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Impeachment Talk Is Shutdown Rerun

Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

That conservatives would head down the same troublesome road so soon after the political disaster of the shutdown is an indication that some on the right simply aren’t thinking straight about their struggle against Obama’s liberal agenda. We were told by Senator Ted Cruz and others that any tactic, even contemplating a shutdown or a default, was worth it because if ObamaCare was implemented it would mean the end of liberty. Two months later that kind of rhetoric looks pretty silly, not just because it was over the top but because they were wrong about ObamaCare. Far from it being untouchable, the fiasco of the bill’s rollout has made it entirely possible to imagine its collapse, if not its eventual repeal. Lacking confidence in the system and the ability of Republicans to go on fighting for their principles, some conservatives considered a kamikaze charge over the cliff as the only honorable response to the fact that a Democratic Senate and a reelected Democratic president would not repeal or delay ObamaCare.

So, too, does McCarthy seem to argue that impeachment is the only way to stop Obama from transgressing legal norms in implementing the health-care bill or enforcing immigration laws. His reaction to the frustrations of working within the system is to try and build support for the most extreme remedy afforded by the Constitution.

But, just like the meltdown, this is not only a misreading of the political mood of the nation but bad political advice for an opposition that has gained back crucial ground in the weeks since the shutdown ended and the public’s attention has shifted from GOP foolishness to Obama’s follies.

McCarthy makes some strong arguments about the legitimacy of impeachment as a response to political misdeeds by a president, especially when he quotes Alexander Hamilton’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as abuses of the “public trust,” violations of a “political” nature in the sense that “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” But impeachment is not an appropriate answer to political disagreements, even if they involve the way laws are enforced. I agree with McCarthy the president is wrong to attempt to selectively enforce provisions of laws. Yet most Americans rightly see impeachment as an abandonment of democratic politics. They believe an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election held just last year via impeachment in the absence of genuine crimes is a political trick and will make those who try it pay a high price.

Is accepting this widespread view an act of weakness by a feckless GOP establishment, as McCarthy seems to indicate? To the contrary, it is an act of maturity to understand that, as with the shutdown, transgressing political norms in this manner is viewed by most Americans as far worse than anything Obama might be doing. Criminalizing political differences, something Democrats have often resorted to when Republicans are in power, isn’t just a political mistake. It undermines the very system conservatives are seeking to preserve. 

As bitter as it may be for Republicans to accept, the proper remedy to Obama’s policies is to win the next midterm elections and then the presidency in 2016 if they can. As the last few weeks have shown, those preaching that extreme remedies are required to avert the imminent demise of our liberties have lost faith in our system as well as in the power of conservative ideas to win back the majority of Americans.

Talk of impeachment, like the shutdown, is a gift to the president and the Democrats since it illustrates a lack of seriousness on the part of some Republicans. If any of them go down this road, they will be doing conservatism a great disservice and helping, as the shutdown briefly did, the president keep his head above water in an otherwise disastrous second term.

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