Democrats' Impeachment Amnesia

Democrats' Impeachment Amnesia

By Carl M. Cannon - August 3, 2014

One disconcerting feature of modern liberalism is that so many Democrats consider it reasonable to judge the Republican Party by its most rhetorically untethered adherents: Sarah Palin, for one. Or Rush Limbaugh. Texas Congressman Steve Stockman is another example.

Those three have been trying to nudge their fellow conservatives in the direction of impeaching President Obama. This suicidal idea has been duly ignored by the Senate Republican leadership, the House leadership, and every potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate. It has been rejected out of hand, really, by almost every prominent Republican in the country, including the never-shy Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Limbaugh is a famous talk radio provocateur; Palin a failed vice presidential candidate who resigned from Alaska’s governorship after less than one full term to cash in as an author and Fox News talking head. Stockman is a fringe character departing the House after losing a Republican senatorial primary in a landslide. In other words, these are not people in positions of authority or responsibility within the Republican Party.

The actual officeholders and party professionals stoking impeachment talk are all Democrats. This is disquieting for several reasons. For starters, having White House officials and leading congressional Democrats claim with straight faces that impeachment is a serious threat is cynical and dishonest. Its purpose is to frighten liberals into donating money to Democrats, a tactic that is working. But it suggests a political party that is out of gas and out of ideas.

Speaking in Kansas City last week, Obama sounded more Valley Girl than presidential. “We could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit,” he complained. “Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats deliberately conflated the loose talk of impeachment with the House Republicans’ pending lawsuit against Obama over a series of executive orders and administrative waivers regarding the Affordable Care Act. This, too, is a nasty little ploy: Impeachment is a right-wing fantasy. Going to court over the separation of powers disputes is a way to address constitutional disputes.

Yet, there was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi glowering at her Republican counterparts during Wednesday’s debate on the lawsuit while accusing Speaker John Boehner of pandering to “impeachment-hungry extremists.”

“Tell them impeachment is off the table,” she added, a reference to liberal calls a decade ago to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. “That’s what I had to do.” As Pelosi knows, that’s precisely what John Boehner has already done. But that wasn’t the worst of it from the Democratic side—not hardly.

When it was her turn to speak, and she rarely misses such a chance, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee called the lawsuit resolution “a veiled attempt for impeachment [that] undermines the law that allows a president to do his job.”

It’s unclear what “law” she had in mind, but the Texas congresswoman was just getting going: “A historical fact that President Bush pushed this nation into a war that had little to do with apprehending terrorists,” she added. “We did not seek impeachment of President Bush, because as an executive, he had his authority. President Obama has the authority.”

Historical confusion, constitutional illiteracy, and mangled syntax aside, this statement wasn’t merely inaccurate. It was peculiar. That’s because on June 10, 2008, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, introduced a measure titled “Impeaching George W. Bush, president of the United States, of high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Eleven of Kucinich’s fellow progressives signed on as co-signatories. These weren’t talk radio or cable TV entertainers—or marginalized members on their way out of Congress, like Steve Stockman. The sponsors of the Bush impeachment bill were congressional liberals in good standing with the Democratic leadership in the House, and most of them are still there, including—yes, you guessed it—Sheila Jackson Lee.

“She misspoke,” her press secretary Mike McQuerry told inquiring reporters.

Not to pick on McQuerry, because being Jackson Lee’s spokesman must be one of the most trying jobs in Washington, but this is insufficient. This is the sixth year of the presidency of someone elected to the highest office in the land despite obvious gaps in his experience. A majority of voters in this country overlooked his thin résumé to take a chance on an aspirational figure whose very visage simultaneously extended the reach of the American Dream while breaking the racial barriers that had long undermined the nation’s founding spirit.

In the ensuing years, other priorities asserted themselves. The economy remained stalled; a massive health care law was not as advertised; global hot spots ignited, and the U.S. response was indecisive. Along the way, as has happened to other presidents, Barack Obama’s popularity declined. Maybe his luck just ran out. Or perhaps his lack of experience showed. His supporters maintain that the 44th president was hamstrung by a doggedly unhelpful opposition party. These explanations are not mutually exclusive. Nor are these new difficulties for the occupant of the Oval Office.

One excuse for Obama’s troubles is new, however. He himself has implied what Attorney General Eric Holder and many others have claimed aloud: that much of the opposition to this president is attributable to his race. This is not an easy narrative to disprove, but the eight-year dose of vitriol directed at Bush and Cheney—and the craven claims that it never happened—certainly undermine it.

Sheila Jackson Lee’s brain freeze was almost comical, but the serious side to this is that if you’re going to impugn others’ motives—if you’re going to talk about “hating,” as the president did—the biblical admonition about noticing the speck in your neighbor’s eye is apropos.

“I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for” wasn’t a sentence uttered by a leftist talk radio pundit. It was said in 2005 by Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.

And it wasn’t some unhinged MSNBC host who said that George W. Bush deliberately fabricated the rationale for invading Iraq to help Republican electoral chances. That was Sen. Ted Kennedy, the icon of American liberalism. This didn’t start with Iraq, either. During the Florida recount, Rep. Jerold Nadler of New York mentioned “the whiff of fascism in the air.”

The whiff I detected, as I do now, was the scent of demagoguery.

“An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American.” So says Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

Barack Obama received a higher percentage of the popular vote than any Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson—and he did it twice. It’s irrational to say that those who’ve soured on him only recently noticed the hue of his skin. The more likely culprits—as Carter should know firsthand—are the effects of his policies, his tepid approach to foreign policy, and a rhetorical impulse to position himself as president of the Democratic Party, instead of president of the United States of America. 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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