The Republican leadership is furious that the media keep talking about their plans to impeach Barack Obama, and the GOP knows who’s injecting this false idea into the talking heads: Barack Obama.
Even as he led the House in the unprecedented step Wednesday of voting to sue a POTUS, House speaker John Boehner insists that all this talk about impeachment is “coming from the president’s own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election. We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans,” Boehner emphasized. “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
And although any alert reporter knows it’s Boehner’s protest that’s the scam (a dozen or so Republican congressmen have openly called for Obama’s impeachment; White House spokesman Josh Earnest named some of them, including Representative Steve King of Iowa and Steve Stockman of Texas, earlier this week), some in the corporate media nevertheless sniff a chance to deploy false equivalencies once more.
Chuck Todd, for example, said on Morning Joe, “I think the White House ought to be embarrassed at how they’re trying to play it. Boehner, the idea that he’s saying, Oh, we’re not talking impeachment. The lawsuit, please. That’s about placating the impeachment caucus in his own party. This is sort of an embarrassing moment for Washington. The leaders of both parties here, they’re driving away people from the polls. They’re driving people away from politics. This is cynical, it’s ugly, it’s disgusting.”
This pox-on-both-your-houses rant ignores the two houses’ very different dimensions. Calling for impeachment when no grounds for it exist and responding to those calls by raising funds to beat the impeachment-wingers at the polls are not equally cynical. It’s true that Democrats are exploiting GOP calls for impeachment to raise ire and money—several million dollars so far. And good for them. Why, in the age of Citizens United, shouldn’t they? “It would be malpractice if they didn’t do it,” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart said on Hardball.
The Republicans’ inability to throw their base red meat without sane people noticing drives them into high-dudgeon denial. Hilariously so. On Tuesday, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said, “Republicans, conservatives, not talking about it. Only Democrats. It’s to gin up the base before November.” He said this even though, just days earlier, as Media Matters points out, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on F&F “and counseled the GOP to impeach the president, which Napolitano claimed would ‘focus his attention immediately.’”
Fox is also trying to gloss over the impeachment soap opera coming from some of its other contributors, like Allen West and, most famously, Sarah Palin. Yeah, but those are just has-been fringers, not to be taken seriously, centrists point out. Chuck Todd even mocked Josh Earnest for listing pro-impeachment officials currently in office. The White House spokesman, Todd said, was “sitting at the podium trying ticking off names of—oooh-oooh—look at Republicans that want impeachment.”
But look who’s wagging the dog here. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, 57 percent of Republicans say they support impeaching Obama. And Representative Steve Scalise, the new House majority whip, wouldn’t put impeachment off the table when Chris Wallace asked him about it three times. (It was a fascinating example of getting hoisted on your own talking point: each time Scalise refused to rule out impeachment, he blamed Obama for keeping the issue alive.)
For the record, John Boehner won’t take impeachment off that increasingly crowded table either.
Worse, Boehner is ignoring the top GOPer who “started” it: himself. The notoriously weak speaker set this latest round of impeachment talk in motion by bringing the lawsuit against Obama to the floor in the first place. The idea of this “impeachment lite” was to let his Tea Party masters vent their Obama hatred in a way that it would squelch talk of actual impeachment. The Republican leadership knows the issue could backfire on them during the 2014 elections, just as it did when the GOP impeached Clinton in 1998 and lost five House seats that year they previously had in the bag.
But rather than cool impeachment fever, the lawsuit has in fact heated it up by giving extremists in the House another way to question “responsible” Republicans’ true commitment to the cause. At least four of the five conservatives who voted against the lawsuit did so because they think it’s a weenie version of impeachment.
Here’s the bottom line: Boehner responded to impeachment talk from his right wing by filing a lawsuit. Yet when Democrats responded to that same impeachment talk from the same right wing, Boehner claims that it doesn’t exist—and if it does, the Dems are behind it.
We’ve seen this political blame-the-victim game before. Republicans from Glenn Beck to Karl Rove blamed Obama for keeping the birther issue alive by not releasing his long-form birth certificate as soon as they demanded it. (When he did, the Trump-led crazies received a very public pie in the face.) Last October, Republicans with presidential ambitions, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, blamed Obama for the government shutdown, even though they both voted for it and maneuvered around their leadership to make it happen. It’s worth recalling that before the shutdown went down, Boehner insisted that it was going nowhere—just as he now swears that impeachment ain’t gonna happen.
Making the GOP bear some responsibility for the crazy in their ranks is the real purpose behind the spotlight Democrats are shining on the right-wing fever swamps. The media’s “both sides do it” reflex obscures the real meaning of this particular charade. Chris Matthews, I think, has it right: he’s been saying the right wants to delegitimize this president (more than they did even Clinton), to put an “asterisk” by his name in the history books so they can pretend that a black man was never really the president of the United States.
If Republicans win the Senate in November, then we’ll be hearing more a lot more about impeachment, no matter how much John Boehner says otherwise.