40 years after Watergate, the president wants to be impeached

U.S. President Barack Obama answers questions from the audience while speaking at the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Presidential Summit July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.

They would never admit it, of course, but there seems to be a new message from the White House these days: Don't throw President Obama in the briar patch of impeachment!!!

Normally, the notion of impeaching Obama would be so ridiculous -- what are the grounds, other than issuing executive orders, which all of his predecessors did in much greater numbers (and, until a few weeks ago, was considered a routine part of the job)? -- that administration officials wouldn't dare even comment on the notion. Instead, you have White House officials saying on the record they take the threat very seriously.

This is all a sad commentary on how much politics have changed. You'll be hearing a lot on the next couple of weeks about Richard Nixon, who resigned 40 years ago next month to avoid being impeached and removed from office. What a different time. Nixon was investigated for actual high crimes and misdemeanors! And members of his own Republican Party asked tough questions of GOP White House aides and a few even voted in committee for impeachment.

Then came Bill Clinton. His actions in the Monica Lewinsky case were -- in my opinion, for what it's worth -- wrong, often dishonest, and definitely troubling, but they also didn't relate to his conduct as president and weren't really worthy of his removal. Most people saw it the same way. Say what you will today about Bill Clinton, but as just the second POTUS to be actually impeached, he is hardly considered a "disgraced ex-president" (as Nixon had been). Instead, he changed the whole notion of impeachment. Today, you can make the case that impeachment has lost its sting. It's no longer seen as a form of prosecution for office-holders, but just another sad symptom of our diseased politics.

That's where it gets so weird. It's not just that Obama has no reason to fear impeachment since a) there'll certainly be more than 33 Democratic senators, which is all he needs to avoid conviction and stay in office and b) the case of Bubba has shown to him that it won't much hurt his reputation in the history books. But I think he and his aides also have made the bizarre realization that getting impeached may be the only way left -- with 30 months (!) left in his presidency -- that Obama can truly excite his base of supporters.

People don't get worked up about much these days, but they do get worked up about existential threats, and they get worked up about injustice. (For example, it was the combination of those two factors -- a death, and sense of injustice over the initial lax response, that made the Trayvon Martin case such a national cause, in a world in which there's a buffet of social injustice to choose from.) The existential threat to Obama's presidency (a bogus one, since we all agree the Senate would never actually remove him) and the deep sense of injustice, that the first African-American president will be impeached on totally invented grounds by a House GOP that doesn't have a single black member, isn't just something that would get Democrats out to the polls in huge numbers in November. It may be the only thing.

So would Republicans be dumb enough to actually do this?

What do you think?