July 5 2013
The Royal Presidency
When the Obama administration suddenly announced that it was delaying the dreaded employer mandate, a chief component of ObamaCare, your first reaction may have been a sigh of relief. After all, it's a job killing requirement.
Your second reaction, I hope, was to be aghast at this latest exercise in raw and unilateral power. We don’t yet know if the president has the legal right to change this law, given the way the law is written. There is considerable debate over this. Some think it is almost tyrannical but others say that, while bold, it is within the sphere of presidential prerogative.
It has not been the tradition in our humble democracy for presidents to unilaterally change our laws. If not fully weighed and opposed if necessary, this latest power grab, if it turns out to be illegal, signals a change in the way our laws and government operate. If the president gets by with illegally changing the law, and there is a very good chance that he will, given the administration’s habit of not budging when challenged, we aren’t the same republic we used to be.
Forget the imperial presidency, which was once the rallying cry for those who thought a particular president too powerful. Some of the Obama administration’s appropriations of power are evidence that we’ve entered a new phase: the royal presidency. We are seeing a sea change in the presidency, a new kind of government, as manifested in both the style, with all the lavish trappings—or should I say trippings?—of office now almost taken for granted and also in the substantive acts of the Obama presidency.
When President Obama said, as a candidate, that he was going to transform the United States, whodathunk his personal role model in this process would be Louis Quatorze? President Obama also seems to have borrowed heavily from the early and medieval English kings who regarded dealing with those upstarts in Parliament as a bummer.
Five years into Obama's tenure, we have seen a lot of arrogance. When, for example, the President blathered on about (with regard to Benghazi) how our diplomats around the world personally represent him, Barack Obama, during one of the presidential debates, it was crystal clear to the historically-minded that POTUS was getting in touch with his inner Louis XIV (“L’etat c’est moi”).
Most American presidents don’t talk like that because they know that, though his administration appoints diplomats, they are actually representing the country. Grandiosity, alas, isn't the only thing the President has in common with the Sun King.
Like Louis, President Obama likes to spend money. Charles Krauthammer called the budget that President Obama sent to the Hill in 2011 “Obama’s Louis XIV budget.” But there are other Louis Louis moments. The notably sober columnist Michael Barone also noticed the Louis connection when the president made recess appointments when Congress wasn’t officially in session. A presidential website said, “When Congress refuses to act, he will.” “This looks uncomfortably close to the view taken by King Louis XIV,” Barone wrote, citing the Sun King’s aforementioned “L’etat, c’est moi.”
As for the stylistic dimension of the royal presidency, it is the President’s wife, Michelle Obama, who has come in for comparisons with French royalty. She was widely compared to Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI’s queen, after her lavish 2010 trip to Marbella. This is unfair: the President is just as much of a spendthrift as his wife. The Obama dictum, when it comes to family travel, seems to be that (other people’s) money is no object.
The recent vanity trip to Africa, which cost the American taxpayers between $60 and $100 million, had no purpose other than amusing the president. It was like a medieval royal progress, except that the American taxpayer instead of the people with whom the monarch stayed picked up the tab. The trip was all about the President. At Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was a prisoner, the president signed the guest book “on behalf of my family.” It would have been more appropriate to sign "on behalf of the United States,” whose taxpayers paid an immense amount of money for the Obama family to visit Robben Island.
Of course, I am being half-way facetious when I compare President Obama to Louis XIV (who, by the way, was a very successful ruler and probably wouldn’t like the comparison much either). But at the end of the day what I am alluding to is that the style and substance of our nation is being changed. The style is more suitable for Hollywood celebrities and costs the taxpayer way too much. The substantive changes are more serious.
Under President Obama, we have become used to decrees that enable the President to do things that Congress otherwise would stop. These decrees are often called executive orders, which were used more sparingly by previous presidents. President Obama is the first president to use an executive action to erode an American industry he doesn’t like (coal) – and thereby kill many jobs.
So many unconstitutional acts have escaped censure and so many unread, unfair, and unsteady laws passed that the inability to put the employer mandate into action may just be a harbinger of what is to come after the Obama administration. As Louis XIV’s grandson, Louis XV, is said to have said, “Apres moi le deluge.”
If we do not find a way to rein in excesses of both style and substance, we have lost our republic.
Charlotte Hays is the director of cultural programs at the Independent Women's Forum.