The Presidential Season Begins

Presidential election year 2016 officially began last week. Oh, I know, it really began Nov. 7, 2012, but I mean really, really, really began last week.

How do I know?

Because House Republicans and the folks at Fox News began calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama for 1) putting out a false story about the attack on the United States ministry in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and 2) for ordering the dogs of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on tea party political action committees that claimed tax-exempt status for themselves in 2010.

A little history: The United States House of Representatives has voted articles of impeachment against three American presidents: Andrew Johnson in 1868 for firing the Secretary of War in violation of the Tenure of Office Act; Richard Nixon in 1974 for the Watergate coverup; and Bill Clinton in 1998-99 for lying about his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Conviction requires 67 votes in the U.S. Senate. Johnson survived by one vote. The Senate tried Clinton on two articles of impeachment; 50 senators voted to convict him on one of them, 45 on the other.

Nixon never faced a Senate trial. Members from Nixon’s own Republican Party visited him in the White House to warn that he would be convicted of the charges levied. Nixon resigned halfway through his second term.

Impeachment of Obama by the Republican-controlled House could happen. Many Republicans never have accepted the legitimacy of an Obama presidency, and if incriminating evidence could be found that Obama acquiesced to either covering up events in Benghazi or using the IRS against tea party Republicans, House Republicans might opt to impeach.

Conviction in the Senate, however, seems inconceivable.

Sadly, that doesn’t matter. Though the bar for impeachment is “high crimes and misdemeanors,” our national politics have become so toxic, so dominated by ideological purists, that impeachment has become a means to entirely partisan ends.

Early in the 1998 impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, it became clear that he would never be convicted. But his affair and his bald-faced lies to conceal it dominated the final two years of his presidency, contributing mightily to Vice President Al Gore’s loss in his 2000 bid for the presidency.

Nixon’s 1974 impeachment and Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon’s Watergate sins helped put Democrat Jimmy Carter in the presidency two years later. The word “impeachment,” justified or not, with or without conviction, has become a powerful weapon in the blood sport that now characterizes our national politics.

Benghazi is a “twofer” for Republican partisans. If it leads to impeachment proceedings, it weakens the Obama presidency and damages former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2016, on whose watch the Benghazi attack occurred. Republican consultant Karl Rove’s super pac, American Crossroads, is already running an attack ad accusing Clinton of a coverup.

Impeachment on grounds of using the IRS for political purposes could hurt Democrats even more in 2014 and 2016. It fuels the NRA-GOP-fed paranoia about a national government out to take our hard-earned money and enslave us all. And we all fall within the reach of the IRS.