Readers of this column will have seen that each time a White House scandal gets ginned up, a concomitant cry goes out from rightbloggers for President Obama’s impeachment. Google “Benghazi” and “impeachment,” for example, and see what you get.
But lately Democrats have been fighting back, using conservative impeachment talk as a way to get their members scared enough to donate and maybe even show up at the voting booth in November.
This has led to one of the more Orwellian rightblogger themes of recent times: That it’s Obama, not his mortal enemies, who is behind all the impeachment talk, and that conservatives have no intention of impeaching him unless he makes them mad — which they already are.
Rightbloggers have been talking about impeachment since roughly January 20, 2009. The casus bellow have included: Obama threatening to raise the debt ceiling (impeachment proposed by then-Rep., now Sen., Tim Scott in July 2011); Obama sending troops to Libya (GOP Congressman Walter Jones introduced an impeachment bill over that in March 2012); “actions not authorized by law (as Obama has with immigration and Obamacare)” (proposed in February by GOP Presidential contender Alan Keyes, who had foresight enough to call for “removing the vice president and the president” to eliminate that little-mentioned side-effect of impeachment); the IRS scandalette (“If it turns out that the White House, or someone acting on behalf of the White House, carried out the illegal infiltration of Attkisson’s computer(s)… for the first time, there would be serious talk of impeachment” — John Hinderaker, Power Line), etc.
Impeachment fever spiked, of course, with Benghazi. “Benghazi buzz: Obama predicted to leave office,” cried Bob Unruh at World Net Daily in May 2013, quoting such worthies as occasional Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (“I believe that before it’s all over, this president will not fill out his full term”) and adding that “lawmakers who have broached the subject of impeachment include Reps. Trent Franks, R-Ariz.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Trey Radel, R-Fla.; and Steve Stockman. Others include former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew McCarthy; left-leaning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff; talk-radio host Mark Levin; former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; and author and columnist Pat Buchanan.” Thanks for the round-up, WorldNetDaily! (Later WorldNetDaily would update, “‘Impeachment’ cited by 15th member of Congress” — that’d be Rep. Bill Flores, R-TX.)
In January 2014 Congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX) said he was “considering filing Articles of Impeachment against Barack Obama” because “Obama defiantly vowed not only to radically expand the reach of government from cradle to grave, but to smash the Constitution’s restrictions on government power while doing it,” which would have made for a hell of a Bill of Particular(s) if only he’d gone through with it.
And some just mashed up all the alleged scandals on the theory that with conservatives enraged about so many things, one of them must be impeachable. “Barack Obama’s administration is juggling several scandals at the moment,” reported Christopher Zara of International Business Times in June 2013, “so it should come as no surprise that campaigns calling for the president’s impeachment are ramping up.”
The impeachment-crusading persisted into this summer, as the South Dakota Republican Party officially called for Obama to be impeached for rescuing U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban. If Obama persisted in trading Talibani prisoners of war for our own POWs, said South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, “there will be people on our side calling for his impeachment.” (In case you missed it, a new conservative thing is to be against helping Americans in peril overseas — cf. that American doctor with Ebola.)
Éminence grise à droite George F. Will bemoaned Obama’s “lawless” behavior, adding, “advocates of extreme judicial quietism to punish the supine people leave the people’s representatives no recourse short of the extreme and disproportionate ‘self help’ of impeachment,” which is Blowhard for “blah blah impeachment hint hint.”
But in recent weeks, as Democrats found success fundraising off such threats, conservatives have — suddenly, and with admirable message discipline — flipped the script: Impeachment? they now ask. Where’d you get the idea we want impeachment? It’s actually Obama who wants to be impeached!
The schtick is not entirely new: Back in 2011 Jay Tea of Wizbang actually pioneered it, speculating on the basis of several acts he considered provocative — including Obama’s “czars” (remember that?) and “the EPA’s refusal — apparently with the White House’s blessing — to comply with Obama’s Executive Order requiring all agencies to analyze and report on the effect of regulations on employment” — that Obama might be trying to get impeached on the theory that “that it would do him far more good than harm” because “the mere attempt could galvanize support for Obama like little else could.”
At the time, we took Tea’s post for just another marker at the ever-expanding border of rightblogger insanity; it did not occur to us that it would eventually become Republican strategy.
Yet last week we had House Speaker John Boehner declaring that impeachment is “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” His fellow Republicans backed him up, and even implied that Obama was planning to goad them into impeaching him by letting some Central American refugees stay in the United States, which is precisely the sort of thing for which the Founders wrote Article II, Section 4.
“This might be the first White House in history that’s trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president,” added Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) — and if you remember the other major “first” of this White House, you can see why this is such a potent charge for conservatives.
“None of us want to do the thing that’s left for us as an alternative,” blubbered Rep. Steve King (R-IA). “But if the president has decided that he’s simply not going to enforce any immigration law… I think Congress has to sit down and have a serious look at the rest of this Constitution, and that includes that i-word that we don’t want to say.”
