The hilarious irony of House Speaker John Boehner’s attempt to sue President Obama on behalf of his colleagues is its central argument: that the president is slow to carry out a law the Republicans have opposed with a maniacal rage.
Every good comedian, though, uses his humor to deal with tragedy. Boehner, the unwitting comic in this case, is struggling to forestall the spectacle of an impeachment process. He is not a stupid man, and he remembers how well the last impeachment turned out.
The question, then, is, what in the world is all this impeachment talk about? It’s not just the vapid, tiresome Sarah Palin. It’s Rush Limbaugh and all the Rush wannabes. It’s the entire goofy right wing, which is a frighteningly sizable portion of the electorate.
Why do they want to impeach Barack Obama? Because he saved the country from depression, got us out of two wars, kept us away from a half-dozen more and made health care available to 40 million previously uninsured Americans? Not exactly.
In fact, it’s not exactly anything in particular. The lists of Obama’s supposedly impeachable offenses are all over the Web: 7 reasons, 9 reasons, 25 reasons, 100 reasons to impeach Obama. They all add up to the same thing: stuff the right wing doesn’t like.
There’s a lot of old, discredited rubbish in the pile: questions about the president’s birth and, therefore, eligibility for his office; questions about his association with the erstwhile radical Bill Ayers; questions about the purchase of his Chicago home; and so on.
There’s also some stuff, with which a great many liberals will agree, concerning the president’s conduct of war and national-security matters. Springing from the libertarian impulses that increasingly characterize the American political right, these include the use of drones, the warrantless wiretaps and dragnet-style surveillance by the National Security Agency, and the continued use of Bush-era legal fig leaves like “enemy combatants” for shadowy operations like the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Conspicuous in its absence from these lists is anything that amounts to an impeachable offense. If the fig leaves were good enough for George W. Bush, they are good enough for Barack Obama. If old associations were impeachable, no president ever could have stayed in office. If Obama’s birthplace were truly questionable, he would have been gone years ago.
But the sheer, lunatic hatred behind all this stuff is impenetrable by law or logic. It is like religious faith, not susceptible of reason because it has nothing to do with reason. It raises the question: where does this hatred of Obama come from?
We’ve dealt before with the racism that is behind some of it. It is real and it is poisonous, but it does not explain all the animus. It’s possible to find a good many attempts at explaining the phenomenon, but a full and satisfactory explanation seems to be lacking in the literature.
So please forgive some speculation. Let’s look, for a moment, at the kinds of seething, enduring hatred that exists in the world over political matters. Let’s look at Northern Ireland, the Balkans and, especially, the Middle East. On the surface, these conflicts persist for different reasons. In Ireland, it’s two groups of white, Northern European Christians who believe they have profound differences over ethnicity and religion. Ditto for the Balkans, and throw in the memories of millennia. In the Middle East, the differences also have to do, at least superficially, with religion, but also with ancient claims over territory and many conflicts not only intra-tribal, but also with a whole series of Western powers stretching back to the Crusades.
At bottom, though, it’s not about religion, and it’s not about history and it’s not even about hypernationalism. In each of these places, there are groups of people who feel hopeless, and who feel that their hopelessness is caused by someone’s unfair treatment of them. Palestinians and Kurds, Northern Irish Catholics and pretty much all the perpetually oppressed Balkan-state groups have enough woes that it comes out in political hatred and, often, violence. All these peoples have dreams, but what they lack is hope – that and political independence and the personal freedom that comes with prosperity.
America has always housed some of the Third World, as well: the surviving Native Americans, isolated rural Southerners, overcrowded urban tenement dwellers and so on. Now it’s different. Millions of people who are not part of the American Third World feel that they are, or fear that they soon will be. The phenomenon is a function of growing expectations coupled with diminishing opportunities.
How is a body supposed to feel, after all, when he views a nightly lineup of television characters leading the lives of the idle rich, while his work hours have been reduced and his pension stolen, his kids can’t get work at all, and he can’t help them pay off their education loans?
Here’s how he does feel: depressed, confused, impotent and deeply, explosively angry.
There are more logical places to focus such anger – Congress, Wall Street, Hollywood – but that’s all too complicated, so the anger points at the guy who’s supposedly in charge. Never mind that Obama’s programs have been thwarted at almost every turn, or that he is, at most a centrist. It’s easier to turn him into a communist, a Muslim, a Nazi, an atheist or a dictator and just hate him. It doesn’t heal the wound, but it allows the rage to vent.
Meantime, this impeachment rubbish is a great fundraising gimmick for Democrats – so great, it turns out, that Boehner now says the Democrats cooked it up themselves, just for the purpose. Right.