The Impeachniks Roar

There have been only two presidential impeachments in the 224 years since George Washington became America's first president. Both—of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and of Bill Clinton in 1998—failed to get the required two-thirds majority in the Senate. And Richard Nixon, of course, was about to be impeached in 1974 when he chose to resign instead; unlike the other two, there would have been nothing partisan about Nixon's impeachment and he almost certainly would have been convicted. There are always some partisans of the party out of power who would like to impeach the president, simply because it's the only way to get rid of him if you can't beat him at the polls. But a presidency without too much actual criminality shouldn't produce too many such armchair prosecutors. Or so you'd think.

But these are no ordinary times, and the Republican thirst for impeaching Barack Obama (or "Barack Hussein Obama," as impeachniks inevitably call him) has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the fact that The New York Times featured a story about it over the weekend. The pattern is becoming familiar: at a town hall meeting, a member of the House or Senate is confronted by a constituent practically quivering with anger and hatred at the President. The constituent demands to know why impeachment hasn't happened yet. The Republican politician nods sympathetically, then explains that though he'd like nothing more than to see Obama driven from office, it would require a vote of the House and then a trial and conviction vote in the Senate, and that just isn't going to happen.

As Steve Benen said, "I remember the good old days—back in 2011—when unhinged conservative Republicans in Congress used to come up with pretenses of high crimes when talking up presidential impeachment. Lately, they don't even bother. Obama is the president; he's a Democrat; the right doesn't like him; ergo impeachment is a credible option. QED." Take, for instance, Representative Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan. When the ritual question came to him, Bentivolio said it would be "a dream come true" for him to submit a resolution to impeach Obama. But he lamented the fact that "Until we have evidence, you're going to become a laughingstock if you've submitted the bill to impeach the president." I mean, come on—evidence? What is this, Judge Judy or something? No constitutional scholar he, the congressman only realized this bit about "evidence" after doing some careful research. "I've had lawyers come in—and these are lawyers, PhD.s in history, and I said, 'Tell me how I can impeach the president of the United States.' [They replied,] 'What evidence do you have?'" The nerve!

Meanwhile, out in the ideological hinterlands, the rabble are getting roused. People are putting "Impeach Obama" signs on overpasses! There's a Facebook page! "Movement To Impeach Obama Snowballing" shouts World Net Daily (along with a plea to "Visit WND's online Impeachment Store to see all the products related to ousting Obama").

To be sure, it isn't that there aren't plenty of Republicans who reject impeachment out of hand, because there are. But they're regarded by many in the base as contemptible quislings; within the party, the moderate middle position is now occupied by those who wouldn't mind impeaching Obama, but realize that the practical hurdles are too difficult to overcome. And yes, there were liberals who wanted to impeach George W. Bush back in the day, but they were almost all fringe characters. They weren't the people making our laws. As always, on the right the extremism goes much farther up the tree.

There will come a point—around October of 2016, I'm guessing—where this insanity will just peter out. But between now and then it could well grow more intense, with more and more members of Congress (not to mention 2016 presidential candidates) forced to take a position of sympathy toward impeaching Obama. For the base, disappointment long ago turned to anger, which is now turning to a kind of guttural explosion of rage. Like early primates who find that all the shrieking and pounding of chests has failed to drive off the interlopers who had the temerity to walk right in and think they could coexist in this part of the forest, they're left with nothing to do but to fling their shit in the general direction of those they hate and fear. But hey, America is "polarized" and both sides are equally to blame, right?

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