Monday, August 4, 2014

Is Obama Gaming Impeachment?

Keep Yer Pants On. It's From 2007 (Bush)

One of the good things about taking a week off (The Omnivore went on a family vacation to Red-State Alabama!) is that by the time you get back there's all kinds of good stuff to write about. Mostly, in fact, your job has already been done for you (that is other, smarter people have weighed in and told The Omnivore what to think).

Today, it's Impeachment. As you may have heard, some of the top-drawer Conservative thinkers have called for Obama's impeachment (Yeah, you clicked and were like that was supposed to be Palin, fucker). The top brass has said it ain't gonna happen--but it's a fundraising bonanza for Democrats.

In fact, FiveThirtyEight runs the numbers and finds out that, yes, MSNBC talks about impeachment way, way more than FOX:

This leads to the obvious question: Is Obama, as Boehner claims, gaming the Impeachment process? Is he running a scam on Democrats?


Is Obama Gaming The Impeachment Discussion?

Despite the fact that John Boehner has (pretty much—if only very recently) categorically ruled out impeachment, it’s worth looking at the possibility that, yes, Obama (and the larger ‘Team Obama’ which comprises MSNBC and the rest of the media other than FOX News) is intentionally hyping impeachment for some nefarious purpose. It’s not like they haven’t been accused of doing stuff like this before (the link is Slate’s John Dickerson speculating that Team Obama has produced a strategy of telling a whopper of a lie and then using the flailing of the GOP to score points / change the discussion before fact-checkers can jump in). Could this be true? In an era where the State Department has a strategy of trolling Jihadis, could this be the president’s preferred political weapon?

Erm … maybe. But probably not. Let’s take a look:


The Impeachment-Troll End Game

The key question to ask when being presented with a dubious mode of behavior is: “What is the end-game?” What would Obama be trying to accomplish. Here are the possibilities:

  1. Fund-raising. It is no conspiracy theory that Team Obama has been fundraising like mad off the impeachment dialog. Sarah Palin may have raised more money for the donkey’s this past quarter than Joe Biden.
  2. Get Out The Vote: Angry people vote more often. Also, angry people are less issue focused (at least according to some theory). Both of these would be desirable for the 2014 midterms.
  3. Cover For Passing Immigration Reform: The title for most ingenious plan-of-attack goes to Ross Douthat thinks that Obama may be playing a deeper game—riling up the GOP Base in order to use their behavior as a smoke-screen for when he makes a massive land-grab on immigration reform / amnesty in the coming months:

But [Impeachment Discussion] isn’t happening in a vacuum, because even as [Team Obama] plays the impeachment card with gusto, the president is contemplating — indeed, all but promising — an extraordinary abuse of office: the granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.

[The] precedents would not actually justify the policy, because the scope would be radically different. Beyond a certain point, as the president himself has conceded in the past, selective enforcement of our laws amounts to a de facto repeal of their provisions. And in this case the de facto repeal would aim to effectively settle — not shift, but settle — a major domestic policy controversy on the terms favored by the White House.

    He thinks that Obama is ‘playing up the (bogus) impeachment drama’ so that when he does something that is actually impeachable the Republicans will look discredited. Like the boy who cried ‘ILLEGAL FOUR YEAR OLD FOREIGN INVADERS!’ of legend:

But in political terms, there is a sordid sort of genius to the Obama strategy. The threat of a unilateral amnesty contributes to internal G.O.P. chaos on immigration strategy, chaos which can then be invoked (as the president did in a Friday news conference) to justify unilateral action. The impeachment predictions, meanwhile, help box Republicans in: If they howl — justifiably! — at executive overreach, the White House gets to say “look at the crazies — we told you they were out for blood.”

It’s only genius, however, if the nonconservative media — honorable liberals and evenhanded moderates alike — continue to accept the claim that immigration reform by fiat would just be politics as usual, and to analyze the idea strictly in terms of its political effects (on Latino turnout, Democratic fund-raising, G.O.P. internal strife).

Is this possible? Are any of these likely?

Sufficiently Enraged Bases Are Indistinguishable From The Trolled

The problem with the above scenarios is that in order to test them you’d have to consider the counter-factual: what would this all look like if it was just The Base going wild with impeachment-fever? Sure, you’ve got Boehner saying the whole thing is a Democratic scam—and certainly, you have a deluge of fund-raising emails off it—but how would you test the hypothesis that this is largely created and inflamed by the Democrats?

