Sarah Palin has joined a rising drumbeat of Republicans who call for President Barack Obama’s impeachment. Democrats can barely conceal their glee.
It’s hard to think of anything that would give a bigger boost to the Democrats’ currently gloomy prospects in November’s mid-term elections.
It wasn’t all that long ago, you may recall, that a similar Republican overreach in pursuit of President Bill Clinton on far more serious charges backfired against the Grand Old Party.
The controversial build-up to Clinton’s impeachment in December 1998 (he was later acquitted by the Senate) helped to make that year the first time since the early 1800s that the non-presidential party had failed to gain seats in the mid-term election of a President’s second term.
That’s not the sort of history that Republicans with more than half a brain would like to repeat. Yet a rising drumbeat of GOP senators and congressmen has invoked the I-word over the past couple of years, egged on by the party’s rabidly Obamaphobic tea party wing.
Mainly they accuse Obama of overstepping his authority with executive actions he has taken to dodge Republican gridlock in Congress. This is always a legitimate debate to be made about checks-and-balances, as it was when left-wing Democrats raised it against George W. Bush, among other GOP presidents.
But a move to impeach sounds like overreach. A president can be impeached under the Constitution for “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” not for policy disputes.
Bill Clinton lied under oath. Richard Nixon authorized burglaries and orchestrated a cover-up. What’s Barack Obama’s offense in the eyes of his conservative accusers? He has refused to govern like one of them. Horrors.
To divert the rising right-wing tide away from political disaster without offending his party’s conservative base, House Speaker Boehner, a veteran of the last impeachment battle, recently announced a less-goofy alternative: Don’t impeach, sue!
He elaborated in a statement issued Thursday that the lawsuit would challenge the president’s decision, without consulting Congress, to delay imposing penalties on employers who do not offer health insurance to employees in compliance with the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama’s response — “So, sue me” — hardly revealed him to be quaking in his wingtips.
Nevertheless, the prospect of a lawsuit against Obama gives Republican lawmakers a reasonable way out of committing themselves with a yes-or-no answer when asked whether they believe the president should be impeached.
But Sarah Palin was not impressed. “You don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight,” she said Tuesday on Fox News, “and there’s no room for lawyers on our front lines.”
With that, the former Alaska governor, former Republican vice presidential nominee and current Fox News contributor effectively slammed Obama and lawyers and boosted gun rights in one rhetorical flourish. No wonder so much of the far right loves her.
So what, she might well say, if the love is not universally shared even in her own party? A new NBC/ Wall Street Journal/University of Pennsylvania polls finds that 54 percent of voters overall and 40 percent of Republicans say they’ve heard enough from Palin and wish she was “less outspoken in political discourse.”
But the very fact that such a poll was taken offers evidence of how Palin, like Glenn Close’s stalker character in “Fatal Attraction,” is “not going to be ignored.”
All of which probably leaves Speaker Boehner, as he tries to corral his quarrelsome caucus in a crucial election year, about as comfortable as a coach who is being heckled by his team’s top cheerleader.
But cheerleaders matter. Palin was a powerful force for the tea party right in the 2010 elections. Her coveted endorsements helped some candidates to victory in a tide of anti-Obama backlash. Such colorful newcomers as Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul seemed to crowd her out of the limelight.
But her ability to stoke new fire in the impeachment debate shows her Kardashian-level fame and devoted fan base cannot be ignored. The pragmatic GOP establishment remains united with her, however uneasily, less by what they are for than by the president that they stand against.
Email Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.