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Among politicians and pundits who identify with the GOP, there are many who pay lip-service to the U.S. Constitution. Yet when push comes to shove they seem disposed by all means to avoid implementing its provisions. But left unused, the constitutional provisions intended to exercise the just powers of the body politic waste away. In this respect they are like the muscles of the human body, but even more so. They must be flexed to keep their fitness. If, in practice, their vitality and purpose are not conveyed to each new generation, they will soon be lost to memory and so, quite literally, cease to matter.
In this respect, Barack Obama’s rise to, and abuse of, political power has proven to be a litmus test. It has exposed the GOP’s protestations of allegiance to the Constitution for what they are: a hollow ploy, used to get votes from gullible conservatives loyal to the Constitution and its principles. Meanwhile, by action or inaction, many of the people they vote into office end up helping the would-be tyrants of the Obama faction cultivate the seeds of its destruction.
Now evidence is mounting on several fronts which suggests that elements of Obama’s administration have seriously, even criminally, abused the executive power of the U.S. government. According to the U.S. Constitution, that power, as a whole, is vested in the individual who holds the office of president of the United States. In constitutional terms, the president is personally and solely responsible for the use and abuse of the executive power of the U.S. government.
So when Rush Limbaugh says that “efforts to try to have Obama impeached or held personally responsible for these scandals is a bunch of wasted effort,” he is saying that, on account of the politics of our times, this fundamental aspect of the U.S. Constitution no longer matters. With all due respect to Rush Limbaugh (and my respect for him is sizable and sincere), I beg to differ. The judgment about “wasted effort” depends on what we’re trying to achieve. If politics is just a partisan game, with no goal but to score points for one side or the other, it may be reasonable to conclude that impeachment is a wasted effort. After all, the Democrats who control the U.S. Senate will never allow Obama to be removed from office. Doesn’t this make impeachment impossible?
Mr. Limbaugh is right to assume that impeachment is inherently political. In this respect his view accords with that of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote (in Federalist No. 65) that “… the subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed … 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.”
Insofar as they wish to preserve their constitutional self-government, can the American people have a greater common interest than to react against abuses of power that may threaten it? Before they can do so, however, mustn’t the facts be examined in order to be sure that the abuses in question are so extraordinarily malicious that they warrant the removal from office of the person or persons responsible? As Hamilton says of the impeachment process, “Is it not designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men?”
The difference between Limbaugh and Hamilton, however, is that when Mr. Limbaugh speaks of politics he is referring to the competition of partisan factions. But for Hamilton politics means the business of citizens, i.e., individuals characterized by their concern for the common good of their society as a whole, not just their own personal, factional, partisan interests. From Hamilton’s perspective, the way elected representatives handle such offenses is therefore a test of their concern for the common good. If they act, or refuse to act, based solely on whether by doing so they advance their personal or factional agenda, they show their contempt for the well-being of the nation as a whole. They thereby prove themselves unfit for the offices (duties) they hold, whether or not they are ever called to account for their dereliction.
But the challenge of holding them accountable has political implications that we have to think through before we rush to agree with Mr. Limbaugh’s conclusion that, in our present circumstances, impeachment is a waste of effort. The Constitution divides the authority for impeachment from the authority to convict and remove for good reason. It makes the majority needed to approve a bill of impeachment in the House no greater than that required for ordinary legislation. It thus provides an ordinary way of calling civil officers to account for what appears to be extraordinary misbehavior.
If those officers, at the behest of the president, cooperate with the NATIONAL INQUEST, and let the facts speak for themselves, they at least do nothing to confirm their contempt for constitutional constraints. If, with the open support of the president, they defy the constitutional authority of the U.S. House, both they and the president confess by this defiance their disposition to do what they are suspected of doing, defy and disregard the provisions of the Constitution. By itself this confession warrants a bill of impeachment. If, despite such open and palpable proof of their contempt for the Constitution, a factional partisan majority in the U.S. Senate protects them from the consequences, their action, too, is a palpable dereliction. For this it is up to the people to convict and punish them, at the next election.
In Federalist No. 65 Hamilton reports that the impeachment process in the U.S. Constitution is, in important respect, modeled after the procedures of the British government. This appears to be true of its political implications as well. Properly used, it provides an opportunity for the people, through their representatives in the House, to approve and publicly register a vote of no confidence in the president and all those willing to uphold his abuses in the U.S. Senate. Given the periodic elections provided for in the Constitution, an opportunity is never far off for the people to change the composition of either or both chambers of the national legislature. By what they do, they can signify their agreement or disagreement with the results of the no-confidence vote (or votes). Seen in this light, the purpose of impeachment is to inform and mobilize the citizens for their duty as the arbiters of constitutional integrity. They are the ones ultimately responsible for defending constitutional self-government, or letting it perish.
But the leadership of both wings (Democrat and Republican) of the elitist faction are working to overturn constitutional self-government in the United States. As I discuss in the most recent post on my blog, they have no use for the constitutional provisions that engage people in the exercise of their constitutional responsibility, thereby strengthening the responsible sovereignty of the people in every generation. Neither of these parties cares to practice government of, by and for the people. That’s why Americans who believe in it need urgently to construct a political vehicle that will.