The Omnivore has a few criteria:

  1. How recent is this impeachment talk? Who has been saying it? Are these people susceptible to being manipulated—are their voices being amplified (like by MSNBC?)
  2. How coordinated does the messaging seem? Is it all—or largely—on point? Are there signs of orchestration?
  3. How credible is the message with the GOP base vs. the Democratic base? Is impeachment a message that would natively appeal to the GOP base? Or are they being spun?

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know the answers: There has been impeachment talk of dubious quality and mixed messages since Obama’s first 50-days in office (the link is to a timeline of various calls for impeachment and their reasoning). The messengers have been pundits of all levels, several current and former elected officials (House members, yes), and former Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. These are not marginal voices (although there have been those too) and their reach has been pretty deep. The Tea Party website has their own Impeach Obama page, there was a petition to the White House We The People petition-site that gets an official response if they reach a certain number of signatures (they did, the answer was, shockingly, “no”). There are big lists of quasi-conspiracy-theory things Obama ‘has done’ that should result in his removal from office (you can read some analysis of these here). There are, of course, the ever-present four-horsemen of the Obamalypse (Fast-and-Furious, Benghazi, IRS, Obamacare) scandals.

This has resulted in a GOP base that is largely on-board with impeachment, messaging that is scattered and of questionable quality, and a widespread and deep belief among the base that Obama is provably guilty of things that at best have never been proven (an executive office link to IRS behavior) and at worst have been disproven several times at a pretty high level of expense (the alleged ‘Benghazi stand-down order’). In this environment you have a base that hates Obama so much that their appetite for impeachment is, simply, indistinguishable from people who have been successfully trolled.

We do not need to go to deep plans of nefarious genius on the part of Obama. All we need is basic reaction to events already-in-play.


Here Is The Omnivore’s Combined List

Reason Who / When / Where Notes
Executive Orders 2009 (Radio Host Savage) This happened 50 days into office. Obama has issued fewer executive orders than any modern president.
He Ain’t Up To The Job 2009 Republican Strategist The Constitution doesn’t list this as a reason for impeachment.
The Constitution / Unspecified (2011—several) Things like not enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, hatred of Israel (he did build the a pricey Iron Dome defense system—but what has he done for them lately, and backing the Muslim Brotherhood)
BENGHAZI Beck, several others Republican-led House Intelligence Committee recently found no wrong-doing on the part of the administration. Congress is going to spend millions continuing to investigate anyway.
The IRS Several There has yet to be shown any link to Obama at all. The pundits are just sure there will be.
Bowe Bergdahl Allen West Who? Oh yeah him—remember him?
Obamacare Several, including the We The People petition Gotta take that up with Justice Roberts who, along with the rest of SCOTUS, decides if things unconstitutional or not.
Czars The We The People Petition There is a lot of misunderstanding about what a ‘Czar’ is. Obama and W are neck-in-neck in appointments. Most were, in fact, approved by congress.
Fast and Furious Maybe a way to get rid of Holder?
Apologized for America Not an impeachable offense.
Exploded the Debt The deficit is falling. The debt was exploded by Bush’s wars and the response to the 2008 economic meltdown.
He EMBARRASSED our Ally Great Britain He sent a delegation to Hugo Chavez’s funeral but not to Margaret Thatcher’s.
He Attacked Freedom of Religion They don’t specify how. Probably Obamacare.
Libya Attack We The People Petition, Others It was not an uncommon use of presidential power … alas.
Conspiracy Theory Stuff A Big List While some of this (delay of Obamacare enforcement) are likely illegal, a lot of it is nonsense conspiracy theory (UN Firearms treaty).


The Smoking Gun: No Intention To Act

The smoking gun here isn’t the vast, uncoordinated variety of really questionable offenses Obama is charged with—the problem is that the GOP Establishment has sometimes ridden, sometimes cajoled ‘the tiger’ with absolutely zero intention of acting on their rhetoric. There is only so many times you can tell your voters, straight-faced, that the president is literally a lawless tyrannical dictator—and raise money off it—before they will expect some kind of serious action. When it is plain to see (for anyone who can see straight) that there will be no action (a placatory lawsuit), it makes it clear that someone is lying. In this case it’s the GOP Pundit class along with opportunistic lower level politicians) who are more or less taunting their constituents with promises of an impeachment that is never going to come.

The way we know it’s never going to happen is this (and no, it’s not “President Biden” … :: Shudder ::): No one has a plan for it.

