Is the Solyndra Affair an Impeachable Offense?

Unless you have been under a rock or possibly out of the country (a benefit of the doubt I am willing to extend to my overseas teacher colleagues) you know by now that there is great outrage in Washington, D.C. over the Obama Administration’s $535 million loan to green company and now bankrupt entity Solyndra.  Investigations have been launched by both the Justice Department and Congress investigating whether Solyndra executives misled them during the loan application process.

Of course, the hubbub about Solyndra executives deceiving the Administration to get the loan is simply a smokescreen.  Politically, the Solyndra debacle makes Obama look bad just as he begins to launch his reelection campaign.  It not only calls into question the judgment of his administration but its ethics.  To complicate matters, besides endeavoring to support a renewable energy company, the Administration’s loan to Solyndra was also intended to minimize the risk of venture capital firms invested in the company.  One investor in Solyndra was Oklahoma billionaire and Obama campaign fundraiser George Kaiser.  Could it be that the Solyndra loan was fast-tracked and a rash decision made because a big time Obama supporter had interests in the company?  If it is proven would that represent an impeachable offense?

In reality, even if those allegations prove false Obama’s actions are still impeachable.  Nowhere in the Constitution, that the president swore an oath to, is the federal government granted the power to loan to, subsidize, or guarantee the loans of businesses.  This is corporatism similar to what existed in Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920s and 30s.

What the Constitution does say is that the President “shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.  The key phrase is “high crimes and misdemeanors”.  What are they?  They were the grounds used by the English parliament to impeach officials of the crown dating all the way back to 1386.  Among the offenses included in high crimes and misdemeanors was misappropriation of government funds.  If using tax dollars, including those of other energy companies, to benefit certain players in the marketplace isn’t a misappropriation of government funds then I don’t know what is.

Certainly, Obama is not the first president to practice corporatism.  Jimmy Carter bailed out Chrysler in the 1970s and TARP was signed into law by George W. Bush to name just two.  Impeachment is a very political endeavor anyway and for most politicians in Washington the Constitution is irrelevant.  But the next time you hear some politician vilify Solyndra’s executives remember it’s just a smokescreen.  Washington shouldn’t have made the loan in the first place.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina

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