Need cheering up this Monday morning?
Former senator Phil Gramm (whose economist wife Wendy Gramm served on IWF's board in our early years) has a piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal that is a good and optimistic way to kick off the week.
Senator Gramm's theme: President Obama's "progressive legacy won't last because he passed vague laws and abused his executive power to impose policies that are unpopular." Gramm admits that President Obama is a transformative president but sees the seeds of the unraveling of his transformation in the way President Obama went about achieving his goals:
How did Barack Obama join Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan to become one of the three most transformative presidents in the past century? He was greatly aided by the financial crisis that erupted during the 2008 campaign. This gave the new president a mandate and a large Democratic congressional majority that fully embraced his progressive agenda.
Having learned from previous progressive failures, President Obama embarked on a strategy of minimizing controversial details that could doom his legislative efforts. But no factor was more decisive than his unshakable determination not to let Congress, the courts, the Constitution or a failed presidency—as America has traditionally defined it—stand in his way.
Gramm writes that that Americans always find progressivism appealing in the abstract but don't like it when they see the details. For example, Bill Clinton's progressivism sounded good in the 1992 election, but then Americans saw the details of his health care plan and didn't like what they saw. As Gramm notes, Americans realized that Clinton's health care system would "take away their freedom."
The Obama transformations were achieved by laws that were in themselves vague but set up structures:
In its major legislative successes, the Obama administration routinely proposed not program details but simply the structure that would be used to determine program details in the future. Unlike the Clinton administration’s ill-fated HillaryCare, which contained a detailed plan to control costs through Regional Healthcare Purchasing Cooperatives and strictly enforced penalties, ObamaCare established an independent payment advisory board to deal with rising costs. The 2009 stimulus package was unencumbered by a projects list like the one provided by the Clinton administration, which doomed the 1993 Clinton stimulus with ice-skating warming huts in Connecticut and alpine slides in Puerto Rico.
There was also the lawlessness:
The Obama transformation was achieved by laws granting unparalleled discretionary power to the executive branch—but where the law gave no discretion Mr. Obama refused to abide by the law. Whether the law mandated action, such as income verification for ObamaCare, or inaction, such as immigration reform without congressional support, Mr. Obama willfully overrode the law. Stretching executive powers beyond their historic limits, he claimed the Federal Communications Commission had authority over the Internet and exerted Environmental Protection Agency control over power plants to reduce carbon emissions.
President Obama, Gramm points out, freed himself from the traditional restraints inherent in American governance. He never felt the need to gain bipartisan support for any of his agenda. He was willing to go forward with his agenda if it did not deliver prosperity. His transformation came at a perhaps fatal cost:
While the Obama program has transformed America, no one is singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” or claiming it’s “morning in America.” Despite a doubling of the national debt and the most massive monetary expansion since the Civil War, America’s powerhouse economy has withered along with the rule of law.
The means by which Mr. Obama wrought his transformation imperil its ability to stand the test of time. All of his executive orders can be overturned by a new president. ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank can be largely circumvented using exactly the same discretionary powers Mr. Obama used to implement them in the first place. Republicans, who never supported his program, are now united in their commitment to repeal it.
Most important, the American people, who came to embrace the Roosevelt and Reagan transformations, have yet to buy into the Obama transformation. For all of these reasons it appears that the Obama legacy rests on a foundation of sand.
Let's hope Gramm is correct and that President Obama did not bequeath to future generations an America that is no longer tied to the Constitution.