Progressives are having conniption fits, sputtering with indignation over growing talk about impeachment as the constitutional remedy for President Obama’s flouting of the law, most prominently in declaring that he will not enforce certain aspects of Obamacare out of his own political convenience. The founders clearly understood the need for a political remedy when an executive behaved outside the bounds of the law.
The talk is both local: (hat tip: Nice Deb)
And among pundits. Andrew McCarthy writes at NRO:
The Framers did not believe free people needed lawyers to figure out how to govern themselves. The standard they gave us for removal from high public office is so simple that obstetricians and even wind-bags should have no trouble grasping it.
All public officials, including presidents, are sure to err, but comparatively few will prove utterly unfit for high office. Thus impeachment was designed to be neither over- nor under-inclusive. The Framers considered limiting grounds for removal to “treason, bribery and corruption,” but that would fail to account for severe derelictions of duty that could fatally compromise our constitutional order. “Maladministration,” on the other hand, was rejected because it would empower Congress to impeach based on trifling irregularities.
The Framers settled on “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a standard that had been used by the British parliament for centuries. The concept is not rooted in statutory offenses fit for criminal court proceedings. Instead, it involves damage done to the public order by persons in whom great public trust has been reposed. In Federalist No. 65, Hamilton described impeachable offenses as those
which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominatedpolitical, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.
A useful article published by the Constitutional Rights Foundation is more concrete about the Framers’ understanding:
Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery. Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not. The one common denominator in all these accusations was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve.
Enough talk about impeachment that the Washington Post published a piece by Ed Rogers about “the impeachment talk that won’t go away.”
[T]he president is stoking through his willful flaunting of the law can’t be denied. Perhaps the former constitutional law professor has overreached and decided that the Constitution is more flexible than he once thought. His misdeeds are increasingly being detailed by commentators, even those who are not marginalized conservatives. No less than Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) – who is particularly bright and well-regarded – has broached the issue and is raising the notion that impeachment is conceivable. This drew a sharp rebuke – rather than a laugh – from David Axelrod, suggesting that perhaps Senator Coburn hit a nerve.
The bothersome reality is that President Obama is inventing new laws, selectively choosing to enforce laws he likes and ignoring or amending the ones he doesn’t. Many writers, from George Will to Jeffrey Anderson to Charles Krauthammer have written about the president’s increasing lawlessness. What is the penalty for this? How is it supposed to be investigated? We are close to uncharted constitutional territory.
The most pathetic response came from Joan Walsh of Salon who supplied only invective, no evidence or argument at all making the case that impeachment is unrrealistic. “Tom Coburn, Ted Cruz and other crackpots can’t stand up to their base and face reality. Can this party ever change?” is as deep as she gets.
While there is absolutely no prospect that the current Senate would convict the nation’s first black president, and every prospect that an actual impeachment resolution would spark not just cries of racism but outright violence, it is still useful to discuss impeachment. For one thing, Obama’s abuse of executive authority must be stopped. It is a slippery slope to tyranny when a president ignores laws he doesn’t like, or changes them. For another, the low information voters need to have their consciousness raised, and the more exposure they have to the meme of impeachment, the more they will get information on Obama’s abuses.
The progressives are correct to get hysterical over impeachment talk. It screws up their plans, piercing the media veil of silence over Obama’s terrible performance in office. Most establishment Republicans run away from the issue as fast as they can, fearful of the r-word, and convinced that it will harm electoral prospects in 2014. Look how it worked out for Clinton and the GOP, they caution.
I think it is OK to have two different currents of thought among Republicans. Let the lo-fo’s watch and maybe start to learn something.