Heretofore impeachment-prone conservatives got with the program. Rep. Stockman, who was so eager to impeach in January, this week joined the bullshit brigade, claiming Obama “wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat.” Former Congressman Allen West, who usually calls for Obama’s impeachment whenever somebody sneezes, suddenly backtracked (“As much as you’d like to, don’t fall into the impeachment trap”).
And rightbloggers — including many high-class types published by top news sites — went with it.
“Mind you, no elected Republican, Republican candidate or responsible commentator from the right is suggesting impeachment,” bullshat Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post. “The president shouldn’t be using a fateful and divisive word like ‘impeachment’ to raise money and rouse his base,” gasped Peggy Noonan with her hand on her breastplate at the Wall Street Journal. “…He shouldn’t be out there dropping his g’s, slouching around a podium, complaining about his ill treatment, describing his opponents with disdain: ‘Stop just hatin’ all the time.'” Riff-raff!
“To be sure, impeaching President Obama has been a political fantasy on the right as well as the left for some time,” said James Taranto at the Journal. Wait — on the left? Was he talking about Ralph Nader? No, he meant that when Sarah Palin called for Obama’s impeachment, MSNBC covered it — takes two to tango, see?
“But one doesn’t expect a high degree of seriousness from Palin or MSNBC,” grandly allowed Taranto. “One does — or at least one ought to be able to — from the White House.” Alas, Obama was letting Taranto down by reacting to conservative impeachment talk and, as is his wont, hurting America in the process: “It seems to us,” said Taranto, “that this loose talk about impeachment is bad for the presidency itself, even if it proves harmless to the presidency of Barack Obama.” How selfish!
Taranto added that this unfortunate state of affairs went back to Bill Clinton, whose defenders “responded to [his] impeachment by trivializing the charges against him” and “chanted,” presumably in irreligious, Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo fashion, “that the case was just about ‘sex,'” which “helped create a sense that impeachment is common, in both senses of the word.” Republicans, on the other hand, were just doing their job as forced on them by a bad independent-counsel law. And there was room enough in Taranto’s column for one last piece of both-sides-but-especially-yours schtick: “Political vulgarians on both right and left have been talking about impeachment for years — now including the vulgarians who surround the president himself.” That’s how the pros do it, folks.
“Something rather dangerous is happening in American politics right now,” said Ross Douthat with a flashlight under his chin at the New York Times — and it wasn’t “the confusion of House Republicans, or the general gridlock in Congress,” he added, but “the course President Obama is pursuing in response” by having his allies “talking nonstop about an alleged Republican plan to impeach the president.” This Douthat called “cynical,” and even “destructive,” because “anyone paying attention knows that no such impeachment plan is currently afoot” — if we take “currently” to mean that everyone who talked it up before this week has now gotten the word to keep his mouth shut.
Douthat then got to the second part of the scam: That if Obama did get impeached, it would not be for all the other reasons conservatives have been trying to impeach him over the years, but because he’s just asking for it with the Latino kids.
If Obama executive-ordered that children who came here from Central America be allowed to stay, said Douthat, not only would that be bad (presumably for all the usual xenophobic reasons — as we observed a few weeks back, once the huddled masses fail the paper bag test, that Statue of Liberty shit goes right out the window), it would also be “an extraordinary abuse of office,” despite whatever “legal justifications” Obama might dress it up with, because mutter mutter Bill of Particulars to be named later.
And the “sordid sort of genius” of Obama’s alleged plan, said Douthat, is “the threat of a unilateral amnesty contributes to internal G.O.P. chaos on immigration strategy, chaos which can then be invoked (as the president did in a Friday news conference) to justify unilateral action.” That GOP immigration clusterfuck in the House last week? Obama made it happen with his mind-rays, and the clearly unconstitutional threat (what a tyrant!) of a veto.
“The impeachment predictions, meanwhile, help box Republicans in,” claimed Douthat: “If they howl — justifiably! — at executive overreach, the White House gets to say ‘look at the crazies — we told you they were out for blood.'” So unfair! And if the Republicans go ahead and impeach Obama, anyone who complains will also be playing a Cynical and Destructive game with the truth. Q.E. Duh.
Some outlets spread the word to their true-believer base in a more unfiltered way. Breitbart.com headlined, “GOP RANK-AND-FILE DISCUSSES WAYS TO TAKE ON OBAMA OVER AMNESTY, INCLUDING IMPEACHMENT.” Don’t worry, they weren’t going off the reservation — they were just focusing on the immigration part of rightbloggers’ new, double-barreled impeachment schtick for the Breitbart.com crowd, for whom the Who-Us-Impeach set-up is unnecessary.
“Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) told colleagues that the House should pass legislation with new steps to secure the border, and tell Obama if he didn’t implement it, they would impeach him,” reported the site’s Jonathan Strong. In case readers weren’t getting the message, Strong added, “‘People were hissing at that because they don’t want to go there,’ said a GOP member who was in the room.” Nod’s as good as a wink.
