Abundance is fine, and having endless options is a relief – there’s no need to ever feel trapped by a choice that had to be made, between what you didn’t want and what you wanted even less, but there was that 2004 book by psychologist Barry Schwartz about The Paradox of Choice – which can mess with your head. Choice overload, as he puts it, can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, and can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and can also make you blame yourself for any and all failures. Maybe you should have bought the Honda, not the Toyota, or maybe the Mazda or the Kia was a better idea – or perhaps, faced with twenty-seven brands of toilet paper, you shouldn’t have grabbed what was close on the store shelf, because now your ass hurts. You didn’t explore all you options. There must be something wrong with you – a weak character no doubt. That’s why Schwartz argues that America’s current abundance of choice leads to depression and feelings of loneliness, and we may also be paying for our increased affluence and freedom with a significant decrease in any sense of community at all – because life in a thriving consumer society seems to consist of being dazed and confused by all the equally reasonable options available, about anything and everything, all the time, followed by endless regret, all at an individual level. There’s always been what Robert Frost called “the road not taken” – but he was talking about two roads diverging in the wood. He wasn’t talking about shopping at Costco, staring at the endless shelves of everything, wanting to cry.
It doesn’t help to go home and watch television either. Cable and satellite television means you have more than a hundred channels from which to choose at any given moment, if you’re cheap, or up to seven hundred channels or more if you went all in – and you’ll feel like a fool for missing the good stuff over there if you chose to watch what you thought was the good stuff over here. That’s no help, but luckily there’s not that much good stuff. All those channels are desperate for content – for new “product” to fill up all those on-air hours, or old stuff people might want to see again, maybe. At some point anything will do – a Twilight Zone marathon or an endless loop of old episodes of Bonanza. Old movies, and endlessly crappy recent movies, turn up in endless rotation too – every Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis or Meg Ryan movie ever made, over and over and over again. Don’t worry, you’ll miss nothing – there it is again.
There’s not much rhyme or reason to such programing, other than old war movies on the Fourth of July weekend and endless absurdly predictable horror movies in the week leading up to Halloween, and Christmas movies starting a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Themes work, given the season, and that’s why it’s not surprising that HBO just put its award-winning Sarah Palin movie into rotation once again. That would be Game Change – Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, the senior campaign strategist who tried so hard to make her candidacy work, even if the task was impossible from the start, and Ed Harris as John McCain – the man who made that one choice he would come to regret. It’s a bit of a tragedy, and unexpectedly nuanced, and this might be the time to put it in rotation again. Politics is heating up again, with the midterm elections coming in November, and in the last midterms, in 2010, the Tea Party won big and ended up taking over the Republican Party, or at least bending it to their will. Sarah Palin didn’t make it past 2008 – that was the last time she ran for anything at all. She, along with John McCain, lost decisively – but HBO might be onto something. Palin’s brash feistiness won big two years later, even if she wasn’t along for the ride, and that is still what animates the Republican Party, for better or worse. Perhaps HBO decided that people might now, once again, want to see where it all started. Sarah Palin was a major player once, perhaps the major player, in a movement that was always saying let’s never compromise on anything, and there’s no point in even thinking about things for another minute either. As she was fond of saying – “I know what I know I know.”
Maybe those exact words were an invention of the screenwriters, but they fit. That’s in the air again. Why not show the movie again a few times a day? Someone will watch, and by an odd coincidence, the woman grabbed the spotlight the very same day:
Former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin called for President Barack Obama’s impeachment in her most direct language yet in a column Tuesday morning.
“It’s time to impeach; and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment,” Palin wrote in a column published Tuesday on the conservative website Breitbart. “The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.”
The former Alaskan governor accused Obama of deliberately leaving the border open and allowing undocumented immigrants to come in at will, ignoring American laws and driving the country deeper into debt.
“His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say ‘no mas,'” she wrote. “President Obama’s rewarding of lawlessness, including his own, is the foundational problem here.”
