What’s wrong with Republicans? Here is a Democratic president who has declared, and demonstrated, that he will not be bound by the Constitution but will do whatever he can do—both within and beyond his constitutional powers—to cram his agenda down the nation’s throat. But since Republicans control one house of Congress, and that one chamber controls the purse, why is the GOP as paralyzed as a deer in the headlights to arrest such a power grab? And why has the Speaker of the House made himself so negligible a figure on the national stage, most recently by addressing the Obama-created border crisis with an immigration bill as feeble and irrelevant as it is unpopular, when he and his majority have such power at their command to counter a president who has passed beyond the bounds the Founders set for the national executive?
No doubt, the president is impeachable. Of course he hasn’t committed high crimes, in the sense of beheading citizens after star-chamber trials—though if it be true that he knew of and approved the IRS’s mistreatment of conservative nonprofit groups, that would certainly be a high crime, no less than President Nixon’s Watergate cover-up was such a crime, as the tapes he lacked the sang-froid to destroy showed. But the Constitution specifically envisioned impeachment for such unconstitutional misdemeanors as a president’s not carrying out his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed—the president’s main constitutional duty. So government by edict, like that exercised by Charles I or Lenin—as when President Obama simply decrees rolling changes in his half-digested health-care law, or when he opens the border to “children” in contravention of our immigration laws—is prima facie impeachable conduct.
But politics, it’s worth emphasizing these days, is the art of the possible; and impeachment is politically unrealistic. Even if Republicans win a famous victory in the upcoming senatorial elections, they will come nowhere near having the two-thirds Senate vote needed to convict. So impeachment would be mere political theater, which the Democrats seem to think would greatly help their fundraising and voter-turnout prospects—it would show “progressivism” under attack, by extremists and racists, as Attorney General Eric Holder likes to charge with equal measures of obtuseness and malice. And Democrats are right in this electoral calculation, because Republicans have no Sam Ervin—no one as eloquent and learned in the law and in history to make the case, as Democrat Ervin came breathtakingly close to doing in the Watergate hearings, that the president had crossed the line into tyranny.
For now, Republicans should use the power of the purse as effectively as they can, and should try their damnedest to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. They have made a good start by cutting the IRS’s enforcement budget by 25 percent. They should go further: cut the agency’s total budget by 50 percent, until the IRS produces the evidence that the House has subpoenaed, and and which the IRS at first claimed had accidentally been destroyed. Let IRS staff be fired or salaries slashed, until someone feels the pain enough to admit what happened.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has crammed through Senate confirmation a Joe McCarthyesque new administrator for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? Then defund FERC entirely—and take to the talk shows to lay out the reasons why shaking down citizens for offenses neither they nor anyone else knew existed is unacceptable. President Obama has made illegal appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which renders null and void all regulations and rulings that the board has made since then? Defund the NLRB, 100 percent. The president has unilaterally repealed our immigration laws? Let the House reaffirm them, and pass a resolution censuring the president for his lawlessness. And let Republican congressmen explain again and again that the Constitution didn’t create a king, and that the ancestors of today’s Democrats, with Thomas Jefferson at their head, were vigilant—indeed, verging on paranoid—in guarding against such a possibility. Nor did the Constitution give America a queen: so Mrs. Obama’s endless vacations, triumphal progresses of a lavishness that Marie Antoinette would have envied, should be condemned as outside the American tradition, even were it not a time when a whole generation is suffering the economic consequences of the administration’s no-growth policies.
An opposition party can only do so much when it controls but one house of Congress, but the Founders’ system of checks and balances not only licenses but positively enjoins it to do whatever it can to rein in lawlessness in the other branches. Let the House do its duty, not by rushing to the Supreme Court as if it were the school principal, but by defunding whatever unconstitutional measures it can. An important part of that duty is to explain, with as much wisdom and eloquence as it can muster on every Sunday talk show, why the Constitution demands such actions—and what kind of republic the Constitution’s Framers envisioned.