Republicans are famous for performing symbolic opposition. They harried Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Benghazi hearings and endless oaths to overturn Obamacare. But on Benghazi, the narrative was always incoherent, and they forgot that our Libya operation was a huge mistake. They never took a principled stand against interventionism and did not impose any punitive action for its botched execution, such as impeaching Hillary.
Similarly, on Obamacare, as soon as they had the chance to overturn this byzantine redistribution scheme after Trump’s election, the fink John McCain voted to keep it in place. This law did nothing to make us healthier and placed real burdens on middle-class Americans, but McCain earned media plaudits for his “courageous stand” in favor of the conventional wisdom. Like many Washingtonian fixtures, he loved approval from the media.
Hunter Biden’s Sham Prosecution
More recently, we see other types of distractions. Hunter Biden’s recent indictment appears, at first, to be a good news story and a triumph for the rule of law. Just a few months ago, an inquisitive federal judge noticed some real peculiarities in his plea deal, which included a diversion program for his gun crimes. Then, Republicans piled on with indignation. The deal was thrown out, and now he’s being indicted for gun crimes related to his drug addiction by the special counsel (and original prosecuting counsel), Delaware U.S. Attorney, David Weiss.
Contrary to the obsessions of Twitter and the right-wing commentariat, the big crime was not that Hunter did crack, consorted with hookers, and lived a dissolute life. This is all embarrassing for him and his family and also titillating for people looking over photos from his laptop, but it is not generally a public concern. The problem is that he was the family “bag man” for a money-making scheme, and access to his father was the scheme’s key asset. Remember “10% for the Big Guy” and “My Chairman.”
Critics are right that the statute under which Hunter is being prosecuted rarely creates a standalone basis for prosecution, and it is of at least debatable constitutionality. But this is not true of the crimes the Delaware U.S. attorney has slept on. People who commit seven figure tax evasion are routinely prosecuted. People who commit bribery overseas are as well. People who act as unregistered foreign agents also face prosecution—ask Paul Manafort.
This is all to say that the gun prosecution is nothing to get excited over, nor does it represent the triumph of the rule of law. Like the original plea deal itself, it is a symbolic punishment intended to distract the public from the fact that more serious crimes are going unpunished. Even if he is convicted, the guideline sentence probably won’t even involve jail time.
Congressional Republicans are now launching an impeachment inquiry related to the Biden family’s apparent criminal empire. From there, presumably, they will impeach Joe Biden. This is all well-deserved. Biden is possibly the most corrupt person ever to inhabit the Oval Office. The types of activities he is credibly accused of—selling his official acts and vice-presidential office in exchange for money from foreign companies, which his son collected—are specifically mentioned in the Constitution as a basis for impeachment, i.e., bribery.
Perhaps the inquiry will uncover some additional evidence regarding the scope and manner of Joe Biden’s corruption, and it may even hurt his reelection campaign, but it does not appear likely that the media will take much notice. The media suppresses stories like this by ignoring them. It seems unlikely this will backfire the way the impeachment of popular Bill Clinton did; Biden is profoundly unpopular right now.
That said, it appears almost impossible that the Democratic Senate will convict. There is no longer an apolitical, bipartisan standard of conduct for government officials. Both sides are so distrustful and partisan, that there will not be any aisle-crossing to get Biden no matter what he is proven to have done. This is an unfortunate sign of degradation in the republic, but we must adapt to this reality.
Tactics for a Real Opposition
Sham prosecutions like dead-on-arrival impeachments are symbolic substitutes for effective political activity. We should consider alternatives. At the federal level, Republicans may not control both houses, but they do still have control “over the purse.”
The timing of all the recent nonsense could not be better, as the continuing resolutions that fund our government are coming up for renewal on September 30. I realize a lot of elected Republicans are fake and don’t even really want to act as an opposition party, but some of the new blood does, like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, along with stalwarts like Paul Gosar. They should learn from the lackluster results of the last ten years and try something new.
Why not yank funding away from all these laughable January 6 prosecutions, as well as the lawless special counsel out to get President Trump? Why not cut FBI and DHS funding for all of their domestic spying and intelligence gathering, which is designed to suppress conservative activists? Why not pull funding from Ukraine and refugee programs and maybe give some of it back to Americans?
There are other places to do good, as well. Republicans have control of a lot of state legislatures and state governments. Why not use the power of these “dual sovereigns” to prosecute rogue intelligence community officials? They’re already having luck bringing civil suits, such as the first amendment case underway from Missouri.
If this is done, the feds will undoubtedly invoke some hoary immunity precedents rooted in the Constitution’s supremacy clause. But there has been a lot of water under the bridge since the seminal criminal immunity case was decided in 1890, not least the “dual sovereign” jurisprudence on double jeopardy and the near-elimination of federal immunity from many state taxes. Even if they do not go the distance, these prosecutions could prove very embarrassing and inconvenient, imposing the right kinds of chilling effects on run-amuck government agencies.
Symbolic gestures won’t cut it anymore. We need to hit them where it hurts.