Talk of impeachment abounds in Washington, D.C., these days, but oddly, both sides blame each other for that. Republicans say Democrats are talking up impeachment in order to raise funds and support for the upcoming midterm elections.
But Democrats point out that high-profile Republicans have mused for years about impeaching President Barack Obama — a process that will become much easier if the GOP retakes the Senate in November.
Should the president be impeached? What would the consequences be? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: Nah, Republicans aren't going to impeach Obama — not unless he commits some transgression that even a majority of Democrats decide they can't support. (He won't.)
Even if GOPers think they have a good reason to impeach, they probably won't, for one very good reason: It would be the end of American politics as we know it.
Think about it: Obama would be the second Democratic president in a row to be impeached by a Republican Congress. Which would signal that Democratic presidents will never be treated as legitimate by the GOP — they barely are now — and thus be an invitation for Democrats to reciprocate, to muck things up as much as possible for every future Republican president, and probably result in the impeachment of the next Republican president facing a Democratic Congress.
And every Republican after that.
The result? Gridlock. Chaos. The nation would become ungovernable. Even at this stage, the process depends on one side offering some minimal level of cooperation to the other. With an impeachment, the incentives to do even that little bit would disappear. It would be every party for itself.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not kidding or exaggerating: The impeachment of Obama — again, barring extraordinary circumstances — would be the beginning of the end of the present constitutional order. A lot of things we take for granted would probably suddenly come under question.
So Republicans won't impeach. But they will play games with the idea.
They'll do things like the "impeachment-lite" lawsuit that House Republicans are bringing against the president. They'll fantasize with constituents at town hall meetings about the need to rein in the tyrannical commander-in-chief. They'll make angry statements on Fox News and talk coyly about "the I-word."
Which, as a matter of fact, is exactly what they're doing. You can't blame Democrats for thinking that such signs amount to a warning that impeachment is actually imminent. Their sin? Thinking Republican politicians mean what they say.
BEN BOYCHUK: It's true, impeaching Obama certainly would fulfill the fantasies of a small but vocal fraction of the conservative base. More importantly, impeachment would fulfill the devout wishes of the president and some of his most ardent supporters.
Just talking about impeachment is great for fundraising — especially in a midterm election year shaping up to be a drubbing for Democrats. Last month, when Sarah Palin endorsed the idea, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raked in $2.1 million over the course of a weekend. Not too shabby.
But why bother with impeachment at all? The president may be unpopular, but that's no reason to impeach him. Obama's policies, on the other hand, aren't merely unpopular — they're also destructive. Violating the oath of office? Usurping congressional authority? That's nothing to scoff at.
Forty years ago, Congress was ready to impeach a president over his political misconduct. "The issue here is broader than criminality," said William Hungate, the Missouri Democratic congressman who proposed the second of three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon that included allegations he used the Internal Revenue Service to punish his enemies. Sound familiar?
Four decades after Nixon's resignation, however, some liberal Democrats seem to have adopted the 37th president's view that "when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." The reason? "Congressional gridlock."
Two years ago, for example, the White House invoked "prosecutorial discretion" in choosing to exempt 1 million illegal immigrants from deportation because Congress hadn't passed an immigration reform bill. Now the president is mulling an executive order that effectively would grant amnesty to 6 million illegal immigrants. The Constitution reserves the power of "naturalization" to Congress, not the president.
Would that be outrageous enough? Maybe. Or maybe the concept of "separation of powers" is passe. If so, President Obama and his successors can rest easy knowing they may flout the oath of office with the full backing of their party and (in the case of Democrats) a sympathetic press.
Absent a critical mass of public support for the Constitution, talk of impeachment will remain just that — talk.
Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.
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