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Will Republicans now impeach Obama? (Is that a serious question?)

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Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star/AP

(Read caption) Congressman Eric Cantor addresses supporters at the Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa, in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. Cantor told Katie Couric in an interview that he hopes to repeal 'Obamacare' in January.

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Impeach President Obama! Repeal “Obamacare!” UFOs have landed!

OK, that last one is made up (pretty sure…), but the first two are rattling around the rhetoricsphere of election night speechifying, even showing up on news shows and media blogs that cover the conversation on an election night.

The first one took flight through the blogosphere after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz posed the hypothetical question to the soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio – who, incidentally, was not on the show. Would he pledge to take impeachment of President Obama “off the table,” Mr. Schultz asked rhetorically. This was picked up and replayed by the conservative blog, mediate.com.

On the second question, CBS News’ “Campaign 2010: Election Night," Katie Couric interviewed Republican Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who told her: “In January, I hope that we’re able to put a repeal bill on the floor right away.”

Are these serious intentions or political theater? The latter, says John Hart, professor of communication at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. It’s the kind of partisan rhetoric designed for the party faithful and geared towards an emotional, not a rational response, he adds.

"Election night winners get to indulge in this kind of flight of fancy, preaching to their choir at a big moment,” he says.

But it is not really meant for the sober light of day. Rather, he says, “extreme rhetoric like this can begin to set extreme boundaries for actual moves down the line.”

For instance, while a total repeal of the massive health-care bill is not in the cards, such comments can prime the conversational pump for something far less extreme, such as amending provisions, Mr. Hart says.

A glance to the past sheds helpful light on such whopping talk.

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First of all, he points out, Obama himself set a fantastical bar for the administration with his “Yes, we can!” and change-the-world talk. Moreover, the party in power historically loses ground in mid-term elections – though not to this extent. Still, the resurgent party nearly always indulges in emboldened rallying cries.

Will the Republicans move on impeachment proceedings? Since Watergate and President Richard Nixon, this word has been part of the dialogue of opposition, says Hart. But that doesn’t make it a reasonable possibility, he adds.


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