A PRIVATE CITIZEN
-Actual leftist comment
There's no small amount of internet commentary over President Obama's latest Executive Order delaying implementation of yet another portion of the ACA ("Obamacare") until 2016. The act specifically requires each section to be implemented at given times, but the president wants to wait on small business implementation.
Putting aside other concerns, such as how this impacts individuals, what it means about the law and its perceved damage to the economy and Democrat electoral chances, and what it means to be employee #100, there's a deeper concern. Eugene Kontorovich writes at the Volokh Conspiracy:
Manipulating large-scale legislative policies, duly enacted, around election schedules goes beyond the parameters of executive discretion. Nor can this be justified by the dubious claim of “transition relief” from tax obligations. The employers are not being relieved just from taxes, but from direct primary legal obligations to provide insurance. Every year the administration delays large portions of ObamaCare, it says it is no big deal, because it is “temporary.” But a few temporary fixes in a row becomes a new permanent form of executive lawmaking.Freeing us from the tyranny of lawmaking, Charles C. W. Cooke jokes. Making matters worse for many is the president's recent joke at Monticello: "I can do anything I want, I'm the president." He didn't mean it seriously as some tooth-gnashing conservative pundits are acting, but it does betray a certain leaning in the man, given his actions in office.
This would be the same man who in 2008 criticized President Bush for his much less common and significant uses of executive orders, claiming "that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States of America."
The thing is, this overreach is not unique to President Obama - or Bush for that matter. Its been a concern for many years, as presidents have used executive orders to shape, redirect, or even rewrite portions of laws sent him by the legislative branch. Its been a problem for a long time, and has gotten steadily worse especially since Clinton cabinet official Paul Begala quipped "Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kinda cool."
THE AMERICAN WAY
Congress makes laws, the president executes them. That's the basic system. In his job of executing laws, the president has to come up with ways that is going to be done, and agencies are given the task of making the theoretical (law) practical (execution). In that task, there's going to be adjustments to how the law is carried out, and there has to be. That's where executive orders came from.
For example, if Congress passes a law banning My Little Pony, then the executive department has to work out how they are going to go about enforcing that law, with what agencies, in what capacity, and where they will focus to get the job done.
What the executive branch cannot do in the American system is change the law, add to it, or take things away from it. The president cannot write an executive order adding Go-Bots to this ban, or excluding a particularly cute pony, or delaying implementation of the law for ponies with wings because they are special.
There is one exception to this: the president not only can, but must ignore or refuse to enforce a law if it is unconstitutional. Because, as the founders noted, an unconstitutional law is no law at all; it has no power or meaning in the US.
So there's a basic problem here, and a lot of people are noticing it. I suspect everyone in the Democratic Party notices it, but they don't really care. Major Garrett at CBS admitted “in a midterm election year, the WH simply did not need any more healthcare headaches,” noting the basic reason for the delay: its going to hurt the chances of Democrats getting into power.
Here's the thing. The problem here isn't the outcome, its the means. I'm fine with the ACA not being implemented, that's my preference. "Delay" it until the year 5672. Its why and how this delay is being imposed that is the problem.
THE LIMITS OF POWER
In the United States, Each branch of government - executive, judicial, legislative - has power only over what it has been given by the constitution and no more. The US Constitution is essentially a document limiting what the government can actually do, not a list of what it can't do. The presumption in the American system of government is that those in power can do absolutely nothing... except what they are allowed by law. All power is presumed to be in the hands of the people, who then grant a small and specific portion of this power, temporarily, to representatives who work in their place and for them.
So when a branch of the government tries to overstep its boundaries, say the legislative telling the executive how to carry out enforcing law, for instance, then it has no constitutional or legal meaning. To put it another way, the president has no more power than the average citizen to write or change laws. I can't decide the law against nudity in public places is too restrictive and write a piece of paper that says it doesn't apply temporarily or against me. I don't have that power; only government does, as declared by the constitution and given it by the people.
The Supreme Court cannot decide to set up a paramilitary band to execute its decisions. The legislative department cannot interpret its own laws and declare them proper. The executive department cannot on the fly change or invent new laws, not any more than you or I can.
In America we govern through representatives, and Congress is just as much President Obama's representative in writing federal law as they are for you and me.
The problem is that people have lost all perspective on what people in government are. They are not, as Valerie Jarett said about President Obama "rulers" nor do they have as Geraldo Rivera recently said about President Obama, "majesty." They are citizens who temporarily set aside their other work and serve the people as representatives.
Both those in power and those who vote have lost all perspective on this. Its a matter of not comprehending the preamble of the Declaration of Independence.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
This is generally misunderstood today by people who (accurately) note we are not all created the same. Some are born richer, some are born stupider, some are born more attractive, or clumsier, or what have you. The misunderstanding comes from not knowing the context and meaning of that statement.
Thomas Jefferson started that way not because he thought everyone was identical, but because he was justifying the declaration he was about to make to those who were in power. Jefferson, like the rest of the founding fathers, utterly rejected the principle that some were born better than others.
