About 100 members of the conservative literati gathered in a high-ceilinged function room at the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan Thursday night to nibble on hamburger sliders and toast the toppling of the imperial president.
The occasion was a party marking the release of a buzzed-about new book titled, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case For Obama's Impeachment. The crowd consisted of both buttoned-down Republicans and flamboyant literary types — a combination that created, in the sea of minglers, a clash of staid pinstripes and boldly colored pocket squares. They clustered in small groups, chatting cheerily about vacation plans and mutual friends and the New York Rangers, as the author, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, greeted his well-wishers.
Around 7 p.m., Roger Kimball, the veteran conservative critic and publisher of Encounter Books, stepped up to the podium, wearing a bright bow tie and round glasses, to kick off the event. He gleefully noted how the book's subtitle had "started ringing a lot of alarm bells" on the left, and took special pride that the Democratic National Committee's had featured it in a fundraising email even before advance copies had gone out to the press. (Partisan provocation is a game in which everyone can be a winner.) He also reveled in the fretful hand-wringing the book has elicited from some Republican quarters.
"I think it's no secret that the word 'impeachment,' what some timid souls insist on referring to in furtive tones as the 'I word,' sends shivers down the flaccid membrane that substitutes for a spine among certain establishment Republicans," Kimball quipped, drawing delighted laughter from the audience.
But even as he took joy in the naughtiness of their enterprise, Kimball acknowledged that Faithless Execution does not actually call for Obama's immediate ouster from office. "The book is more interrogative than declarative," he said.
It's true: Despite its subtitle, McCarthy's book functions primarily as a catalog of conservative critiques of the president, from the administration's response to the attacks in Benghazi, to the IRS targeting scandal, and the Obamacare rollout. And while he uses impeachment as a provocative frame for the book — making the case that the president's "lawless" acts rise to the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that Constitutionally justify his removal — the author also argues rather forcefully that Republicans should not try to impeach him in the current political climate. Instead, McCarthy, whose last book was The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America, makes a more subdued argument; that Obama has abused his office, and that actively threatening impeachment is the best way for Congress to reign in the powers of the executive branch.
This substantial caveat was emphasized repeatedly throughout the evening's short program, and it gave a pro-forma feel to the proceedings. No one in the room actually seemed to believe that impeaching Obama was a realistic possibility; they were gathered, instead, to play parts in the pageantry of modern politics, in which every president since Ronald Reagan has faced calls for impeachment toward the end of his time in office. As far as right-wing conspiracies go, the one brewing at the Harvard Club Thursday night was less than vast.
But that didn't mean they couldn't have a little fun.
After Kimball finished, conservative talk radio host and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley came to the podium, calling McCarthy "one of the most fearless truth tellers today" and blasting the "corrupt and supine press" that had enabled Obama's sins.
She also joked, "Thank goodness that the Obama White House doesn't know about this book party tonight, because one drone strike could take out the entire conservative movement."
When McCarthy was up, he exclaimed: "The upside of the drone strike is that we're at Harvard, and they would never find us here!"