The Democrats owe a growing debt to the Republican red-hots 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 “talk-radio 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.