On Tuesday, 2008 vice-presidential candidate and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin published an op-ed at Breitbart News in which she called for impeachment proceedings against President Barack Obama, citing the manufactured crisis on the border as his final, intolerable abuse of power:
Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ???no mas.???
Without borders, there is no nation. Obama knows this. Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America. It???s the only promise he has kept. Discrediting the price paid for America???s exceptionalism over our history, he???s given false hope and taxpayer???s change to millions of foreign nationals who want to sneak into our country illegally. Because of Obama???s purposeful dereliction of duty an untold number of illegal immigrants will kick off their shoes and come on in, competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services. There is no end in sight as our president prioritizes parties over doing the job he was hired by voters to do. Securing our borders is obviously fundamental here; it goes without saying that it is his job.
The Unaccompanied Alien Child tsunami might be the last straw for Palin, but she takes time to count the other straws, too:
The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt; many cities are on the verge of insolvency; our overrun healthcare system, police forces, social services, schools, and our unsustainably generous welfare-state programs are stretched to the max. We average Americans know that. So why has this issue been allowed to be turned upside down with our ???leader??? creating such unsafe conditions while at the same time obstructing any economic recovery by creating more dependents than he allows producers? His friendly wealthy bipartisan elite, who want cheap foreign labor and can afford for themselves the best ???border security??? money can buy in their own exclusive communities, do not care that Obama tapped us out.
But it’s the last two lines of her op-ed that might be most directly relevant:
The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he???s not impeachable, then no one is.
I tend to think the answer is that “no one is.” And that’s a big problem. Of course, it’s also a big problem that Presidents would do anything that makes people seriously discuss impeaching them.
The disturbing political genius of Barack Obama was to realize that many of the limits on executive power are theoretical. Separation of powers has become a gentleman’s agreement over the past century. A spirited historical argument can be had over exactly when the process began in earnest, but the bottom line is that ambitious presidents realized the executive could use its power to expand its power, in a way the other branches of government can’t quite match. Sure, you can point fingers at Supreme Court justices or members of Congress, left and right, who pushed the limits of their authority in various ways, but the executive is uniquely suited to do things like what Palin accurately accuses Obama of doing on the border: deploying the immense resources of the federal government to take actions that change the rules.
However we might chart the history of this degeneration – perhaps it was simply an inevitable result of the central government growing larger, producing a spreading mass of bureaucratic weeds beyond the reach of either legislative gardeners or the public – the bottom line is that Barack Obama realized there’s virtually nothing anyone can do to stop him, provided the media doesn’t turn against him and gin up massive public outrage. Quite a few of the restrictions on power are now effectively enforced by the media, which is is very strongly partisan, and also favorably disposed toward increasing the size of government. The same people who went nuts over everything George Bush did are utterly complacent, or even actively supportive, when Obama does the same thing but ten times worse.
You’ll notice President Obama has a pretty sorry record of getting his abuses past the Supreme Court, with a remarkable number of solid, and even unanimous, decisions against him. Those are minor setbacks, not staggering blows that halt his program of transforming America. The only chance the Court had at striking such a blow was when it absolutely should have ruled ObamaCare unconstitutional, but instead it helpfully rewrote the law on the fly and kept it alive. You might recall President Obama organizing a great deal of media power to make the Justices understand this was the decision he wanted. It also helped that the Court is not disposed to annihilate huge programs for which hundreds of billions of dollars have already been spent. And even when they are, court cases that percolate for years aren’t exactly a swift remedy for executive abuses that change the facts on the ground immediately.
What’s left to Congress, if the media refuses to whip up the popular resentment necessary to make the President back down? They’ve got impeachment and the power of the purse… both of which are effectively dead letters now. Obama was shrewd to understand this. There might still be a few “power of the purse” skirmishes here and there, but there is no chance Republicans will defund anything Democrats are willing to shut the government down to protect, they way they did with ObamaCare. That’s another result of the vast expanse of centralized government power: the Leviathan State has grown mighty fangs and claws to defend itself with.
As for impeachment, we all know that’s not going to happen. It’s hard to imagine what sort of crime a President could commit that would make his own Party willing to remove him from office, especially since Democrats think the lesson of Watergate is that Republicans were fools to let Richard Nixon take the fall, instead of protecting him the way Democrats protected Bill Clinton. (Can anyone seriously contend that Nixon would not survive Watergate today, especially if he was a Democrat?)
So really, we’re not talking about using effective instruments to block an ambitious imperial executive and stop him from illegally rewriting laws on the fly. We’re talking about the most effective means of bypassing the media to get the American people talking about abuses of power. That’s what House Speaker John Boehner’s effort to sue Obama is about. And that’s ultimately what talk of impeachment would be about, combined with the assertion made by impeachment advocates that it’s the right thing to do – the Constitutionally-provided remedy for executive abuse – even if there’s little chance of it working in the current political environment.
Palin doesn’t think much of Boehner’s approach – “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight, and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines,” she said on Sean Hannity’s show Tuesday night – while Boehner thinks Palin’s impeachment talk is futile, if not counter-productive. There’s always the danger that a serious impeachment threat would rally disaffected Democrats around a President with cellar-dwelling approval ratings, with perhaps enough spare energy to influence some congressional races. This is, again, a political consideration, not a structural argument… but the structure is inert without political force to animate it.
Which is not a bad way to sum up the problem with living in a post-Constitutional non-Republic: there aren’t many abstract limits on power, and the public is generally comfortable with that. They’re getting more into this idea of an “elective monarchy,” which is just a way of putting a charismatic human face on the sort of majority mob rule the Founders were terrified of. The average person interprets this system as “Whatever the majority supports, the government is empowered to do,” but a more accurate rendition would be “the government can do anything it wants, unless a substantial majority says no.” Both of those creeds are a horrible way to run a Republic, but there’s a world of difference between them, and the latter is much worse.
As with so many other government problems, the abuse of executive power wouldn’t be so much of a concern if there was less executive power to be abused. All forms of corruption diminish when there is less power for sale. Meanwhile, it might be somewhat hazardous politically to talk about impeachment, giving Barack Obama another stage upon which he can posture as both a persecuted victim and the last line of defense against extremism, but it can be intellectually productive to discuss why the impeachment power exists… and why it doesn’t work.
Sarah Palin made a passionate case in her op-ed, and subsequent remarks. Have Barack Obama’s approval rating sunk to the point where a critical mass of voters are willing to hear her out? I can’t say I foresee any scenario in which the people turn so sour on Obama that Senate Democrats are terrorized into booting him out of office, or that Republicans will win the Senate so decisively that the Democrats are no longer an insurmountable obstacle. I’m inclined toward the cynical view that Americans, on the whole, are not quite ready for the intellectually productive discussion about the limits of power I mentioned above. But I’m not absolutely certain that they’re not ready, especially not if the border crisis keeps getting worse, and the next load of bad ObamaCare news arrives on schedule.
Update: Here’s some audio of Palin appearing on Sean Hannity’s radio program Wednesday afternoon to discuss her call for impeachment: