In the Mike Judge film “Idiocracy,” an average Joe (played by Luke Wilson) is frozen in suspended animation in an Army experiment gone horribly wrong, and then awakened in 2515 to a world so dumbed down he has become the smartest man alive. If James Madison could have suffered a similar fate 200 years ago he would no doubt, upon awakening in our time, have the same experience especially when it comes to his signature accomplishment, the U.S. Constitution. There is no other way to make people realize just how far our devolution into imbecilic barbarians has come.
Consider the strange case of the impeachment trial of President Barack Obama. What’s that you say, there has been no impeachment of Obama? That is precisely the point: there should have been, but don’t worry, the stars of our congressional version of “Idiocracy” are not without other means to filet President Obama.
On This Week with George Stephanopolous, Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said, “We are not working on or drawing up articles of impeachment, [t]he Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the President of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.”
Laying aside my shock at hearing this coming from a member of the House GOP leadership, I wondered what Constitutional punishment the chairman did think the president was worthy of? Checking the transcript from ABC News, here’s Goodlatte’s suggested punishment: “We do believe that the president is not enforcing the law, and that’s why [Speaker Boehner] and many of us in the Congress are getting ready to take legal action to stand up for the people’s right for their elected representatives to be the part of our government that passes laws, not a president with his pen and his cellphone.”
OK, Congressman, can you tell us what criminal statute the President, acting in a manner consistent with 17 of his last 20 predecessors, has violated? Here’s my followup question, Chairman Goodlatte: if criminal wrongdoing is what President Obama is to be “sued” for, then why isn’t AG Holder and the inJustice Dept. leading up the prosecution of the charges?
Will he be sending some of the now idle U.S. Marshalls, fresh from their completed detail of rustling up Cliven Bundy and his supporters, to capture the wily knave Obama then fit him for one of those Hannibal Lecter-style prison suits with the straightjacket and catchers mask? Don’t laugh, folks. Goodlatte’s astounding lack of knowledge of the Constitution renders my ridiculous, imagined capture of Obama, less likely than a practical joke played by the newly-awakened James Madison. But Goodlatte is unfortunately not alone.
On Thursday last, another of our exalted rulers in the House leadership, Speaker John Boehner, took to the airwaves to claim what would appear to our re-animated James Madison as a nearly airtight case for impeachment against President Obama. “The current president believes he has the power to make his own laws — at times even boasting about it… He has said that if Congress won’t make the laws he wants, he’ll go ahead and make them himself, and in the case of the employer mandate in his health care law, that’s exactly what he did. If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well.”
That’s quite a speech there Mr. Speaker. It should keep your chances of nabbing a cameo on “Law and Order” up, but you’re embarrassing yourself and the Constitution you swore an oath to protect in the process. Why is that you ask? Because, the impeachment power is the precise remedy granted to us when the system of our government has been debauched or rendered repugnant to the trust of the people. That is what you just accused the president of, not criminal mischief.
Alexander Hamilton explains this to the People of New York in Federalist #65. “THE remaining powers … the convention allots to the Senate, are comprised in their … judicial character as a court for the trial of impeachments.” And just what makes a “high crime and misdemeanor” that calls for impeachment? Hamilton continues, “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
This is a fancy way of saying that impeachments are not to be used for arresting the criminal behavior of presidents who willfully violate Obamacare or any other act of the imperial Congress like, say, destroying official IRS emails. Hamilton was not alone in this understanding.
While the Federal Convention was still in session on 20 July, 1787 James Madison said of the proposed impeachment power and the executive: “[I think] it indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the Community [against] the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service, was not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
Across the room in the Massachusetts delegation, Elbridge Gerry added an exclamation point to Madison’s speech. “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them. [I] hope the maxim would never be adopted here that the chief Magistrate (President) could do no wrong.” There is much more to learn about impeachment that will only serve to verify the preceeding, from the Founders and the English law that they drew on for the “high crimes and misdemeanors” clause. A good place to start is H. Lowell Brown’s work High Crimes and Misdemeanors in Presidential Impeachment.
To many Americans it is not a point of debate that President Obama has done extensive and grave damage to the office of the presidency. Impeachment is therefore the constitutional and advisable remedy. But, it is also true, that the officers of the House, pursuing their ridiculous “lawsuit” against Obama for these offenses, are doing equal damage to their institution while simultaneously promoting a repulsive, extra-constitutional response to the president. This comes from the same political party, the Republicans, who can muster little more than parlor taunts (“you lie!”) and empty promises to actually enforce that body’s Article I, Section 8, legislative power — see Boehner’s empty threat to Obama for waging war against Libya without an Act of Congress. This only exacerbates the nearly ubiquitous, “Idiocracy”-like understanding Americans currently have for their written Constitution.
Mike Church is a New Orleans native and a radio host appearing daily on the SiriusXM Patriot Channel. He is an author and editor of “Patrick Henry-American Statesman” and is the writer and director of 7 Docudramas on American history including “The Spirit of ‘76” and the recently released “Times That try Men’s Souls-Washington’s Crossing”.