“If reports about the nature of the [immigration] executive action [Obama] is contemplating are right,” said Yuval Levin at National Review, “it would be by far the most blatant and explosive provocation in the administration’s assault on the separation of powers, and could well be the most extreme act of executive overreach ever attempted by an American president in peacetime.” Well, gosh, you have to impeach him for that, right?
Levin also mentioned some of Obama’s other crimes, e.g. “moving to compel nuns to buy contraception and abortive drugs for their employees,” so readers would know he was hip to the jive, and ended, “it seems like just the sort of thing that a national leader would seek to avoid, rather than work to invite. Let’s hope the reports aren’t true.” More in sorrow than in anger, people!
As it happens, National Review has been the mother ship of this impeachment-normalization movement. “… Sarah Palin and a few House Republicans aside – no Republican figure of consequence is coming out for impeachment,” said John Fund, making good use of verb tenses. “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” whooped Rich Lowry. “An administration that is fast entering its dotage could consider this one of the few potential positive game-changers that it has direct control over — the Constitution and the rule of law be damned.”
NatRev legacy pledge Jonah Goldberg said the “transparent glee” he perceived in Democratic fundraising emails meant “far more than Republicans, Democrats love talking about impeachment…. The cynicism of Obama’s war on cynicism is breathtaking… Given Obama’s famously low regard for the Clinton presidency, it’s ironic that he keeps stealing from its playbook.” Goldberg did not say where he heard about this “famously low regard” — maybe he’s one of those poor souls who find Ed Klein’s Clinton fanfic believable — but he did say that Obama wouldn’t get the same briar-patch bump Clinton did from impeachment because “while Clinton was hardly immune to the charge of cynicism, he wasn’t trying to shut down the government or get impeached for narrow political advantage,” which makes two things Republicans actually did that Goldberg blamed on Obama. Maybe next week he’ll also blame Obama for Mitt Romney.
The saddest case was perhaps NatRev‘s Andrew C. McCarthy, who has written a book called Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment, and is now forced by circumstances to pretend — sweatily, like Nathan Thurm — that he was not “calling for the president’s impeachment at this point,” but at some future point when the coast is clear.
Even under the interdict of New Realities, however, McCarthy still felt compelled to make his impeachment case in a sideways fashion: When Paul Ryan said Obama’s actions didn’t “rise to the high crime and misdemeanor level,” for example, McCarthy could not be restrained from ejaculating, “Wrong. To repeat, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ a British term of art borrowed by the Framers, does not refer to penal offenses. It refers to what Hamilton called ‘the misconduct of public men, or in other words…'” etc.
Besides, McCarthy went on, while “it is perfectly understandable — indeed, it is wise — for Republicans to explain that there is no prospect of removing President Obama from power… It is, however, downright dumb to claim… that the president’s misconduct is not serious enough to be considered impeachable…” Chill, dude, you’re blowing our scene!
The punch line is that it wasn’t only rightbloggers who went for this ridiculous, self-refuting story. Mainstream media bigwigs sought to prove their even-handedness by declaring that sure, some Republicans may have said some things but really, aren’t both sides to blame — the GOP for talking about impeaching Obama, Obama for being talked about?
“The leaders for both parties here — they’re driving away people from the polls, they’re driving people away from politics,” NBC’s Chuck Todd piteously wept. “This is cynical, it’s ugly, it’s disgusting.”
“There is a chance that the Republicans will try to impeach the President,” admitted Joe Klein at Time magazine, but “The White House is playing with fire” by allowing this to be an issue and raising funds to combat it, because that’s “raising the heat in a country that is already brain-fried by partisan frenzy.” Klein even suggested Obama tell his troops, “I’m done with fundraising. This is an important election, but there’s just too much going on in the world right now” — as if in the post-Citizens United age that were anything but complete surrender to the well-funded machinations of the opposition.
“White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday called repeatedly for Republicans to stop talking about impeaching President Barack Obama,” reported Politico — but added, in what the editor must have thought was an admirably non-partisan weighing of clauses, “but said he wouldn’t do the same for Democrats who’ve been fundraising off it nonstop in recent days.”
And here’s where the real “sordid sort of genius,” to steal from Douthat, comes in: As crazy as rightbloggers may seem to you and us, when their thinking correlates this perfectly with the conservative-Republican mainstream, there will always be thumbsucking MSM types who will look at it, pull their chins, and think, hmm, both sides seem passionate, and that the obvious solution is to split the difference and call it a draw. Thus, nutcases whose credibility should have been shattered around their three-hundredth call for impeachment are ridiculously afforded a place at the table, leaving advocates for common sense at a massive disadvantage, since most of their energy must be devoted to restraining themselves from screaming, “this is fucking bullshit.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 3, 2014