The consensus among objective legal observers is that President Obama’s unilateral amendments to a bill passed by Congress and signed by him into law exceed his constitutional authority, are illegal, and violate his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Worse, they create a precedent that endangers the nation’s freedom, as protected by the rule of law and the system of checks and balances, by laying the foundation for more obtrusive and dictatorial acts by future Presidents, who are sure to notice that the negative consequences of this blatantly unconstitutional act were nil. The President and the executive branch shares responsibility for this dangerous and irresponsible display of autocratic lawmaking with both houses of Congress and both political parties, none of which have demonstrated either the integrity or the courage to oppose him, for varying reasons.
It is depressing and indeed disgusting that our successful democratic system of government created out of the vision and sacrifices of so many men and women of character, ability and high ideals is being progressively undone by fecklessness, incompetence and political expediency. That, however, is the plot playing out on the national stage, and these are the perpetrators:
- The President, furiously re-writing an incompetently written and negligently administered law to avoid political disaster, is ruling by fiat, ignoring the text of the law in issuing delays and changed provisions that properly require new legislation.
- The Republican majority in Congress, charged, as are all our elected leaders, with defending the Constitution, is negligently and recklessly allowing this autocratic abomination to continue unchallenged. Why? Republicans see the President undertaking the same measures they shut down the government in part to achieve. They fear being called hypocritical if they oppose the President’s illegal efforts to do what they had previously demanded. They fear backlash, if they are accused of obstructing efforts to address weaknesses in the law that they had previously pointed to themselves. Republicans are correct in these fears, but if they were patriots, public servants and statesmen, it would not matter. If the public and the news media doesn’t understand that nothing is more important than maintaining the integrity of the Constitution and the system of checks and balances, then Congress’s duty is to weather the storm, stand for the rule of law, and educate them. Instead, it is allowing a democracy to be run like a dictatorship.
- The Democratic majority in the Senate, which is honor bound to protect the integrity of our system of government, even when a violation of it happens to converge with Democratic interests, and yet will not. The best and most powerful way to curb executive lawlessness would be a bi-partisan Senate resolution authored by the President’s own party, and because that is the best and most powerful solution, Majority Leader Harry Reid is obligated to do it. But Senator Reid is a corrupt partisan hack. His fingerprints are all over the abysmal law the President’s illegal ad hoc amendments are designed to save, and because he possesses neither political courage nor integrity, he will remain inert.\
- The incompetent news media, which has a duty to inform the public what is going on, why it is illegal, and why it poses a threat to democracy, will not and cannot do so. Most journalists long ago traded in their professionalism and ethical duties to become tools of government, even when that government is in full violation of the very document that allows a free press to exist. The few media protests against unilateral lawmaking—autocracy—by the Chief Executive can and are easily dismissed as those of partisan critics whose credibility was forfeited by earlier reflex criticism of less momentous acts, and further marginalized by a successful campaign to label all criticism of the first black President as presumptively racist.
- The education system has done an abysmal job of educating whole generations of citizens, with the consequence that civic literacy in the U.S. is at an all-time low. Rule of law? What’s that? What law? Doesn’t the President rule over us? Madason, Jefferson, Adam Smith and others warned that civic ignorance presented the greatest challenge to any democracy’s long term success.
- Worst of all, the passive, ignorant, lazy and easily confused American public, standing complacent, mute and bewildered as its most precious possession, self-government, is being eroded in plain view. The public should be forcing their elected representatives to act, but most Americans simply don’t know what is going on, and won’t devote the energy to find out.
The irony is that this perfect storm of anti-democratic government has arisen, not out of diabolical schemeing by an aspiring dictator, but out of the desperate and futile efforts of an amateurish and inept leader to hide the failures of his administration and his inability to operate successfully within the same Constitution that all of his predecessors accepted and coped with. This, aided and abetted by the unprincipled and craven leadership in both parties, a politicized news media and a disengaged electorate, is paving the way for the aspiring dictators to come. It is precisely the dire scenario posed by Sir Thomas More in “A Man For All Seasons” come to life, but in our own country:
“What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?… And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”
Our Constitution exists to keep those winds from blowing our democracy over, and Barack Obama is cutting a great road through it, not to get after the Devil, but to try to save Obamacare. How sad. Ben Franklin said, famously and ominously, that we had a Republic, if we can keep it. I fear that his implied question is finally getting its answer.