In my several decades of observing the American political process I have heard calls for impeachment of every president. Nixon of course was facing impeachment when he resigned in 1974. His successor Gerald Ford only served for two years, and yet some of the same people who had demanded Nixon’s impeachment were outraged that he pardoned Nixon and called for his impeachment as well. Carter was accused of selling us out when he “gave away” the Panama Canal, and a few on the far right saw that as a high crime against US interests. The “Iran-Contra” scandal prompted some in congress to mention articles of impeachment of Ronald Reagan when some of his underlings diverted funds from the sale of weapons to the contras in Nicaragua in violation of congressional authority and constitutional guidelines. His vice president George Bush Sr. followed him into the Oval Office where he faced articles of impeachment for starting the Gulf War. After his administration president Bill Clinton was impeached for allegations related to the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Monica Lewinski affair. George W. Bush was accused of lying about the intelligence on Iraq and WMD, and many on the left were calling for articles of impeachment to be introduced against him. And now we are hearing the “I” word being used regarding (among other things) Barack Obama’s defiance of the 30 day notification requirement for transferring terrorists.
The founding fathers included the articles of impeachment component in the constitution to ensure accountability. Congress must have the means at their disposal to remove any president who breaks the law and violates the constitution that he or she has sworn to uphold. This important mechanism loses its power unfortunately, when it is either flippantly flung about by political partisans or when congress lacks the will to utilize it.
In the case of Obama both are true. Since he took office he has been accused of being a Muslim, a communist, a foreigner, and a dictator. None of these accusations brought any serious consideration from anybody in congress who actually had the power to act on the constitutional provision of impeachment. Now however, we actually have a case where a law appears to have been violated. “High crimes and misdemeanors” suddenly seems applicable.
Since he was elected calls for Obama’s impeachment have come in response to the cover-up in the attack on Benghazi, the lax enforcement of immigration laws, excessive use of executive orders, the Gitmo prisoner transfer/exchange for an accused traitor, and for abuse of power in using the IRS to gain an advantage over his political opponents. IMO the first three are pretty much baseless and are nothing more than partisan rhetoric, but the last two might have some merit. And unlike the case with Clinton, the Republicans might actually come out ahead by removing Obama and making Biden the president, because he would be a much less formidable opponent in the 2016 election than Hillary Clinton. But if you think that this congress has the backbone to actually do anything about any of Obama’s actions, think again.
You have to pick your battles in life, and that is especially true in politics. Like the boy who cried “wolf”, some voices on the right have called for Obama’s impeachement from the day he took office. And now when we are presented with a legitimate impeachable offense, the option of impeachment lacks teeth in part because of their short-sightedness.
On the other hand I have to say that the historical role that Obama plays in being the first African-American president has virtually given him a pass when it comes to the law. In my opinion this congress wouldn’t impeach Obama if they saw a video of him snorting coke and taking million dollar bribes, wearing a Karl Marx t-shirt in a room full of hookers. Because to attempt the removal of the first black president would automatically label those involved as nothing more than racists, and in modern American culture few things are deemed as offensive as racism.
Dr. King dreamed of the day when we would not judge a man on the color of his skin but on the content of his character. President Obama’s skin color didn’t keep him from being elected. That’s a good thing. At the same time however, his skin color should not prevent his removal. That would be a bad thing.
I recall the day in 1998 when the Monica Lewinski story broke. Newsweek had planned on publishing it but decided that it was too hot to print and spiked the story. It then ran on the Drudge Report and the rest is history. The day the story broke the talking heads were pretty much in agreement that if the story was true, Clinton had committed an impeachable offense. Once the allegations proved true most of them backed off and started talking about keeping things in proportion, and pontificated about how it didn’t “rise to the level” of impeachment, but the fact is federal judges have been impeached for lying under oath in a civil suit as Clinton did.
My contention then and now is that a president must be held accountable for such behaviour. He can’t be allowed to show such contempt for the law and the judicial process. What many people never realized is that the Democrats would have loved nothing more than to throw Bill Clinton under the bus and make Al Gore the president. They were embarrassed and appalled at his conduct and strategically they would have been in a much better position for the 2000 presidential election running an incumbent President Gore against any Republican challenger. Off the record they would tell reporters that, but on the record they all toed the party line and supported Clinton. The Republicans on the other hand, didn’t want to remove Clinton from office because they didn’t want to run against an incumbent in the 2000 election, and in fact many Republicans in the Senate resented their fellow Republicans in the House for throwing this hot potato into their laps. Off the record they told reporters that they didn’t want to deal with this issue, but on the record of course they all expressed outrage over Clinton’s blatant disregard for the law and agreed that it did “rise to the level”. In the end of course, Clinton was impeached but remained in office as there wasn’t enough support in the Senate for convicting him.
There was sufficient evidence to convict Clinton on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice IMO, but there wasn’t sufficient backbone on either side of the aisle to do the right thing. The Democrats put politics ahead of principle and supported Clinton, and the Republicans put politics ahead of principle and feigned supporting impeachment. The right thing to do was for both parties to remove the man from office and set a precedent for future presidents who might be tempted to commit a similar offense. That would have meant that Democrats would have to face some angry constituents and that Republicans would have had to face an uphill battle for the White House in 2000, but sometimes you just have to do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may.
Should Obama be impeached? I wouldn’t venture to say one way or the other. But the option needs to be on the table for this president just like any other president. The well-being of our political system requires nothing less.