Sunday, August 25, 2013

When Politics Fails There's Always Impeachment

The summer recess that Congress takes is ostensibly done to allow the Congresspersons to head back to their districts and host Town Halls in order to shill their agenda and let the local voters vent on the issues of the day.  Venting also means a lot of crazy talk gets thrown out there for public consumption.  It gives the nation a chance to see which direction Teh Crazy wants to go.

The talk this summer has been split between how EVIL OBAMACARE IS (even though its' current implementation is winning people over), and how soon Congress will vote to impeach Obama out of office:

...And Republican politicians … well, their strategy (as Joan Walsh details in a nice item summing up these episodes) is all over the place. So we have Ted Cruz calling it a “good question” but noting that there just aren’t the votes in the Senate to convict; one member of the House saying that the votes are there in the House, but not in the Senate; another saying it would be a “dream come true” but that they just needed the “evidence”; and Sen. Tom Coburn saying that Obama is “perilously close” to impeachment.
Well, the answers are all over the place in one sense, but in another they are all actually pretty similar: None of them dismissed the idea out of hand. None of them simply said that impeachment is an extreme remedy for only the most serious malfeasance in office, and as wrong as they believe Barack Obama has been on matters of public policy, and as bad a president as they believe he has been, there’s absolutely nothing out there remotely in the neighborhood of an impeachable offense.
That’s what any responsible elected official would do...
I'd been wondering, since the 2010 midterms, when the Republicans would just jump straight into "Impeach Obama" Mode.  I honestly thought for awhile there they wouldn't even wait for an excuse and just go straight to the vague accusation of "high crimes": I keep saying, half in jest, that they'd impeach over how Obama ties his shoelaces.  So I ended up being wrong about how eager the Republicans were to use impeachment: in hindsight it made more sense for them to stick to obstructing government as it cost them less politically, and it meant they didn't have to work twice as hard (since impeaching means that, you know, they had to show up and do stuff when they'd rather be off yachting or golfing or both).
However, the talk has popped back up again.  Partly because of the faux controversies that Congress tried to stir up over Benghazi (a disaster that turned out to do more with Congress' refusal to fund adequate embassy security) or the IRS investigating Tea Party groups (it turned out to be internal overreach caused by confusing tax code distinctions between non-profits and PACs that investigated a lot of groups on both sides: worse, it also turned out members of Congress knew about it before Obama ever did).  Mostly because Obama's now a Second-Termer who won a solid majority for the second time and thus legitimate in the eyes of majority voters, in the face of constant reminders by the Far Right Noise Machine that Obama is a Secret Muslim Socialist Kenyan Racist Terrorist.  In short, the Far Right voters have been told enough times that Obama is illegitimate: now they want Congress to do something about it.

...But the second thing all these answers appear to have in common is actually even more astonishing and irresponsible: None of these politicians seem to feel any need to actually discuss the grounds for impeachment. At best there’s some hand-waving around the minor scandals of the last year, but for the most part it’s just assumed that impeachment is what Republicans normally do to Democratic presidents, just because.
The conclusions? Bill Clinton wasn’t impeached over sex (what Democrats believe) or over perjury (what Republicans claim); he was impeached because he was a Democrat in the White House. That’s enough...
...Part of the explanation: There are no core “conservative” ideas for these politicians to embrace, ideas that would allow them to successfully fight back against charges that they are squishes or “RINOs.” It’s not ideology; it’s partisanship...
So will we get an actual impeachment? On the one hand, it does seem that one positive lesson Republican congressional leaders did learn from the Newt Gingrich years is that a pointless impeachment without the votes to convict was a pretty bad idea. On the other hand, what Republicans also seemed to have learned from Newt is that impeachment is pretty much the normal punishment to administer to a president you don’t like much...
Impeachment is growing likelier, not because of anything Obama's done - and on some issues Obama's losing his base, such as the NRA warrantless wiretapping, but it's doubtful the Far Right will go after him on that as they like the idea of a surveillance state - but because the House Republicans have painted themselves into the corner on the issue.  They've spent so long working up their base into thinking Obama is this great evil that mere obstruction of policy or budgeting may no longer appease that base.  Some of the party leaders are already facing primary challenges from party members further to the Right than the leadership: in order to secure their Far Right bona fides they may well encourage or at least condone a lot of the nastier political scheming to bear fruition.

When Congress gets back, the House is expected to work on an immigration reform bill (most observers think it's dead, half because of the issue and half because there are more major issues to confront), and on a budget resolution to overcome the current sequester, and then most likely face another Debt Ceiling hike resolution.  On any of these points, the Republican Far Right are expected to hold a No-Compromises line, either against Obama's call for a tax hike on upper incomes (the top 5 percent), Obama's call for tax reform to close costly loopholes, and/or funding ObamaCare (the Far Right wants to kill it but since their 40 repeal votes never went anywhere, defunding it is their next worst solution).  Obama's not likely to budge on any of those counts either, especially on the "defund ObamaCare" part, so I'm half-expecting the House to vote for impeachment when those votes comes up and Obama and the Democrats turn the GOP down.

If any of the readers here have been tracking my year-long review of Presidential Character (based on James David Barber's work), you'd notice the few times impeachment ever came up as an issue.  Congress talked impeachment only rarely: in a case like John Tyler (when Tyler seemed to betray the Whig Party on a personal level); and in a case like Andrew Johnson (when party foolishness put a Democrat in the line of succession, leaving a Radical Republican Congress to reach for any excuse to purge him).  The impeachment process against Tyler went nowhere because the Whigs couldn't garner enough votes in the House: the impeachment against Johnson came one vote shy of success, which historians still argue was the closest we'd ever gotten to a political coup in our nation's history.  Both times, impeachment was used as a means to remove a President simply because of ideological conflict: neither one really broke the law (technically Johnson broke the Tenure of Office Act, but that law was specifically written against him, and the courts ruled it unconstitutional), they both were radically opposed to what Congress wanted.

This is the danger of impeachment: meant to be a tool to remove a powerful political figure that might otherwise be above the law, impeachment has rarely been used as such (only once).  It's gotten to where impeachment is not talked about as in the nation's best interests: it's in the interests of the radicals in charge of whichever party is in Congress in opposition of the sitting President.  It's worse when the radicals in charge are convinced there would be no political blow-back for what they do.  It's even worse when those same radicals - some of them still around from when they last tried this with Clinton - try the same damn trick near 12 years later.  It's like they totally forgot that SNL skit of ousted leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston going "what the hell happened?"

As a secondary thought, it was surprising that the apparent issue of craziness - immigration reform - turned out to be a bit of a dud with the public.  The Far Right tried to host a few rallies here and there but a lot of them had a ton of no-shows.  While the Tea Partiers could raise a fuss over healthcare reform and tax reform, they couldn't get their base out to rail against The Other. It didn't help the GOP that the noisiest anti-immigrant voices like Rep. Steve King of Iowa jumped straight into some stupid racist comments that painted the Far Right's side in a bad light.  It may be that most of the GOP voters have an understanding of how complex, how human, the immigration debate can be...

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