Native-born citizens and legal immigrants, she said, are the ones “getting screwed” following the rules while undocumented immigrants are exempt.
That’s a bit general, and those two words in Spanish are mighty odd in there, and the battered-wife thing is even odder, but she is who she is – not one for detail and often incoherent – but the key to all this is here:
“I sense not enough guts in D.C. to file impeachment charges against Team Obama for their countless documented illegalities, so the way to stop this is at the ballot box,” she wrote.
Yeah, she called for Obama’s impeachment, and said it would never happen, so he needs to be stopped at the ballot box, but he’s not running again – he can’t – but someone has no guts, and it’s not her, it’s her party – so this was a challenge, one she’s sure her party will not meet, but they should. Got it?
At the Washington Post, Aaron Blake thinks he does, and sees this as bad news for the Republican Party:
Mixed/careless metaphors aside, this is nothing but bad news for Republicans – especially four months until the 2014 election.
Palin is hardly the first GOP politician to raise the issue of impeachment over the past couple years. Others include Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), former congressmen Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Allen West (R-Fla.), and the South Dakota Republican Party. Not all of these folks called for Obama’s impeachment directly, but all of them suggested that it is or should be on the table.
What none of these folks have, though, is a national following. That’s where Palin comes in. She’s the first Republican of any significant national stature to make this call. And she’s the kind of figure who could potentially recruit others to the cause – people who will want to be heard. Palin surely doesn’t carry the kind of weight she once did in the GOP, but she still has a significant tea party following and is highly popular among the conservative base.
If a significant pro-impeachment portion of the conservative base does materialize – and that’s a big “if” – it will put Republican lawmakers in the unenviable position of responding to questions about whether they, too, agree with the idea of impeachment.
Blake says that leaves them three options:
1) Oppose impeachment and risk making yourself a target in the 2016 primary
2) Try to offer a non-response that doesn’t really support or oppose impeachment
3) Support impeachment and, while likely saving your own hide from becoming a target, exacerbate the problem with the larger Republican Party.
Options are cool, but not those, and Blake maintains that Palin’s challenge screws up everything over there:
As we’ve said before, it throws a sizable and unpredictable variable into what was already shaping up to be a good election year for Republicans. That same could be said for the Benghazi investigation (though that effort appears to have the support of the American people). The name of the game for the GOP right now is maintaining their edge and trying to win back the Senate. Everything else is noise.
Secondly, it lends credence to Democrats’ argument that Republicans are controlled by the extreme wing of their party. And to the extent that Democrats can make the 2014 election a referendum on the GOP’s conduct in Congress (see: government shutdown), it’s to their benefit.
Lastly, impeachment is a very difficult issue to press. Even in the late 1990s, when an American president had an affair in the White House and then lied about it, support for impeachment was still well shy of a majority – as low as 30 percent.
Maybe she’s actually working for the Democrats, but Steve Benen doesn’t think so:
The standard rules haven’t changed. Sarah Palin, the former half-term governor of Alaska, remains a deeply silly person whose opinions are not to be taken seriously. When news organizations routinely make a fuss about her random missives, they’re lending credence to a former officeholder who doesn’t deserve it.
That said, once in a great while, there’s a broader significance to Palin’s nonsense that adds relevance to her tirades.
That might be this time:
Not that it matters on a substantive level, but Palin’s case for impeachment, unlike so many of the other Republicans who also want impeachment, seems to rest almost entirely on immigration. She argued, “Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate.” …
Obviously, it’s a ridiculous argument, but that’s not what makes this interesting.
First, for a prominent Republican figure to use immigration as a rationale for presidential impeachment – just four months before the midterm elections – is pretty much the opposite the message the party establishment wants to convey. GOP lawmakers have already killed a popular, bipartisan immigration bill, alienating Latino voters nationwide, and now Sarah Palin is making matters worse, largely because her contempt for the president is unrelated to any kind of sensible electoral strategy.
