Published November 21, 2014
It isn’t what the Founders had in mind, but “I dare you to impeach me” is being normalized as both a governing strategy and a political tactic. We stand on the threshold of a new era of post-constitutional governance, not simply because of the sweeping executive order on immigration President Obama announced last night, but because of what Hillary Clinton just said about it. Waving aside the cautious stance she’s adopted since stepping down as Secretary of State, Hillary swiftly endorsed Obama’s executive action. The contrast with her waffling on the issue of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants in 2008 is striking.
Conservatives have been highlighting the prospect that some future Republican president might turn the tables on Democrats and abuse executive discretion for conservative ends. This is partly a way of frightening Democrats into abandoning their dangerous game, and partly an expression of horror at the onrushing constitutional crisis. Yet Democrats for the most part have been licking their chops at the prospects of rule by executive diktat. Sad to say, Hillary shares their eagerness.
For a hundred years the progressive left has yearned to dispense with the Constitution’s various safeguards against precipitous, faction-driven change. Victory is in sight. Obama has broken the constitutional taboo and Hillary has embraced his precedent.
Why should Democrats preoccupy themselves with fears of Republican autocracy when they’re inches away from 6 to 10 continuous years of liberation from constitutional restraint? The lure of fundamental transformation outweighs any fear of frustration or reversal under a Republican president. With the GOP House already blocking Obama, and Democratic control over Congress unlikely to be restored at least until after the next census, abuse of executive discretion is the only way out for America’s newly emboldened and ambitious left.
Impeachment as a remedy has largely been taken off the table. This is likely true regardless of the president’s race or gender. Yet with added confidence that Republicans would never have the nerve to cashier the first woman president, “I dare you to impeach me” will be President Hillary’s unspoken watchword, every bit as much as it has been for President Obama.
While Hillary will surely attempt to open some distance between herself and President Obama as she campaigns, her swift embrace of his polarizing order on immigration will make it difficult for her to present herself as anything other than Obama’s third term.
I’ve already argued that Hillary’s deepest sympathies remain on the left. She spent much of her husband’s presidency arguing behind the scenes for precisely the sort of transformative policies and polarizing political tactics that Obama deploys with abandon today. For both Obama and Hillary, the Alinskyite background is very much alive and well. And everything about the increasingly left-leaning and post-constitutional tendencies of the Democratic Party conspires to push Hillary in the direction of her formative political commitments.
No doubt the next Republican presidential nominee will run against Obama’s executive overreach. Whether a Republican winner would be tempted nonetheless to follow in Obama’s constitutionally questionable footsteps can be debated. Yet Hillary Clinton’s interest in cementing and extending the dangerous precedent set by Obama’s executive overreach is evident. We have stepped into post-constitutional territory and are one election away from losing any prospect of exit.
— Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center