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From Clinton to Obama: Why GOP Impeachment Fever Is Now So Predictable

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Posted on Aug 1, 2014

By Joe Conason

  President Barack Obama meets with former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. White House/Pete Souza

Making predictions is a perilous practice for any political journalist. Too often, the would-be seers turn out to be dead wrong—as can be attested to by George Will, Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow and the humiliated boy genius of Fox News, all of whom projected a big victory for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Yet there is at least one future event that could be safely forecast years ago, almost as soon as President Barack Obama entered the White House: a movement among House Republicans to impeach the president.

In the conventional wisdom that chronically afflicts Washington, all the current muttering about impeachment is merely a theatrical display for the GOP’s wingnut base—as Democrats use the same threat to stir emotions (and donations) among Obama loyalists. Such complacent analysis misreads not only the mood and character of the Republican Party’s dominant tea party wing but the recent history of impeachment as a political instrument of the far right.

The same forces that have sought to ruin Obama from the beginning were hatching schemes to remove former President Bill Clinton from office long before the unveiling of his reckless indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Back then, the talk of impeachment among zealots who schemed against Clinton, ranging from Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife and disgraced former Attorney General Edwin Meese to an assortment of back-bench members of Congress and religious hucksters, could be easily brushed aside. Today, many of the survivors among that old cast of characters are peddling “Impeach Obama” bumper stickers—notably including Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily, which features an “Impeachment Store” online.

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Claims that Clinton had committed a high crime or misdemeanor worthy of impeachment under the Constitution dated as far back as 1994, the year after his inauguration, when the teamwork of determined right-wing activists and incompetent mainstream reporters ginned up a series of phony scandals. At secret meetings, the leadership of ultra-right organizations, such as the Council for National Policy, persuaded themselves that Hillary Clinton was about to be indicted (for something) and that Bill Clinton could soon be impeached (for anything).

The itch to impeach Clinton gathered momentum in 1997, not long after his re-election, a Democratic victory that did not impress his right-wing enemies. As with Obama, they wanted to undo his presidency, not because he had committed a supposed constitutional offense but simply because his “liberal, globalist, socialist” politics offended their sense of morality. Of course, they feel the same way about Obama today. Indeed, from the perspective of the insurrectionary tea party Republicans and other self-styled “patriots,” elections hardly matter at all, unless their candidate wins. To them, a Democratic president lacks legitimacy by definition.

For a pungent whiff of irony, remember that electing Obama in 2008 was supposed to preserve us from another decade of political trench warfare, instigated by those polarizing Clintons. Electing Hillary Clinton would lead America back into the partisan psychodrama of the ‘90s, or so the Washington pundits warned us; better to choose that nice, inspirational, bipartisan-sounding senator from Illinois, they advised.

And how did that work out for us? Scarcely through any fault of Obama, the result has been no different from the scary projections of a divisive Clinton presidency: legislative gridlock, economic brinksmanship, kooky conspiracy theories and now congressional lawsuits accompanied by loud talk of impeachment. Clinton and Obama are just names for the object of hate, against whom any slanderous, mendacious and vacuous attack can be mounted.

That was why gullible rubes once bought hundreds of thousands of videotapes accusing the Clintons of murder—and why the same kind of suckers bought into the race-baiting “birther” insinuations about Obama. It is why a top House Republican will lie blatantly on television about the Supreme Court’s dozen rebukes of this president’s alleged constitutional overreach—when most of those cases involved former President George W. Bush.

In temperament and ideology, the tea party Republicans who run the House aren’t much different from the Newt Gingrich gang that went after Bill Clinton. They don’t care whether Obama won the election in a near landslide—or that seeking to remove him would be very dangerous for our country and the world. If their party wins control of the Senate in November, then the reactionary impulse to impeach may well become irresistible.


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