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The Mencken Dictum: Why Not To Impeach Obama

Impeach Obama? No, the American people deserve to get what they voted for.

I understand all of the talk on the right about impeaching President Obama, I really do.

It’s not just incompetence that has led to the collapse in Iraq, to renewed conflict with Russia, to the fact that the Germans hate us now, to the chaos at the border, and so on. It’s the president’s dereliction of duty. It’s not that he is trying his best and getting it wrong. It’s the suspicion, the near-certainty, that he’s flubbing everything because he just doesn’t care. Or worse, it’s the suspicion that American failure—particularly American failure overseas—neatly fits with his ideological prejudices.

Yet talk of impeachment is premature and misplaced. The fact is that Obama’s worst failures have been in the areas—foreign policy and diplomacy—where the president has the most unilateral authority, where he is supposed to be able to act without really having to answer to Congress.

Which is to say that the proper constitutional remedy is for the American people to not vote for the SOB. But they did vote for him, so unfortunately the public is just going to have to suffer the consequences.

It’s not like they didn’t have lots of evidence already about his outlook and intentions. And it’s not like they weren’t warned about everything that could go wrong, from Iraq to Russia. I never thought I would find myself pining for the lost Mitt Romney presidency, but I have to admit that on a whole slew of issues, Romney was right.

The American people heard these arguments, and they went with the other guy. So we have to remember H.L. Mencken’s dictum: the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. They voted for Obama, they got him, and now they have to lump it. If they don’t like the results, they can choose better next time.

That’s the crux of the issue. Instead of wasting our efforts on impeachment, we should be focused on helping the American people learn from their mistakes. They need to learn about the perils of believing in a great leader who will solve all their problems. They need to learn about the stupidity of voting for a candidate in order to symbolically repudiate the legacy of racism (or, in 2016, sexism), rather than voting for an actual leader. And they need to learn the specific lessons about Obama’s peculiar combination of domestic statism and blame-America-first foreign policy, an ideology in which our government can do no wrong at home and do no right overseas.

There is only one issue I can see right now that might conceivably justify impeachment: the IRS scandal. It’s pretty clear by now that a cabal of political appointees at the IRS was deliberately harassing political organizations opposed to their agenda. It’s also becoming clear that they conspired to cover it up after the fact. What would make this a presidential scandal is if investigators find evidence that this was coordinated from the White House and that the president was involved, either directly ordering the abuses or (as with Nixon) protecting the people who did. That would indeed count as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” So we need to keep asking: what did the president know and when did he know it?

By all means let’s keep following the trail of the IRS investigation and see how far it leads us. But until it ensnares the president, it is not grounds for impeachment.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was one of the first big events in my career as a writer, and it is seared into my brain. We need to learn why it was such a disaster for Republicans. Clinton’s infraction, lying under oath, was uncontestably real (unless you’re genuinely confused about what the meaning of the word “is” is). But the topic he was lying about was not of sufficient stature to warrant impeachment. And it turned out that the American people were no more enthusiastic than I was to hear all the details of Bill Clinton’s sex life.

The problem in 1998 was that the Republican Party was trying to use the Lewinsky scandal to do what they weren’t able to accomplish at the polls: ensure the political defeat of a hated adversary. But they were trying to do it through means that were not intended by our political system.

Look at it from the widest perspective. Central planning isn’t part of our economic system, and it’s not part of our political system, either. If we end up with a bad leader—one who is incompetent or malevolent—there is only so much that can be done centrally by politicians in Washington, DC, to fix it. Most of our problems have to be fixed by the people themselves. That’s the way the system works, and that’s the way it ought to work.

That may not be very comforting in the short term. If the first year and a half of President Obama’s second term is anything to go by, we’re in for a rough couple of years. Perhaps these periods of national crisis and decline are necessary, every once in a while, to remind voters of the consequences of making bad decisions. The last 444 days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency come to mind. But we can only salvage something good from this adversity if we focus on explaining exactly what has gone wrong and why. There is no short cut around that process.

If none of this convinces you, then consider one final fact: if Barack Obama is impeached, then Joe Biden would become president. Enough said.

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