August 1 2013

The Act-On-My-Own President

Charlotte Hays

Many of us have been frustrated by President Obama’s repeated protestations of concern for the middle class, a class whose economic prospects the president is rapidly destroying.

The obvious reaction is to try to make the point that the president’s policies are harmful to the middle class, which more than anything requires jobs. But, if Daniel Henninger is right, this response fails to understand what exactly the president is doing.

What he is doing has very little to do with the middle class. It is about the expansion of power. Henninger writes:

The first term's over-and-over subject was "the wealthiest 1%." Past some point, people wondered why he kept beating these half-dead horses. After the election, we knew. It was to propagandize the targeted voting base that would provide his 4% popular-vote margin of victory—very young voters and minorities. They believed. He won.

The second-term over-and-over, elevated in his summer speech tour, is the shafting of the middle class. But the real purpose here isn't the speeches' parboiled proposals. It is what he says the shafting of the middle class is forcing him to do. It is forcing him to "act"—to undertake an unprecedented exercise of presidential power in domestic policy-making. ObamaCare was legislated. In the second term, new law will come from him.

Please don't complain later that you didn't see it coming. As always, Mr. Obama states publicly what his intentions are. He is doing that now. Toward the end of his speech last week in Jacksonville, Fla., he said: "So where I can act on my own, I'm going to act on my own. I won't wait for Congress." (Applause.)

The U.S. government is built, Henninger notes, on a system of checks and balances, which President Obama is rebalancing. If you look at the speech the president delivered in Galesburg, Ill., which was supposedly on the economy, Obama not only criticized but mocked Congress. Henninger also recalls the 2010 State of the Union address in which the president denounced the Supreme Court, with justices sitting before him.

The Supreme Court just ended federal oversight of voting in southern states, an oversight that was the response to abuses when it was enacted. But minority voter registration in the Deep South is now higher than non-minority registration. The supervision that was right in the 1960s is no longer justified. But Attorney General Eric Holder is doing an end run around the Supreme Court. His actions will serve to mobilize the base, convincing them that they live in an unjust country and that their only bulwark against racial discrimination is authoritarian rule from Washington.

The filibuster deal that confirmed appointments that should have been contested in Congress (Richard Cordray at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez at the Labor Department and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy)  enhances the president’s power, opening “a vast swath of American life to executive authority on steroids. There won't be enough hours in the day for Mr. Obama to ‘act on my own.’"

Is all of this the fundamental transition to which the president referred on the night he was elected?

Republicans tend to eat their own. Rep. John Boehner and his band of Republicans in the House are in a tough position. They have used their position to fight government cupidity as well as they can, given that they control only a sliver of government. Still, it is disappointing that no opposition has emerged to halt—or even talk about—the president’s power grab. Henninger concludes:

In a recent Journal op-ed, "Obama Suspends the Law," former federal judge Michael McConnell noted there are few means to stop a president who decides he is not obligated to execute laws as passed by Congress. So there's little reason to doubt we'll see more Obamaesque dismissals of established law, as with ObamaCare's employer mandate. Mr. Obama is pushing in a direction that has the potential for a political crisis.

A principled opposition would speak out. Barack Obama is right that he isn't running again. But the Democratic Party is. Their Republican opponents should force the party's incumbents to defend the president's creeping authoritarianism.

If elected representatives are chary of talking about creeping authoritarianism—and they know that the media will caricature them, if they do—the duty may fall to the populace. Radio host Mark Levin is urging his 8.5 million listeners to hold a convention to protest the gathering power of the federal government. Guess he should prepare for an IRS audit.

If you read nothing else today, read Henninger's column.

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