Second, the more the party’s highest-profile personalities raise the volume on impeachment talk, the more it motivates the Democratic base to actually get in the game this fall (look up “1998, midterm elections”). Put it this way: who do you think is more excited about talking up Palin’s harangue this afternoon, the RNC or the DNC? I’m guessing the latter.
And finally, Palin’s rant takes that important step of saying the far-right should “vehemently oppose any politician” who “hesitates” on the need for impeachment.
There’s no hiding now, and Obama may be impeached after all:
Boehner almost certainly doesn’t want to take impeachment talk seriously, but let’s not forget that House Republican leaders, including Boehner, have been pushed into doing things they did not want to do many times. The Speaker didn’t want to create a debt-ceiling crisis, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want a government shutdown, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to hold several dozen “repeal Obamacare” votes, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along. The Speaker didn’t want to kill immigration reform, but the far-right insisted and Boehner went along.
Now the far-right wants presidential impeachment for reasons that don’t make any sense at all, and the chatter from within the Republican Party is growing louder. Party leaders may want to nip this in the bud, but they can’t – if they try to tell their unhinged factions to quiet down, it puts their careers in jeopardy.
And so, with 118 days to go before the midterms, Republicans are increasingly positioning themselves as the anti-immigrant, anti-contraception, pro-impeachment party that shut down the government last year for no reason.
Sarah Palin lost in 2008, but she actually won. She can still call down the hounds of hell on any Republican that doesn’t get it:
The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt; many cities are on the verge of insolvency; our overrun healthcare system, police forces, social services, schools, and our unsustainably generous welfare-state programs are stretched to the max. We average Americans know that. So why has this issue been allowed to be turned upside down with our “leader” creating such unsafe conditions while at the same time obstructing any economic recovery by creating more dependents than he allows producers? His friendly wealthy bipartisan elite, who want cheap foreign labor and can afford for themselves the best “border security” money can buy in their own exclusive communities, do not care that Obama tapped us out.
Andrew Sullivan offers this:
Look: don’t ask me. Nothing she says has ever made much sense to me. But the obviously potent issue she is referring to is illegal immigration, the issue that took down Eric Cantor, and the issue that truly riles up the Fox Nation. …
And so a gauntlet has been laid. A vote for the Republicans this November is a vote for the impeachment of Obama. Any Republican Senate candidate who does not back impeachment will now face growing Tea Party backlash. And every single Senator will now be asked if they support impeachment or not. That seems to me the import of Palin’s endorsement of the most radical action that can be taken against a sitting president. The November elections have just become a vote on the question of impeachment.
This should be interesting:
Are the Republicans aware of the implications of this? There are plenty of voters who might have voted Republican this fall who will hesitate if they think it means subjecting the country to the kind of spectacle we saw the last time a Democrat dared to win a second term in office. There are many African-American voters who might have sat out this election – but now will see the president beset by the same forces that tried to take down Bill Clinton and may well show up in force. There are, for that matter, many women voters who, before Hobby Lobby, might have felt apathetic this fall and may not now.
What I’m suggesting is that, not for the first time, the Republican Party’s most treacherous opponent … is the Republican Party. And McCain’s Frankenstein leads the way!
Some choices really do come back to haunt you, and at Salon, Emmett Rensin looks at the current choices:
Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced his intention to launch the first congressional lawsuit against the executive branch since United States v. Nixon. Days later, the Republican Party of South Dakota became the first state-level party organization to formally call for Obama’s impeachment.
If some Republicans are to be believed, the only rationale behind Congress’ tamer lawsuit route is feasibility: “If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, you could probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it. But it would go to the Senate and he wouldn’t be convicted,” congressman Blake Farenthold told BuzzFeed last year.
The occasional call is nothing new. Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt have faced the fringe demand for congressional removal, and despite two successful efforts in the House (against Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), none has ever seen the bad side of a subsequent Senate trial. President Obama will not be impeached; despite their bluster, the GOP-controlled House will never even propose a trial in earnest. The Clinton years taught them well enough what happens when such an effort backfires and you become the guys who just wasted a year of the country’s time.
