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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Method to Madness in GOP Talk of Obama Impeachment

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In times past, Sarah Palin's blunt call for the impeachment of President Obama for his alleged bungling of the border crisis would have been laughed off, as it deservedly should. Simply consider the source to understand why. But Obama didn't laugh it off. During his recent swing through Texas, without referring to Palin directly, he derisively mocked her impeachment call with the shout to an audience, "Sue me! Impeach me!"

Obama has heard this call before, many times, from the legion of right-wing bloggers, websites, and talk-show gabbers, and from a motley group of tea-party-affiliated GOP House reps. Though House Speaker John Boehner and GOP establishment leaders quickly squash any talk of impeachment, the truth is that the call is very much on their table, for very good cynical, crass, and politically chilling reasons. It's the perfect ploy to further hector, cower, and intimidate Obama into backpedaling fast from the use of executive orders to get even faint action on his major initiatives on gun control, health care, jobs, education and transportation-spending measures, and of course immigration reform. The GOP-controlled House has repeatedly declared these measures "DOA" the instant they come from the White House. The GOP set this up nicely by hammering away on the myth that Obama is recklessly ignoring the Constitution by skirting Congress and going it alone in wielding the executive pen.

This is a gross falsehood. Obama is near the bottom on the list of presidents in the number of executive orders issued. The last president who issued orders at a lower rate than Obama was Grover Cleveland. GOP Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush issued far more executive orders per day in office than Obama. But then the issue is not, nor has it ever been, executive orders by intimidation, pure and simple.

The GOP knows that crying, "Obama is cavalierly using his executive power to bypass Congress and legislate from the Oval Office!" will trigger a powerful public backlash and reinforce its usual charge against him of dictatorial abuse. It has played this card with maximum skill in its fierce fight to wrest back control of the Senate. In this, the GOP can have it both ways on impeachment. Boehner and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has also sharply dismissed talk of impeachment, can take the high ground on the issue by insisting that their goal is to get more Republicans elected in November -- that's Senate Republicans. But that's exactly the point of tossing out the word. The hope is that this will stir more doubt and skepticism about Obama among many voters in the key states where GOP senatorial candidates and some House candidates are gunning to unseat Democratic incumbents.

The incessant talk of impeachment has yet another cynical plus for the GOP. It implants the ever-widening notion in the media that Obama is making a mighty effort to impose an "imperial presidency" on the nation. This charge is almost always accompanied by tossing out the words "arrogant," "indifferent," and "callous" to describe his alleged thumbed nose at Congress. Boehner played hard on this with his frivolous lawsuit against Obama over the use of executive orders. He self-righteously claimed that his aims were noble and pristine and designed only to protect the rights of the legislative branch against the alleged unconstitutional assault by Obama. This crude campaign to rock Obama and the Democrats back on their heels has gotten traction from a dozen court rulings that have rapped Obama on the issuance of executive orders.

Obama demanded to know how the GOP can sue and impeach him for doing his job. That's the point. He's done his job too well. A case in point is the hike in the minimum wage. The GOP adamantly opposes Obama's proposal to hike the minimum wage. He had absolutely no chance of getting this through the House. Instead he issued an executive order that boosted the minimum wage only to new federal contracts issued, and then only if other terms of a contractual agreement change. This was entirely legal but had little overall effect on the nation's wage structure. Yet it was significant in another respect.

It was a frontal challenge to the GOP to cease its relentless, dogged, and destructive campaign of dither, delay, deny, and obstruct anything that has the White House stamp on it. There's always the possibility that the GOP's loose talk about impeachment could backfire and turn off more voters than it turns on. It could make the GOP look even more rigid, rightist, and desperate to do and say anything to tarnish Obama, even at the risk of making itself look and sound even more ridiculous. The GOP's hedge against this is to wink and nod at Palin's call for impeachment while publicly disavowing it but still relentlessly assailing Obama as the "imperial president." There's a method to the madness in this ploy.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and on the Pacifica Network.