Judging by the heated rhetoric at certain congressional town halls this summer, you could be forgiven for thinking that President Obama had personally torched the Constitution en route to establishing sharia law across the land.
In meetings with constituents across the country, several Republican lawmakers have openly discussed the idea of impeaching the president.
Freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said this month it would be a "dream come true" to launch impeachment proceedings. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), responding to a question about Obama's birth certificate, said the House could "probably get the votes" for impeachment immediately, but that the Democratic-controlled Senate would keep Obama in office.
Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), fielding an impeachment query from a voter, called it a "good question," but likewise said the Senate would not boot Obama. And Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told constituents last week that the president was "perilously close" to the "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard for impeachment.
The rumblings of what would appear to be a fantastical idea led National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy to write that it was "not crazy" to at least talk about impeaching Obama. McCarthy maintained that the Framers defined the case for impeachment broadly enough to empower legislators when the chief executive was doing harm to the nation.
"Impeachment is not a legal matter; it is a political remedy," he wrote.
More from McCarthy:
The Framers did not believe free people needed lawyers to figure out how to govern themselves. The standard they gave us for removal from high public office is so simple that obstetricians and even wind-bags should have no trouble grasping it...
The Framers settled on "high crimes and misdemeanors," a standard that had been used by the British parliament for centuries. The concept is not rooted in statutory offenses fit for criminal court proceedings. Instead, it involves damage done to the public order by persons in whom great public trust has been reposed. [National Review]
Congress has only impeached two presidents in the nation's history. The House impeached President Andrew Johnson for thumbing his nose at the legislature's post-Civil War laws, and a Republican-led House impeached President Clinton over the Lewinsky affair.
But Obama has not performed the equivalent of stonewalling Reconstruction. And he hasn't cheated on his wife and allegedly lied about it under oath while performing verbal acrobatics around the meaning of the word "is."
What has he done? According to Ed Rogers at The Washington Post:
The bothersome reality is that President Obama is inventing new laws, selectively choosing to enforce laws he likes and ignoring or amending the ones he doesn’t. Many writers, from George Will to Jeffrey Anderson to Charles Krauthammer have written about the president’s increasing lawlessness. [The Washington Post]
But a robust definition of the executive branch's powers is hardly an impeachable offense (ask George W. Bush). Judging from those town halls, Obama's two most prominent offenses appear to be that he is an illegitimate president with a phony birth certificate (he's not), and that he signed a health care law that Republicans hate, but which was unfortunately passed by majorities in the House and Senate.
Writing in Salon, Jonathan Bernstein said there was "absolutely nothing out there remotely in the neighborhood of an impeachable offense."
"At best there's some hand-waving around the minor scandals of the last year, but for the most part it's just assumed that impeachment is what Republicans normally do to Democratic presidents, just because," he added.
Impeachment is therefore "baseless" and a "destructive remedy" for a nonexistent problem, agreed the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart.
"Sorry, folks. You have no case," he wrote.
At any rate, Republican leaders are loath to go down the impeachment route, even if members of their caucus are game. "Republicans are going to keep our focus on creating jobs, cutting wasteful spending and repealing Obamacare," a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told The New York Times.
And David Axelrod, Obama's former campaign guru, had this to say, "The bottom line is that it would be enormously self-destructive for the Republicans to waste time on what is a plainly empty expression of primal, partisan rage."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Mitt Romney is perfectly poised for a comeback in 2016
- 8 secrets to steal from power networkers
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why is the West so afraid of Islam?
- The Nazi smart bomb that inspired China's most dangerous weapon
- Game of Thrones is making a huge mistake by cutting Lady Stoneheart
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The best places to find love — and lust — according to science
- How to make classic pulled pork
- What if The Purge was real?
Subscribe to the Week