They know better, but oddly, that presents a larger problem:
What ought to concern us is not the serious possibility of the president being removed from office, but the sense of what – in a world where such a conversation occurs at all – suddenly seems reasonable by comparison. Consider an interview earlier this year, in which Fox News host and Santa Clause ethnicity specialist Megyn Kelly asked Mitch McConnell why he and the rest of the congressional GOP hadn’t seriously explored the “meaningful option” of impeaching President Obama for vaguely defined “abuse of power.”
It doesn’t matter that McConnell said they wouldn’t: That the question was even asked on a major television network by a prominent (if not necessarily respected) member of the press to one of the most powerful figures in the federal government reflects something more than just fringe lunacy. It is indicative of a broader trend in our civic culture, one more subtly (but perhaps tellingly) betrayed in Senator McConnell’s then-contention that simply defunding every executive initiative and refusing to let the country function while President Obama remains in office would be a comparatively reasonable, “less dramatic” option.
Ah! Don’t impeach the guy. Don’t sue the guy. Refuse to let the country function until he just up and quits, for the good of the country – that’s less dramatic. There are lots of choices, but this is nutty, and also what Rensin sees was inevitable:
We’ve gotten into the habit of delegitimizing our presidents – not just contesting their election or pushing back against their policies, but denying their very claim to the White House. From the farcical (birthers) to the faux-serious (“anti-American socialist!”), we’ve moved beyond mere opposition and into a deeper civic sickness, where casting aspersions on the policies of an opposition president has given way to challenging his very right to implement those policies.
It’s just one more choice, but a problematic one:
The impulse to delegitimize the president serves as a useful solution to an old dilemma in American politics: How do you respond to a leader who is at once enemy and ally – someone who was bitterly opposed in his ascension, but having nonetheless prevailed, is now not just their candidate, but your president, as well?
That gets tricky:
As cynical as we’ve become, Americans still retain a certain reverence for the presidency. Watergate eroded it some, sure; and the ensuing soap operas – from Iran-Contra to Monica to Tallahassee 2000 have certainly tarnished the brand. But within our civic consciousness, the presidency retains a transcendent air, an office occupied by a politician, but still not entirely political. The president is the commander-in-chief. He is the head of government, yes, but he is the head of state as well. The office still retains that luster, and across table from prime ministers and kings, he speaks for all of us. There is a reason we still don’t tolerate his challengers attacking him when overseas.
But pressed by a modern world into an unprecedented form of zero-sum politics, the tension between “our guy abroad” and “their guy at home” proved more difficult to sustain. So the delegitimizers found a work-around: If you can’t strip the presidency of its protective insulation, you can strip it from a chief executive by insinuating that he isn’t really the president in the first place. And that’s when the loyal opposition becomes a crusade against occupation, poisonous to a functioning government.
This is a dangerous choice:
When the “grace of God” gave way to “the grace of an electorate,” it was vital – if people were to be governed by consent – then that consent, once given, be respected. When we allow ourselves to start believing that consent is counterfeit whenever we disagree with our leaders, the national experiment breaks down. The well is poisoned. Wars against usurpers involve no compromise, and so we see endless gridlock. We see politics as trench warfare. We see a polity where reaching across the aisle is a betrayal and defunding every initiative is the “reasonable” response. We see a system in which every year is little more than a battle to reclaim the throne from a fraud – the very thing we broke with Britain to avoid.
We didn’t have to make that choice, but we did, or the Republicans will soon. But they had lots of choices – sue the guy, or defund everything and stop the government from functioning, or impeach the guy, or work with him, admitting America elected him to that office twice, by a reasonably wide margin each time, and get what you can in negotiation – or quit politics and open a bed-and-breakfast on the Oregon coast, or join the circus. There were always lots of choices, but that’s the paradox of choice. Having too many options can mess with your head and then cause nothing but regret and ruin. Maybe there should be fewer of them.