The costly fan­tasy of im­peach­ing Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

The Democrats owe a grow­ing debt to the Repub­li­can red­hots pur­su­ing the fan­tasy of im­peach­ing Barack Obama. They’re col­lect­ing a lot of cash — prob­a­bly not as much as they claim, but a lot — from the naive and ex­citable folks in the Demo­cratic base. Ou­trage is eas­ily con­vert­ible to cash, as ev­ery bag­man knows, and the Repub­li­cans should get a cut of it. Fair is fair.

Sarah Palin, who as a for­mer gover­nor knows bet­ter than to con­fuse hop­ing with do­ing, is leading the bay­ing hounds this week. She told an au­di­ence the other day that “the many im­peach­able of­fenses of Pres­i­dent Obama can no longer be ig­nored. If af­ter all this, he’s not im­peach­able, then no one is.”

She’s right about that sec­ond part. No one is. We’ve tried im­peach­ment twice, and nei­ther time the weapon worked. That’s be­cause the im­peach­ment of a pres­i­dent is first a po­lit­i­cal act, an in­dict­ment by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and only then a trial in the Se­nate. The Founders didn’t in­tend it to be easy. The prose­cu­tors must have not only a solid le­gal case, but an air­tight po­lit­i­cal case as well. Barack Obama has lost the con­fi­dence of much of the pub­lic, but prov­ing him guilty of “high Crimes and Mis­de­meanors” would nec­es­sar­ily be the work of “high pol­i­tics and ru­n­away par­ti­san­ship,” and there’s noth­ing in the law or the Con­sti­tu­tion against that. Many people have con­cluded that the pres­i­dent is an in­com­pe­tent jerk, but that’s not im­peach­able.

The Rad­i­cal Repub­li­cans, who con­trolled Congress in the aftermath of the War Be­tween the States, thought they had the votes to con­vict Andrew John­son, a Ten­nessean who had nev­er­the­less stayed with the Union. Sus­pect­ing that he was soft on the South dur­ing the harsh Re­con­struc­tion, they en­acted a law to pro­tect the evil Ed­win M. Stan­ton, Lin­coln’s sec­re­tary of war, and when Andrew John­son sacked him, the rad­i­cals were sure they had their man ready for the gal­lows, or at least back to Ten­nessee. The Se­nate ac­quit­ted by a sin­gle vote.

Bill Clin­ton was sim­i­larly called out on a po­lit­i­cal in­dict­ment. He was im­peached not for do­ing naughty things with an in­tern, as the lib­er­als in­sist, but for ly­ing to Congress. That was se­ri­ous busi­ness, a mis­de­meanor if not a felony, but the nei­ther Congress nor the Supreme Court has ever de­fined “a high Crime” or a “Mis­de­meanor” grave enough to con­vict a pres­i­dent. Nev­er­the­less, the Repub­li­cans didn’t have the votes in the Se­nate to con­vict him for ly­ing to the courts, and Bubba was not guilty, though cer­tainly not in­no­cent. (That im­por­tant distinc­tion was never more ap­par­ent.)

“Im­peach­ment” has never been more loosely thrown about than in mod­ern Amer­ica. Some of our politi­cians seem to re­gard it as the cheap way to dis­pose of a ri­val, like the man who gets a ticket for speed­ing and an­grily tells the high­way pa­trol­man that he will “fight this all the way to the Supreme Court.” It’s trans­par­ently an empty and boast­ful threat, full of sound and fury and noth­ing else.

Mr. Obama might well be guilty of a high Crime or even a high Mis­de­meanor; rewriting laws he doesn’t like, turn­ing the IRS loose on his en­e­mies, and con­nivance to over­whelm the south­ern bor­der with hun­gry, des­per­ate chil­dren is cruel and heartless. But it falls short of bribery and trea­son, and even if it didn’t, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, with its rel­a­tively close par­ti­san di­vi­sion, would never vote for im­peach­ment. The Se­nate, with a dis­ci­plined Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, would never con­vict even if he con­fessed with a bucket of tears.

The way to pun­ish a pres­i­dent is at the polls. Mr. Obama is him­self be­yond the power of the vot­ers to pun­ish, but his party is not. The Repub­li­cans have this power al­most within their grasp. A ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors could pre­vent Mr. Obama from fur­ther stock­ing the ju­di­ciary with the worst of hacks. A con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity could start work on re­form­ing Oba­macare, and above all be­gin the re­build­ing of the econ­omy.

Big talk can be fun, like throw­ing a large, flat rock into a river. But af­ter the noisy splash, the scat­ter­ing of a mighty fume of air and wa­ter, the river re­sumes its placid jour­ney to the sea. Big, empty talk doesn’t win elec­tions. Such talk, in the words of The Wall Street Jour­nal, is the work of “talkra­dio hosts and ob­scure au­thors who are try­ing to in­crease au­di­ence share or sell books by pos­ing as Mr. Obama’s loud­est op­po­nents.”

Stir­ring up the Demo­cratic base and col­lect­ing cash for Demo­cratic can­di­dates is work for Democrats, not Repub­li­cans. Bet­ter to stop the prom­ises of cheap re­venge and ret­ri­bu­tion. The way to pun­ish Barack Obama is to win the elec­tions in Novem­ber. Wes­ley Pru­den is edi­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Andrew John­son

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