June 3

This morning, former Republican Congressman and current Tea Party celebrity Allen West said: “the U.S. House of Representatives should file articles of impeachment against Barack Hussein Obama.”

The occasion in this case was the deal to obtain the release of Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held by the Taliban for five years, which you can add to the half-dozen or so other controversies that have led to conservatives advocating impeachment. Sure, West is a particularly nutty individual, but his call was just a bit more extreme than what lots of Republicans are saying today.

This illustrates one of their central political problems: even when they have a reasonable complaint about a decision President Obama has made, Republicans are so quick to jump on the train to Crazytown that they undermine their own legitimate arguments — among everyone other than the folks who already agree with them.

Yesterday, I looked at the four arguments Republicans are making about why the Bergdahl deal was a bad idea, among them the claim that he may have been a deserter; the size of the price in the form of five Taliban prisoners; and the failure to comply with the law requiring early notification of a Gitmo release. You may find some of these more persuasive than others, but on each count there’s a reasonable case to be made. Yet many Republicans find themselves unable to make the reasonable case, instead running immediately to unreasonable ones.

Take, for instance, the argument that the price was too high. Republicans are justifying this by claiming the five Taliban members are so threatening that we will be almost powerless to stop them from laying waste to Americans around the globe. “We gave the Taliban their starting team back!” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Sen. Lindsey Graham called them the “Taliban Dream Team.” John McCain said: “these are really the toughest of the tough.”

 

These five are certainly horrible people, but they don’t have super-powers. If you wanted to make a truly persuasive case that the price the U.S. paid for Bergdahl was too high, you could make it without exaggerating the threat posed by these five individuals. You’d have to do it with an understanding of what the actual threats to the United States are, and not the juvenile premise that foreign threats can be measured by whether some guy can hold his hand over a candle for a long time.

To repeat, there are serious questions about the Bergdahl deal, particularly on the matter of whether the administration violated the law by failing to give Congress the 30-day notice (the administration claims that in urgent circumstances the requirement can be waived, but whether that’s true at all, and whether it applies in this case, are both in question). But the Republicans will never win that debate if one of the first things out of their mouths is “Impeach!” These days, they seem incapable of arguing in terms that anyone who isn’t already a Republican can accept. And that’s the essence of persuasion.