Idle hands are the devil's playground, especially during these dog days of summer where the "news" is supposedly "slow." And so it really shouldn't be all that surprising that the hot new thing among the people who have twiddled their thumbs nearly to death is a fresh load of piping-hot blather over maybe, you know, impeaching President Barack Obama. And I have to admit, what the idea lacks in merit, it more than makes up for in being sort of exciting, in the way that daft people launching homemade flying machines off of a cliff can be exciting.
The recent uptick in impeachment prattle can basically be attributed to a number of factors. First, the whole "August doldrums" phenomenon. Congress is out of session, members are occasionally encountering the low-infos at town hall meet-ups, and eventually some gobemouche inspires someone to muse half-heartedly on the prospects of deposing the Kenyan-Muslim usurper with the Constitutional nuke. Bored reporters, gambling that "impeachment" will be a fertile search term, let the stories leg out, and eventually we get a nice "trend piece" triad, which officially makes impeachment a Thing.
The second factor involved here is that this is just the natural course of life when you leave a bunch of legislators, unhappy with an election result, all alone with nothing but their lack of a cogent policy strategy and their own nihilism to keep them company.
But the thing about impeachment is that you kind of have to have a crime of some sort with which to work. Back in the early part of this year, the IRS' kerfuffle seemed like it might do the trick. The use of the taxman to bedevil one's political enemies is, after all, the stone-ground essence of an impeachable offense. But as actual facts emerged, the whole "White House directed the IRS to crush the Tea Party" eventually became, "Someone at the IRS had what sounded like a good idea to improve workflow that ended up being a stupid idea." And the "targets" of the stupid idea ended up being organizations of all sorts of political persuasions.
No one in Washington was particularly inclined to argue in favor of the IRS's management schemes, so it became hard to finger anyone for outright villainy. The "Douglas Shulman visited the White House 157 times" story ended up getting debunked in rather embarrassing fashion. The evidence that the White House stood at the helm of IRS scrutiny never emerged. Eventually, Obama critics were left to argue that the president was secretly a master "bureaucrat whisperer," and then that largely whimpered out as well.
For August's august impeachment fanatics, however, the lack of a compelling reason to impeach isn't really an obstacle. Take Representative Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), the dyed-in-the-wool head case who ended up in the House Of Representatives because he was willing to be the first and loudest guy to crawl into the crater left by former Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter's career implosion.
“I went back to my office and I’ve had lawyers come in,” the congressman continued. “These are lawyers, PhDs in history, and I said, ‘Tell me how I can impeach the president of the United States.’”
The Michigan congressman then explained to the audience that someone couldn’t impeach the president without evidence.
“Until we have evidence, you’re going to become a laughingstock if you’ve submitted the bill to impeach the president because number one, you’ve got to convince the press,” he said. “There are some people out there no matter what Obama does he’s still the greatest president they’ve ever had. That’s what you’re fighting.”
I was not a fly on the wall of these important state discussions, but I am imagining a situation where Bentivolio asked a bunch of lawyers to package him up an impeachment, those lawyers gamely attempted to explain how "laws" work, and Bentivolio came away convinced that the media would be just too gosh darn corrupt to accept his argument that Obama should be removed from office just because he had a bunch of super-strong feelings about it.
Bentivolio may be a bit of an extreme case, but the fact is that while many of his colleagues haven't arranged an encounter session with legal professionals, they nevertheless lament their inability to impeach based on the lack of Senate votes -- not the absence of evidence necessary to making a case. Representative Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), citing the fact that his constituents are always asking him about impeachment, basically made this case at a recent town hall meeting:
According to Farenthold, there are probably enough votes in the House for a successful impeachment but not enough in the Senate for a conviction. He didn't cite any charges that would have to be brought.
Farenthold cited the failed effort at impeaching President Bill Clinton, arguing that in its failure, the impeachment was harmful to the country.
"What message do we send to America if we impeach Obama and he gets away with what he's impeached for and he's found innocent? What do we say he did is ok," Farenthold said.
I mean, give the guy some credit: He's totally gamed out every part of the impeachment process except for that nagging little detail that you actually have to have -- you know ... a reason to impeach, beyond "I think it would be fun."
Will a reason develop? Well, you know, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is really worried that the Obama administration is getting "perilously close" to the standard for impeachment, saying at a town hall meeting at Muskogee, Okla., "I think there’s some intended violation of the law in this administration, but I also think there’s a ton of incompetence of people who are making decisions."
Now, Coburn's concerns are filtered through the fact that he and President Obama have, over the course of their careers, become oddball BFFs -- indeed, half of the reason anyone pays attention to what Coburn says is due to the fact that he and the president have this weird relationship. (And the thing is ... I trust this completely! I absolutely believe that this is how these two guys, with their under-appreciated mordant streaks, demonstrate their affection for one another.)
Coburn went on to say, "Thank goodness it doesn’t have to happen in the Senate until they’ve brought charges in the House." But the lingering question of course, is whether or not such "charges" need to have actual merit behind them for them to be brought. Reading between the lines of those musing on the possibility of impeaching the president, you get the strong sense that the precipitating event won't be a scandal, it will simply be the GOP achieving a Senate majority. From there, it becomes an exercise of throwing stuff at the wall in the search for something that sticks.
And maybe not even that. As Jonathan Chait points out, "Still, it is noteworthy how many conservatives take the basic moral logic of Obama’s impeachment for granted." That goes for the legal logic as well.
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