to bore most of the public into snooze-land, since the charges against the president would center on esoteric points of Constitutional law that mean nothing to most voters.
2. Party-unification. Any attempt to remove the president they elected will unite and energize Democrats as few other issues can. Democrat Party leaders hope just a rumor of this will drive enough of their partisans to the polls to salvage the November Congressional elections. If they can hold the Senate – goes the story-line – they’ll stop Republicans from undoing Obamacare and Obama’s other great deeds. Even realistic supporters who know Mr. Obama has totally screwed up won’t want him removed. This factor, alone, explains why Democrats are preaching that impeachment is definitely on the GOP agenda.
3. Guaranteed Failure. Based on the Clinton-experience, in 1998, impeachment cannot succeed, even on the most serious of charges. In “It’s Good to be King” (http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/17148-it%E2%80%99s-good-to-be-king ) I argued that no president can be removed via articles of impeachment because he is an important national symbol that many senators will not wish to see damaged on their watch, at their hands. Notwithstanding actions that could rise to the level of “high crimes,” any president will thus be invulnerable, rendering the impeachment remedy meaningless.
President Clinton’s articles of impeachment included serious charges of perjury and obstruction of justice arising from his trial on sexual harassment charges brought by Paula Jones – an Arkansas state employee during Mr. Clinton’s governorship. The charges were clearly true – particularly the obstruction charge, which involved tampering with the jury. But Mr. Clinton’s political and media allies managed to confuse the public into believing that the impeachment was about the president’s highly publicized sexual dalliance with a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. It was “only about sex,” said the president’s allies, by way of insisting that the impeachment articles did not rise to the level of “high crimes,” as specified in the Constitution.
Ultimately, the Senate failed to convict Mr. Clinton on charges that would have put any ordinary citizen in jail. The Senate vote on the obstruction charge was 55 for conviction and 45 against – strictly along party lines. (Republicans then held a 55-45 majority in the Senate.) But on the perjury charge, five GOP senators also voted against conviction, making the vote 50 to 50. Obviously, neither vote reached the 2/3 majority needed for conviction. (After Mr. Clinton left office, in 2001, an Arkansas court stripped him of his law license for five years because of those same charges which he dodged in the Senate.)
Even if Republicans could successfully impeach Mr. Obama, there would be no possibility of convicting him in the Senate, where they hold only 46 seats. It is Mission Impossible.
4. Political Blowback. The political recoil from the Clinton impeachment made the elections in the fall of 1998 very damaging to Republicans. Instead of gaining seats in the House of Representatives and Senate, as is normally true for the party not holding the White House at the tail-end of a president’s term, the GOP lost five seats in the House and gained no seats in the Senate. Most political analysts blame the Clinton impeachment and trial for this poor electoral showing. The GOP retained a slim majority in the House, but Newt Gingrich was forced out of the Speakership in early 1999.
Currently, Republicans are poised to capture a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2006. Although many Republicans might well believe impeachment is warranted, wiser heads will hopefully keep the party from dashing itself to pieces on a fruitless attempt.
5. Cure worse than the disease. I’m not the first to observe that Mr. Obama showed his political sagacity by choosing Joe Biden for vice-president. Mr. Biden is essentially his impeachment-avoidance ticket. The realization that “good old Joe” would be waiting to step in, should Mr. Obama go down, is dead certain to stop any impeachment effort before it can get started. Republicans would have to be crazy to let Mr. Biden get anywhere near the presidency and position himself for re-election as a sitting president.
The bottom line on impeachment is that it cannot resolve a dispute created by a president who refuses to honor Constitutional limits on his power and authority. The “remedy” of impeachment is so drastic that Senators will refuse to use it. Its disruption of the nation’s good will and good order would be huge.
Nor can a lawsuit – e.g., the one contemplated by Speaker of the House John Boehner – do anything material to curb the chief executive’s excursions outside the Constitution. The president is not governed by any orders a court issues. If the Constitutional principle of Separation of Powers means anything, it certainly means this. There is simply no Constitutional provision directing a president to obey a court ruling, except when the Supreme Court has ruled on the Constitutionality of a particular law. Indeed, none of the three branches can order another branch to do anything, except as the Constitution directs. Mr. Boehner’s “lawsuit” might be a useful political gesture, but it can have no direct effect on the president’s actions, except as he personally limit them for political effect. In my earlier article I explained why the president probably understands that impeachment cannot be a useful tool in restraining his actions:
Most presidents are very shrewd, politically – Mr. Obama possibly among the shrewdest ever. He understands his invulnerability to impeachment better than most of us, including his political adversaries. This, I believe, is why he is so bold in stretching the “envelope” of his presidential authority. His opponents have no remedy to his extra-Constitutional actions except the impeachment route, which he undoubtedly sees as no remedy at all. He is completely safe: no curb exists on his ability to do nearly anything. This is a very dangerous place for the country, as well as for Mr. Obama, himself.
Does this mean the situation is hopeless? Can nothing be done to stop Mr. Obama’s radical march through the Constitution? The answers are No and Yes, respectively. No, it’s not hopeless because the People (God bless us!) hold the final power over the government – not the other way round. And Yes, something can be done. (The bad news is that we’re the ones who have to do it.)
When the president acts unconstitutionally, the people can and should make their collective voices heard in every possible venue to contest those actions – including correspondence, print and broadcast media, public rallies, and direct civil disobedience. Should the president take unconstitutional action on illegal immigration, for instance – perhaps issuing orders “legalizing” aliens’ status, as he has threatened to do – communities can rally in protest to keep the order from being carried out. (This has already occurred in some California towns.) With an ear finely tuned to the media, Mr. Obama will hear those voices.
For far too long, conservative Americans have been convinced that the Marquis of Queensbury rules apply only to political activism from the right side of the political spectrum. But this is untrue. Verily, we can learn about this from racial minorities. They rallied, marched, demonstrated, and disobeyed civil laws in the 1950s and ‘60s, until Jim Crow discrimination was defeated and they had gained full participation in American society. Their campaign was mostly non-violent, but it was ubiquitous and it was untiring. They never gave up. It was the most successful effort of its kind in history.
Reporters love conflict. They will always cover it. We need to use that fact to advantage in opposing unconstitutional presidential actions. But we’ll have to carry the ball ourselves. No one will do it for us while we’re relaxing in the TV chair. The president has inadvertently issued a call to arms. The question is whether we care enough about our Constitution and the liberties it guarantees to answer that call.
That being said, we also need to teach our political adversaries how dangerous Mr. Obama’s methods are for the country, and how much they will regret their willingness to countenance his overreach while he was doing things they approved of. We must show them that political alignments will not always be as they are now. When a conservative president holds office – as will certainly be true, in due time – Mr. Obama’s model could empower presidential actions that Democrats will find impossible to stop because they mimic the Obama style. These are dangerous, uncharted waters for the nation. We should not be sailing into them.
Above all, we need to support politicians who stand for the Constitution, with both our time and our finances. And we need to vote for them. People who dislike where things are heading, but withhold their money and don’t bother casting an intelligent vote, are failing in their duties as citizens. If we end up losing this “war of presidential overreach,” it will be because we didn’t take the field. That should never happen to real Americans. It’s not who we are – never has been.