frank-underwood

No to Impeachment: What the 1990s and House of Cards taught me

“I hate this small ball crap.” — Representative Francis J. Underwood (D-SC), House of Cards

I’ve only started to watch House of Cards in the last few days, but I am hooked on this show and in particular the character of Underwood, the Majority Whip of the House.  And that quote reminds me of where the Tea Party is right now and why there is this push for impeachment.

Now, while I hope you read this, if you want a short version of why I think trying to impeach and convict President Barack Obama is a bad idea here is conversation I was part of when I crashed The Refinery show that included other Free Radical Network members J.D. Bryden and Felicia Cravens.
Impeachment is the white whale. It’s swinging for the fences to try and hit a home run (sorry for the baseball reference). It’s a huge undertaking. You can’t do the big things (as Underwood correctly realizes) without taking care of the “small ball crap.” In this case, it’s winning elections and getting majorities in Congress. Also, we know what the white whale did to Captain Ahab and Queequeg.

Impeachment is feasible, but at what cost? The Republicans pass it in the House and it dies in the Senate, likely without even a trial or a vote. So for an essentially meaningless resolution that makes us feel good, what do we get in return? We get a demoralized Democratic base now energized for elections this November. We get legions of Democrats and their acolytes in the newspapers and television accusing the entire Republican Party of virulent racism. We make President Obama a political martyr. We get an election about whether the president should be tossed out of office instead of the horrendous failure of Obamacare. Or the horrendous failure of the president’s foreign policy and fight against terrorism. Or the weakest economic recovery in history with more people not looking for work than we’ve seen in over 50 years. All of that so we can feel good. The Democrats are supposed to be the party about feelings not us!
And at the risk of repeating myself (if you watched the video or heard me rant about this before) the mess we are in now goes back to the last time a GOP Congress went down the impeachment path. I supported it in 1998. President Bill Clinton suborned perjury, committed perjury and obstructed justice. He was a criminal, and even some Democrats were disgusted with his behavior. The law was on our side, these were High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and the public heard every sordid detail of it during the Judiciary Committee hearings.

The key moment on the floor of the House of Representatives came before Christmas, and I will never forget it. Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), the Appropriations Committee Chairman and soon-to-be Speaker of the House, strode to the well of the House to speak in favor of impeachment. During his speech, he mentioned his own indiscretions in the past (dug up by Hustler’s Larry Flynt) and Democrats yelled that he should resign. Then that’s what Bob Livingston did. The Democrats in the House were in a state of shock, though that was nothing compared to the shock I felt. It turned around the impeachment debate for a few weeks. But I was crestfallen. Livingston was then a very principled conservative who from his powerful committee chairmanship fought for smaller government. The Republican Party needed him after Newt went down in flames. House Republicans needed him. But he went. And it didn’t mean jack.
When impeachment went to the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott decided that a long trial and an actual attempt to convict President Clinton could cost him the majority. So he basically killed the trial and the fix was in. In the end, they couldn’t get a majority to convict the President on either charge. Ten Republicans voted against conviction on one charge, five on another.

And what was the result? Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) became the Speaker of the House, and ushered in a nearly unprecedented era of high-spending, earmarks, and corruption that lasted until the Republicans got their clock cleaned in the Congressional elections of 2006. Think of Campaign Finance Reform, the infamously pork-stuffed Highway and Farm bills, Medicare Part D, all the bailouts and Representatives like Tom Delay (R-Texas) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio) resigning in disgrace (among others). Think of the fact that a Republican president and congress did nothing on oil drilling or securing the border, despite having six years to do it. Think of everything, and remember that Hastert’s speakership was central to it all. And then think that Nancy Pelosi became the Speaker of the House after him. Nancy freaking Pelosi.

I will argue that a lot of that nonsense wouldn’t have happened if Livingston were speaker. He might’ve gone native eventually (he is now a K-Street lobbyist with his own firm, and has lobbied for Libya among others in the past) but I believe the Republican Congress under his speakership wouldn’t have gone off the rails as badly.

Impeachment cost us everything, and I would argue that party hasn’t recovered even now. The GOP’s bearings are completely off and we can’t even agree on whether the federal government should be big or small.

The Tea Party is right to be angry, and even more correct that we are running out of time to stop the disastrous direction this country is going in. But we are running out of elections we can lose. Don’t win in 2014 and 2016, and the America we grew up in is gone forever, to be replaced by a giant social democracy that can’t be funded and will ruin this country.

Impeachment is big ball. So is the repeal of Obamacare, health-care reform that works, budget reform, tax reform, securing the border and reforming immigration. But it’s time to be like Underwood and do the “small ball crap” first. It’s time to win elections.