A recurring theme of the Obama administration and the upcoming election to succeed him is the continuing relevance of Bill Clinton and his presidency. Obama and the GOP fought over welfare reform, which Clinton signed. The president (and now Hillary Clinton) disavowed the religious freedom protections signed into law enthusiastically by Bill Clinton. On free trade, taxes, and gay marriage the Clinton presidency has been in the room.
The comparisons became particularly specific when the two sides threatened, and then went through with, a government shutdown. The parallel was invoked: Clinton is perceived to have won the battle for public opinion over the 1995 shutdown, when the president sparred with Newt Gingrich and a reenergized conservative faction in the House. Now a similar comparison is cropping up again: impeachment.
Although Republican congressional leaders are not remotely taking the idea of impeachment seriously, this issue has the very same plot twist as the debate over the government shutdown. Because history declared Clinton the victor in 1995, top Democrats in the Obama era actually wanted the shutdown, convinced it would play to their political advantage. Republican leaders were unenthusiastic about shutting down the government precisely because they agreed. (There was even a “hot stove” theory as to why Speaker Boehner eventually let it proceed: the backlash would teach the conservative supporters of the shutdown–some of whom had presidential aspirations–a lesson they’d remember.)
That’s the backdrop to Rich Lowry’s headline-question at NRO today: “Does Obama WANT to Get Impeached?” The answer, I think, was revealed during a bizarre back-and-forth at White House press secretary Josh Earnest’s briefing on Friday. Earnest was sent to the podium to convey the Looney Tunes notion that the GOP leadership was considering impeachment. Because this is flatly and demonstrably false, Earnest was challenged on his assertion.
“I think that there are senior members of the Republican political party or certainly prominent voices in the Republican Party who are calling for exactly that,” Earnest said. The reporters were slightly confused by an obviously untrue charge coming from the president’s chief spokesman. There ensued an argument that has to be seen to be believed. Via the White House transcript:
Q And who is that? Sarah Palin is one.
MR. EARNEST: She mentioned it. Somebody mentioned earlier that —
Q She would be a prominent voice in the Republican political —
Q Anybody in the Republican leadership seriously talking about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think Sarah Palin considers herself to be a leader —
Q Hang on, Jon, it’s my question.
Q Sorry. (Laughter.)
Q There’s been a lot of fundraising emails from the Democratic Party with the word “impeachment” in it. This sounds like a fundraising ploy, a political ploy, not a real thing. You don’t really think the President is going to be impeached, do you?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, I think that there are some Republicans, including some Republicans who are running for office, hoping they can get into office so that they can impeach the President. That is apparently a view that they hold, because it’s one that they have repeatedly expressed publicly.
I think what’s really important —
Q Is the White House Counsel’s Office looking at this? Are you studying the possibility of being impeached?
MR. EARNEST: Here’s the thing that I think is important about this. And again, we’re coming up on a pivotal week. Next week will be the last week that Congress is in session before Labor Day. There are at least two items of business that members of Congress themselves have identified as important priorities.
The mention of the Democratic Party fundraising emails about impeachment hits the nail on the head. As the world burns, and as his secretary of state piles on the firewood, the president spends his time at fundraisers. Each issue can be measured not according to bedrock principles but by its monetary value with regard to raising campaign funds.
That’s how we get the White House’s “war on women” and the left acting as though the Religious Freedom Restoration Act permits–nay, requires, if the GOP has its way–the Talibanization of American life. The president’s grand vision for reelection boiled down to Big Bird and birth control. Big Bird seems to be out of the woods, so now it’s almost exclusively birth control, though this requires the left to simply make stuff up, since the truth is not offensive enough to rile the Democratic base.
And that’s how we get a fundraising scheme designed by Democrats pushing the idea of impeachment with Republicans pushing back against the idea. It would otherwise seem strange, no doubt, to see the president and his spokesmen gleefully push the idea of impeachment with Republicans trying to talk Democrats down from that ledge. Which is where we are now in this farcical saga of presidential self-pity.