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Burning the Constitution

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

A Google alert brought me to the article, “Impeach Obama? 2014 Impeachment Starts Operation American Spring,” at Inquisitr.com. The article is headed by this Jon McNaughton portrait of a stern-faced Obama burning the US Constitution.

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Interested readers can look at the specific items that article suggests might be impeachable offenses, but I found nothing especially egregious or out of line with things done by other US presidents who were not impeached, and certainly nothing reaching the lawlessness of Watergate or Iran-Contra. Nor is there anything new about an image of a president burning the Constitution:

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The preceding cartoon1 depicts the United States as symbolized by the eagle rescuing the Constitution from being burned by Thomas Jefferson. It literally refers to the defeat of Jefferson by Adams in the 1796 presidential election.


1A version of this image (with a less clear face) was incorrectly labeled as George Washington in a prior article on this blog. That has been corrected.

Confidence v. No Confidence

It looks like we’re on the “confidence” theme this week. I admit that I came down pretty hard on Paul Vallely in my article, “Former general confuses US with UK,”  mocking his call for a vote of “no confidence” on President Obama in the House of Representatives. Granted, I correctly noted that such a vote has no legal significance, but I did not fairly label it what it really is, a political ploy. (The idea that a vote by a majority of the Republican-controlled House would result in an Obama resignation is  ludicrous.) In this country, the political party in power governs, and the opposition tries to get them out. And those out of power in Washington today use every trick they can to make the Obama Administration look bad, and this “vote of no confidence” scheme should be viewed as what it is, politics.

One of the reasons that I wanted to back off a little on the current “no confidence” move is that it is not just something that right-wing nut jobs cooked up in their anti-Obama program. The other side tried the same gambit when it was the Bush administration in power. Turn the clock back to May of 2007 and read this from Think Progress:

Last week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on the Senate to hold a no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The White House and its conservative allies quickly derided the vote, calling it “nothing more than a meaningless political act.” This morning on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it a “gotcha game.”

So what happened with that move? A resolution of no confidence was introduced, but even though  53 Senators voted to debate the issue (38 opposed), it fell shy of the 60-vote supermajority necessary to fend off a Republican filibuster. Although the “no confidence” vote was not held, Gonzalez did resign (for more on this controversial figure, check out the Wikipedia).

Folks like me on the Internet try to get good information, but we don’t govern the country, or try legal cases. If I make a mistake, the only consequence is a little hit on my credibility. When it comes to members of Congress, they have to make real decisions that affect real people, and their standard of correctness must needs be far higher than mine. When Congress needs a legal opinion, they may seek guidance from the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, and that’s exactly what some did in 2007 regarding the “no confidence” question, resulting in the production of this report: “No Confidence” Votes and Other Forms of Congressional Censure of Public Officials from June of 2007.

The report concludes (in part):

Aside from obvious symbolic, political or publicity implications, there are no specific legal consequences in the passage of such a resolution, nor is there any legal significance or consequence for the Senate or the House to choose one phrase of disapprobation or condemnation over another, or to include or not to include the concept or expression of a loss of “confidence” in an official.

The report is of particular interest in its tabulation of historical resolutions of this type, going back to 1973.

Can Obama be impeached?

There has never been an ineligible President. The gauntlet of press scrutiny, campaign, debate, election, electoral college vote and Congressional objection always works even though one group, the birthers, think it didn’t.

Since early in the birther controversy, the birthers have often said, justifying their quo warranto actions in court, that Obama could not be impeached because he is not really President, and that the Attorney General opinions that a sitting President cannot be arrested or indicted do not apply because Obama is not really the President.

One may not believe that Obama is an eligible President, or one may say that he not the rightful President, but he is the President.  The Constitution sets forth certain eligibility requirements for the President, but the Constitution has been amended since it was ratified in 1789. The 12th Amendment says:

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President.

Once a candidate passes the hurdles of the election, and after the Congress counts the votes, and after any objections are resolved, the winner of the election becomes the President-elect, and after he takes the oath of Office on January 20, he is the President, no matter what Article II says about eligibility. Terry Lakin’s expressed concern that his military orders were illegal shows a lack of understanding of the Constitution, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

There is certainly no distinction in the Constitution between impeaching an eligible or an ineligible President. Obama is now the President, whether he is eligible or not. Who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? I do not doubt that Congress, using the power of Impeachment can remove an Article II ineligible President; however, the President is the President until they do. Further, impeachment is not a magic reset button erasing all of the executive orders issued and the legislation signed. Until a President is removed from office, he is the President.

That essential denial that Obama is the President is what has always led me towards a racist interpretation of birtherism. It is the essential denial of what happened that indicates that their is a clash between Obama being President and their world view — not just a disagreement over eligibility, but a clash between the person and the office. Birthers go beyond just saying that a mistake was made; they say that it really didn’t happen. If Obama’s assumption of office were considered just a mistake, then birthers would be satisfied for Congress to correct the mistake through impeachment. Birthers, however, don’t only want Obama out of the White House, they want him never to have been there, and that is impossible.

The Constitution assigns the matter of removing the President to the Legislative Branch of the government. The courts have no role1, and I can not believe that they will ever assert one. As a practical matter, President Obama is eligible and as his own party has a majority in the Senate, and so he will not be impeached and removed from office—but he could be.Chef Justice Rehnquist presiding in the Senate impeachment trial of Bill Clinton


1Excepting that the Chief Justice presides over the impeachment trial in the Senate.

Options

The birthers lost the election. What are their options?

Keep on doing the same stuff

That seems a popular option these days. Write more blogs, file more lawsuits, send more letters to the editor, write their Congressional representatives. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.

Emigration

This is an completely effective solution for the person who feels that President Obama isn’t eligible and who cannot bear living in a country with an ineligible President; and it works well for someone who thinks the country is heading for rapid destruction. There are lots of countries in the world that I really don’t know much about, and perhaps among them there is a place for folks like our birthers. My words to such people? “Bye.”

Secession

For those who just hate to move and who believe that their neighbors are as crazy as they are, they might try leaving the country politically by secession. They never cared that much for the country anyway. This is, by the way, a total non-starter.

Impeachment

Impeach Earl Warren billboardIn the dirty back alleys of Birtherville, I think the “Impeach Barack Obama” graffiti will be pretty common. I grew up among an impeachment movement, for Chief Justice Earl Warren. The photo (right) was taken near Montgomery, Alabama in 1963. Impeachment was a topic in 2009 as well with commentators arguing that impeachment was a referendum of sorts an appropriate to rid the country of Obama. Impossible before, it becomes even farther from the realm of possibility with Obama winning the referendum of the 2012 election.

The Huffington Post reports that the Conservative Majority Fund who spent over half a million dollars airing the birther-style “Shady Past” attack ad against Obama, is now making robocalls calling for Obama’s impeachment.