When Impeachment Becomes Fundraising Bait

The White House lost moral ground by working with congressional Democrats to convert fear to cash.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers speaks at the 2013 Tribal Nations Conference held at the Department of Interior Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama meet with leaders of 566 Native American tribes earlier in the day at teh White House. (National Journal)

Welcome, folks, to the Impeachment Telethon, where straw men and stalking horses are paraded across the Washington stage while political parties beg for your money.

"Look at this poor president," Democrats sob. "Mean ol' Republicans are trying to destroy him. Send us your checks!"

"See this tattered Constitution," Republicans cry, "That tyrant Barack Hussein Obama is treating it like toilet paper. Send us your checks!"

What a circus.

Presidential impeachment is the Constitution's nuclear option, created by the Founders to protect against treasonous and criminal chief executives. Partisans aside, most Americans understand that impeachment is reserved for the most extreme circumstances. They don't like politicians playing politics with the presidency.

Republicans impeached President Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and voters punished them. Democratic House members filed articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush, and the stunt went nowhere.

Now, several prominent conservatives, including 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, are calling for President Obama's impeachment. The third-ranking official in the GOP House, Steve Scalise, refused Sunday to rule it out.

Fearing backlash, House Speaker John Boehner is trying to satiate conservatives with a lawsuit challenging Obama's legal authority to amend Obamacare. The suit tracks GOP talking points that label Obama a lawless tyrant. The USA Today editorial board called the suit "a political sideshow." Republicans are using it to motivate voters and donors.

This is exactly the kind of politics that Obama ran against in 2008, and that he promised to change. You might expect the White House to brush off such negligible impeachment talk, and focus on governing, right? Wrong.

After raising $500,000 in the 24 hours following Palin's impeachment call, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hatched a two-part plan. First, find and mass-distribute every mindless GOP quote about impeachment. Second, stoke fears; pretend that impeachment might actually happen, even if doing so could spiral into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Democrats' most cynical act was to engage the White House in this farce. Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, told reporters that the West Wing takes impeachment chatter "very seriously." As hoped, the gambit raised serious money "“ $2.1 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee over the weekend.

Pfeiffer would argue that Boehner's lawsuit endorses the notion that Obama's actions are illegal and therefore opens the door to impeachment. I think that's a stretch, but Pfeiffer could make the argument with a straight face. What makes it wrong is using the argument—and the office of the presidency—as bait for campaign cash.

Without irony, Boehner's spokesman denounced Democrats for playing politics with impeachment, saying the White House shouldn't focus on "phony issues." That line was about as convincing as when Obama dismissed the IRS and other controversies as "phony scandals."

Boehner said today, "We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans. Listen, it's all a scam started by Democrats at the White House." He's wrong; his party started the impeachment train, and both parties are running scams.

Pfeiffer has denied Obama the moral high ground on impeachment. Yes, Democrats will say that Republicans started it. But why lower your party to the GOP's level? Why lower the presidency? Why sound like a kindergartner whining to his teacher, "He started it!"

A better choice would be to sic the White House's team of taxpayer-funded lawyers on the lawsuit, while the rest of Obama's team runs the country and manages foreign policy crises. Clinton proved in the 1990s that good governing trumps bad Republican motives.