No one has a plan. There is no strategy. There’s no roadmap for the months-long process that would become the center of American political life to the exclusion of every other issue. Bluster and self-indulgence isn’t a strategy (“Don’t blink!”), but it does play into some separate venality and political ambition. There’s a ravenous hunger for clicks and donations on email lists [DONATE HERE OR THE REPUBLIC WILL FALL]. There’s a desire my some future Presidential candidates to out hard-ass other Republicans prior to 2016. But is there a plan? Of course not.

This is 100% correct: Impeachment proceedings would be a nuclear-grade tight-rope walk with very little hope of a pay-off (there would have to be actual court-like proceedings in the Senate and a huge gamble of credibility and messaging in the House). To undertake this would require an all-balls-in-the-air coordination that no one in the House of Representatives has shown themselves capable of. In short, without a LOT of backing and planning this is impossible.

Forget about the other hurdles (needing to clear 67 votes in the Senate which won’t happen even after a pretty good November) or the problems with not having a clear set of charges to bring against POTUS—the fact that no one in sight has a plan to carry out an actual impeachment is proof-positive that it’s not in the cards and won’t be—can’t be—until something dramatic changes. The law-suit (stunt) is proof of this: Douthat knows this—he’s just hoping you don’t.

So, no: Obama’s not playing 11-dimensional chess against the GOP Base—He’s just doing what everyone does: when your opponent is making a mistake (a) let them and (b) try to fundraise off it. The difference between the GOP and the Democrats in this instance is that the Democrats aren’t actually lying to their base—the GOP rank and file really, really do want to impeach Obama. They really, really do want to elect officials who will do it. The fact that it’s absurd would, under normal conditions, make this fundraising a bit predatory—but this is the caucus that thought forcing America into default was a good idea.

That’s the unfortunate reality—those are the facts on the ground.

A Final Note: The ‘Coming Obama Coup!’

John Hinderaker of the generally sober PowerLine blog asks “Is Barack Obama Plotting a Coup?” He’s referencing, of course, the announced (yet to be seen) Executive Action on immigration which will possibly allow a few million of them to stay (or, you know, maybe not). Obama’s adviser himself has said the president will “risk impeachment” with a “very significant” action. So okay, what’s that all about?

While it’s not yet clear, the answer does seem to be election year trolling politicking: this announcement is designed to play to both the Democratic base (and Latin American constituents) and directly against the GOP Base. What The Omnivore wants to do here though is consider the language: a “very significant” act on immigration could mean a lot of things. Risking impeachment, with this congress, could mean anything. On the other hand, here’s PowerLine on the ‘coup’ language:

That seems like an awfully strong word, but it is the term that distinguished law professor Glenn Reynolds, no hysteric, uses to describe the Obama administration’s oft-reported plan to issue executive amnesty to five or six million illegal immigrants in violation of federal law. Glenn’s characterization is a fair one. When a tyrant asserts the right to rule by decree in a state that has formerly been subject to the rule of law, he is commonly described as carrying out a coup d’etat.

The problem with the above is that it is hyperbolic: part of the ‘coup’ definition is violence. The general sense of the term is (and this is unambiguous) seizure of the entire government. Now, it may seem quibbling of The Omnivore to discuss this as a technical dictionary definition but it isn’t: the blog post in question stands behind the use of the term ‘coup’ for an executive action deciding how to prioritize deportations. Yes, this is a (potentially) pretty serious use of executive authority—and yes, these times make it even more pointed—but it is still in no way a coup. Not in the real sense—not in the sense any reasonable person would actually mean it.

When you have a level-headed blog like PowerLine defending the c-word, you have a problem: you’re over-selling. If we assume that Obama would like nothing more than a doomed, quixotic impeachment attempt on the part of the GOP, he seems to be able to get one with almost negligible effort. The Omnivore does, yes, find the press-release language trolling, that’s true—but it isn’t the 11-dimensional scenario that Douthat describes—it is much, much more pedestrian. Rather than casting his action as status quo and then using the bent-out-of-shape base as evidence of their feral nature, he’s instead offering a modest garden-variety provocation which incites even PowerLine into charging the red cape.

When Obama yanks it away at the last second (using executive authority and either throwing the GOP into further internal turmoil or, worse, having them actually begin an ill-formed and unpopular impeachment process)—and the ‘last second’ will be within the public-opinion-memory-window of the November elections—it will be even the smart guys like Hindraker who have led the ill-conceived charge.


1 comment:

  1. Or, as Andrew Sullivan likes to say, "Meep Meep".