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Impeachment Lessons
The Nineties taught us it’s not guilt that matters; it’s political will.


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Andrew C. McCarthy

Well whaddya know: The topic of impeachment reared its head at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Jonathan Strong’s report here at NRO noted the wincing consternation of GOP-leadership aides at utterances of the “i-word” during the testimony of prominent legal experts. For the Republican establishment, it seems, history begins and ends in the 1990s: No matter how times have perilously changed, any talk of shutdowns or impeachment is bad, bad, bad. Yes, the Obama “uber-presidency,” as left-of-center law professor Jonathan Turley called it, has enveloped the nation in what he conceded is “the most serious constitutional crisis . . . of my lifetime,” but GOP strategists would just as soon have us chattering about immigration “reform” and bravely balancing the federal budget by, oh, around 2040.

But as we discussed in this August column — back when the first anniversary of the Benghazi massacre loomed, back when many Americans still believed that if they liked their health-insurance plans, they could keep their health-insurance plans — it is not crazy to talk about impeaching President Obama. And if you’re going to have a congressional hearing about systematic presidential lawlessness, it is only natural that the word “impeachment” gets bandied about. Not only is impeachment the intended constitutional remedy for systematic presidential lawlessness; it is, practically speaking, the only remedy.

It is beyond cavil that the president is willfully undermining the constitutional system that he swore to preserve, protect, and defend. He presumes to rewrite, and dramatically alter, the laws he vowed to execute faithfully — not once in a blue moon but as a deliberate scheme of governance.

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Before he took office, Obama boldly promised supporters that he would “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” That is just what he is doing. There is fraud in the uber-presidency, but no mystery: Most of Obama’s unconstitutional usurpations are happening in broad daylight. He brags that his “waivers” — i.e., his unilateral amending, repealing, or non-enforcement — of statutory provisions show him to be far-seeing and pragmatic, not lawless. That, of course, is the standard dictatorial self-image. Obama is the answer to Tom Friedman’s China-envying prayers.

Just as there is no mystery in Obama’s disregard for the Constitution, there is no secret about the Constitution’s answer to executive imperialism. The Framers recognized that presidential abuse of power carried the greatest potential to wreck the republic. Adamant that the presidency they were creating must not become a monarchy, they carried on debates over the Constitution that were consumed with precluding this very real possibility. In the end, the Framers armed Congress with two responsive weapons: the power of the purse and the power of impeachment.

As we have seen through the years, the power of the purse is not a practical check on Obama. In the main, this is because the Framers, notwithstanding their prescient alarm over the problem of factions, did not anticipate the modern Left.

The Constitution assumes that the different branches of government will protect their institutional turf. That is, the Framers calculated that, faced with a Democratic president who usurps legislative prerogatives, a Democratic congressman would see himself, first and foremost, as a congressman. Valuing the duties of his office over party loyalty, he would join with other legislators to rein in executive excess.

Today’s Democrats, however, are less members of a party than of the movement Left. Their objective, like Obama’s, is fundamental transformation of a society rooted in individual liberty and private property to one modeled on top-down, redistributionist statism. Since statism advances by concentrating governmental power, Democrats — regardless of what governmental branch they happen to inhabit — rally to whatever branch holds the greatest transformative potential. Right now, that is the presidency. Thus, congressional Democrats do not insist that the president must comply with congressional statutes. Laws, after all, must be consistent with the Constitution to be valid, and are thus apt to reflect the very constitutional values the Left is trying to supplant. Democrats want the president to use the enormous raw power vested in his office by Article II to achieve statist transformation. If he does so, they will support him. They’ll get back to obsessing over the “rule of law” if, by some misfortune, the Republicans someday win another presidential election.



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