See, at the time, and before this, the concept of nobility being innately superior as human beings was generally held. There were the common people, and the gentle folk. The nobility were gentle and they were better by nature and birth, superior human beings. Jefferson rejected that, stating without any argument that it was self evident that all men were created not as different classes, but equal before God.
All people are just people. There is no superior nature of those in power, they are not more, they are not better, they are not wiser, greater, or more noble in any way by nature. They can be, but they aren't necessarily, and it is their actions and heart that defines this, not their mere existence.
I usually focus on respecting office and authority here, because we're in a culture that is so anti-authority and so mocking of the very concept. The idea that you should respect someone's office because of what it represents and means is mocked and discarded by culture, so I believe it is an important emphasis.
The problem is, the reverse is also true: we don't respect the people in that office merely because of their position. Being a judge doesn't make you an inherently superior or wise individual. Being president is just a job temporarily held by a private citizen.
Losing this concept is odd in a culture that rips down all barriers and insists that nobody is any better than anyone else. But even as people insist that, they act differently. Celebrities are just better people, they know more and we should heed their words. Politicians are scum we don't trust, but they're more powerful and hence better by nature.
And of course there's the leftist hierarchy of nature by birth and ancestry as well: white people are worse and less than non-whites, and white males are worse still. The smaller the minority and the more oppressed they are perceived to be, the more noble and better their nature is presumed.
So when the president signs an executive order changing the law, he's not just violating the constitution, he's violating the very basic American principle of all created equal and none better than the other. He's no different than you or I, so why is he able to do this when we cannot?
The answer is quite simple: because it achieves the goals that the mainstream, the establishment, want achieved. The ends justify the means; this is bad and wrong, but the purity of his intent and the nobility of his goals make it okay.
This is the thing. They know its bad, they know its wrong, and they know that it is dangerous. They just don't care because it is getting done what those stupid teabagger radical throwbacks in the Republican Party won't let him do. And besides, he's an oppressed minority so we can't criticize him or its racist.
And let me be clear; there are those on the right who did exactly the same thing when President Bush was using executive orders to get his will implemented in questionable ways. And before him, Democrats who did the same thing defending Clinton, and so on.
Now, there are those who claim this is especially bad because the next president can be a Republican and there'll be hell to pay using the same tactics. There are those who say the pendulum always swings the other way and so this is doubly bad for the future.
Those people are, I believe, inexcusably ignorant. Not only do I doubt we'll see another Republican president in my lifetime, but even if this did somehow take place, here's how it would play out:
- President Palin takes office and immediately begins a flurry of executive orders, utterly ignoring congress, using Obama's precedent.
- Congress immediately begins passing laws to override these executive orders, and Palin ignores them, claiming the will of the people and all that.
- Every democrat that has ever walked the earth meanwhile rushes to every microphone nearby and sets up a continuous wail of horror over how President Palin is trampling over the constitution and violating everything the country stands for, and rightly so.
- Many Republicans join them as well, hoping to be invited to the cool parties and get their legislation through easier (and some on principle).
- The press, eager to tear down a Republican president spends every possible waking second reminding people how evil this act is, how its tyrannical, dictatorial, and (hinted at) Hitlerian.
- Popular entertainment picks up the beat, making continuous jokes, adding it into popular culture, crafting clever memes and so on all about how Unpresident Palin is a horrific Nazi for doing this.
- Activists begin having drum circles, marches, huge rallies, effigy burnings and so on as a "people's revolt" against the dictatorial president. Media and pundits warmly praise this as "this is how Democracy looks" and cheering the popular uprising from the grassroots.
- Popular opinion decides that Palin in specific and Republicans in general are horrific evil tyrants who must never be given power again. Palin is hurled out of office after one term, and all of congress is under absolute Democrat control again.
- The next Democrat president reverses everything Palin did using exactly the same kind of executive orders, and the press and Democrats are silent about it, along with most Republicans.
And if you think about it a moment, you'll see this is exactly how it would play out. The fact that President Obama is doing exactly the same thing is irrelevant. The media is mostly shrugging at it, the pundits are not particularly alarmed and are even defending it. Popular media and the usual activist suspects are silent about it. And the general public, the non political junkie not only doesn't understand what an executive order is, but what the constitution says about any of this.
The only solution to this is a culture which recaptures the principle of all being created equal as it was intended and meant to be. A cultures that sees those in office as servants and representatives, not those in power. A culture that views limitations on government as what keeps us free, wealthy, and safe, not excesses.
And electing people or pounding the table doesn't change that. People have to learn what the truth is, and through that the culture changes. From a changed culture, we get changed representatives both in nature and through election. Because the culture produces our representatives, and it produces our voting tendencies.
Government doesn't lead or produce culture, it follows culture, particularly in a democracy. So its a long-term battle to change one child, one family, one neighborhood at a time. No other method will bring about these changes.
I hope that effort has already begun, and maybe by the next generation's end we'll see a real difference.