Knee-jerk Nullification: Impeachment Lite


Putting aside the Civil War era, what else in American history matches the remorseless nullification doctrine dished out by today’s grandstanding, rightwing diehards? Could this pattern of reckless disruption by extremists, aghast they don’t control all three branches, be any more transparent? Can’t win the White House? Scapegoat both president and executive authority. As usual, Democrats seem powerless to resist in kind.

Calculated contempt for the White House, spanning Iranian nuclear talks, outside agitation in speeches, immigration, EPA rules, etc., qualifies as serial Congressional censures, though revealingly without any honest debate or voting. When not overtly seditious, as with Iran, this onslaught against a sitting president smacks of covert impeachment, though without the courage (and grounds) for formal indictments.

Beltway bullies are acting “as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president,” as one Washington Post columnist put it. Their interference abrogates Constitutional separation of powers, worsened by trumping in advance imagined Iranian horrors that aren’t yet here: a triumph of projection over prudence. Republicans are trapped in contradiction when admitted Senate “hysteria” right now betrays the republic by impugning the president over some fantasy future. The irony here is thicker than Tea Party folly over BO’s birth certificate, asking what sort of “real Americans” practice treason?

This “political wrecking ball,” in David Ignatius’ apt phrase, extends beyond just presidential authority. A GOP politics of contempt is torpedoing all sorts of cabinet prerogatives, targeting immigration and homeland security, environmental, mining, and drilling regulations, health care delivery, especially abortion, even climate change, education, and infrastructure. In short, faux “impeachment” by nullification (enhanced by rightwing courts) is political warfare against the executive branch.

How different is arguably democratic challenges by a defiant state on a specific issue, or the violation of a bad law overlooked by resistant juries. Marijuana reform emerged because localities and regions (and medical users) steadfastly opposed ponderous federal drug controls. That differs markedly from this lawless stunt, the latest, energy industry-conspiracy served up by Majority Leader McConnell. This top coal-mining shill openly urges defiant nullification against legal and scientific federal EPA oversight of his state’s dirtiest polluters.

Impeachment Sans Indictment

What more radical, cowardly mischief follows the Senate Iran letter? That nasty aggression wrongly claimed formal US agreements only last one administration. Will the passive-aggressive rightwing start concocting rejection bills pre-emptively, just in case something they dislike might happen? It’s not if, but when they start fabricating the next outrage that sends them into spasms. There are categories for such lunacy, amplified by over-reactive rage, on lists of mental illnesses.

Of course GOP wizards not only command the details of any unpublished agreement, but precisely who monitors what, what will work (or not), and how in five years actual evidence measures success or failure. Is this not clearly an extension of the malicious conspiracy, declared six years ago on the eve of Obama’s inauguration, against a brand new presidency? Even a more durable democracy that ours will not survive a wave of bunker-busting bombs dropped on federalism. 1850’s, here we return.

What indicts that willful ’08 nastiness as an epic fail is the enormous damage done to the country without achieving its goal: to impede Obama from easy re-election. Gridlock doubled down all the downsides, laced with scorn for the man and the office. And this month, first with Netanyahu’s blustering insults and now this Senate blather, rightwing saber-rattling comes out with fusillades blazing. Even Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dramatized this misconduct as signaling America’s “internal disintegration.” Bad news when insular autocrats see coarse disintegration more clearly than many Yanks, though veterans are calling out violations of the Logan Act. Not that any Justice Dept. we fund would take up that cudgel.

Censurers Who Deserve Censure

There is far more self-evident misconduct to censure 47 GOP senators than even this regressive House would dare place at Obama’s door. (That contrasts with serious leftwing complaints against administration drones and wars, spying, rendition, and abusing whistleblowers.) Like patriotism for Mark Twain, this cowardly war of party nullification is the last refuse of scoundrels. Too bad they can’t or won’t indict Obama for his skin color, betraying his own campaign pledges, his two minority offspring, Democratic Party membership, or sharing their lust for militarism, deceptions, and surveillance.

What a shame Obama didn’t get caught committing graft, brashly selling appointments like the Illinois governor, or taking a bribe on video? Or peddling access and influence, reminiscent of Sec’y Clinton accepting foreign contributions to her Foundation as if sales commissions. And that sneaky Obama, how disappointing never to be caught messing with female interns or indulging in sexual hanky-panky. To date, Obama hasn’t yet secretly bugged the other party’s headquarters, like Nixon. Not that there’s anything mysterious these days about the rightwing jihad to destabilize what they can’t drown in a bathtub.

Blame the Black Guy

And the final joke: the rabid righteous know who to blame if Iranian negotiations fail. Not the Senate, not Iran, not even Democrats except for one: Obama. That’s the bizarre, Giuliani-like fantasy from ex-NY Republican governor, George Pataki, “if we had a president who had engaged more in understanding that Congress has a very critical role in all elements of government, we could avoid this type of sad situation”? Right, every foreign agreement should be negotiated by every member of Congress.

And on cue, outpours comic, if syntactically-incoherent relief from Senator McCain, accusing the president of not disclosing what isn’t yet settled: “What this is all about is that [senators] know that this deal, from what we know about it, the number of centrifuges and the 10-year expiration date, that they would have one heck of a time getting it through the Congress of the United States . . . This is why there’s the hysterical reaction.” No wonder Sarah Palin’s gobbledygook appealed to this geezer.

“Hysteria” captures the moment, at least. Now that’s rich to hear the greatest Senate warmonger, spewing hysteria at the drop of any terrorist hat, blame the black guy who’s negotiating rather than “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” So McCain endorses Senate “hysteria” because he knows what’s in the non-existent agreement, and it’s so heinous no Congress would ever approve? So much for the deliberative “upper” House of Hysteria. Ouija boards reign next: the inmates are running this asylum and getting away with throwing food at the leader.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.