Dancing like it’s 1998

by George_East on March 3, 2011

I wrote on 24 February 2011 that the Republican reaction to the Obama administration’s welcome decision to no longer seek to defend the constitutionality of a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act had been relatively muted.  This was surprising both because the American right, has since the Gingrich revolution, seen politics as warfare and will do anything it can to obstruct, oppose and undermine the legitimacy of the Obama presidency and because it involved one of the touchstone issues for movement conservatives in the US: gay rights.

I had hoped it reflected a president that was now more confident in his ability to make the political weather than he had shown in the half of his term resulting in a backing off by his political opponents and possibly even the very beginnings of this issue no longer having the resonance it once did in the US (after all Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had also recently been repealed).

But you should never underestimate the determination of the Republican party to engage in political warfare at all times.   This can currently be seen in the battle being waged over union collective bargaining rights in Madison, Wisconsin and leading presidential contender and Mike Huckabee’s extraordinary claim (now withdrawn) that Obama had been brought up in Kenya (er nope, his father was from Kenya, but he was largely brought up in Hawaii). 

We also we now see the beginnings of the usual Republican playbook over DOMA.  DailyKos reported yesterday that Arizonan GOP Representative Trent Franks supports impeaching President Obama over his decision not to defend parts of DOMA in the Courts.   This is presumably on the basis that the President’s oath includes a pledge to uphold the laws of the United States.  It also requires, of course, the defence of the constitution, the ultimate US law.  It follows that there cannot be an obligation to defend an unconstitutional law in the courts, as that would not be to uphold the ultimate law.    If both President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, have come to the view that the section is unconstitutional, the decision is, it seems to me plainly consistent with the oath, and if anything, the only course of action open to the President if he is to comply with that oath.

In the meantime, of course, DOMA remains on the statute books and the Obama administration has rightly said that it will continue to implement the law.  As Dailykos notes this goes nowhere near as far as the sainted Ronald Reagan who in the instance quoted actually instructed one of his cabinet members to ignore a law passed by congress on the grounds it was unconstitutional.  Further the Obama administration has said that Congress, as a separate, branch of government is perfectly entitled to seek to uphold the constitutionality of the provisions if it wishes to.  

So far it is only one Representative but these things follow the same pattern – rumblings in the wingnutosphere, amplification on talk radio/Fox, stated by mainstream politicians before you know it, is leading the network news and is on the front page of the New York Times.

As ever, this is not about the Republicans taking a principled stand – this is about using any opportunity that presents itself to undermine a duly elected Democratic president.   Threats of impeachment and endless enquiries in the House of Representatives can now be expected all the way to the 2012 elections and if the senate is re-taken by the Republicans in that election, in respect of which there must be a good chance (Jackie South will no doubt give some thoughts on that at some point) as the class of 2006, a very good year for the Democrats, comes up for re-election, then we may see the full impeachment pantomime that Bill Clinton faced in 1998 repeated.  

The fact that this statement has come in the same week of Newt Gingrich’s is he/isn’t he going to stand for the Republican nomination in 2012 has given the events of this week a particularly late 1990s gloss.

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