“It will not be denied that power is of an encroaching nature and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it. After discriminating, therefore, in theory, the several classes of power, as they may in their nature be legislative, executive, or judiciary, the next and most difficult task is to provide some practical security for each, against the invasion of the others.” — James Madison, 1788, Federalist No. 48
The brilliance of the Constitution, and the secret to its enduring strength, is not that the Founding Fathers assumed that there would always been men of goodwill and unimpeachable integrity to administer government, but that they understood unequivocally that it is the nature of nearly all men in power to attempt to expand that power. In writing the Constitution, the Founders engaged in a sort of moral physics, pitting the force of will of one branch of power, or one level of government, against the others, so that no one branch could become despotic and tyrannical.
In doing so, they separated government into two levels, the federal and the state, with the federal government granted primacy over the states when exercising one of a limited and defined set of “enumerated” powers, and all other powers being retained by the states, or the people directly. They also divided government into three branches; the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary, with the legislative, being most directly accountable to the people, retaining the most power, but with each branch provided checks and balances to limit the expansion of power by the other branches.
Their foresight proved prophetic, as for more than two hundred years government power has been in a tug-of-war between the state and federal governments, and the three branches of government.
Yet, it seems likely that the Founders would be stunned to see a day where these checks and balances would be decimated because the government simply ignored the rule of law whenever the law proved inconvenient for them, and even more stunned to see one of these competing powers abdicate their duty when their power was encroached upon, refusing to take up the weapons at their disposal to set right the balance of power.
In signing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, the most malicious and unconstitutional abridgment of political free speech since the Alien and Sedition Acts, President George W. Bush declared that he felt the law was unconstitutional but would sign it anyway and let the Supreme Court decide. Had Bush properly exercised his power, he would have vetoed the bill. As it is, Bush was shown to be right in that major elements of the law have since been struck down by the Supremes.
The Democrat-controlled Senate went nearly four years without fulfilling its constitutional duty to pass a budget, and instead we accumulated more than $6 TRILLION in four years through a series of “stimulus” bills and CR’s (Continuing Resolutions…basically a way of saying Congress will allow as much (or more) money to be spent this year as last year, without the hassle of being accountable for how much money is spent and what it is allocated). Republicans always deflect blame by saying that they can only do so much because they control only one-half of one-third of government, but that is sleight of hand nonsense. Under Article I, Section 7, ALL revenue bills MUST originate in the House of Representatives. Therefore, if the Republicans decided to finally stand on principle and refuse to allow Democrats to accumulate $4 billion per day in new debt, they could refuse to pass the CR’s, and therefore force the Democrat-controlled Senate to negotiate, or allow government to shut down until they are willing.
However, though this erosion of proper exercise of constitutional powers has occurred steadily under Republicans and Democrats alike, the speed and utter arrogance with which it has occurred under Obama is simply shocking, and should terrify every single American regardless of party or political ideology. For the only thing that keeps us from becoming some Third-World dictatorship or bureaucratic kleptocracy is our history of reverence for the rule of law.
Obama started off his presidency with an indication of what was to come, refusing to executed punishment for an already decided case against the New Black Panther members in Philadelphia who had threatened voters. That was compounded by the revelation by career Justice Department employees that Attorney General Eric Holder made clear that he did not want black criminals prosecuted when the victims were white.
When the Congress, including a number of Democrats, refused to pass the DREAM Act, which would have given preferential treatment to children of illegal aliens, Obama simply declared that he would no longer enforce the law when it came to those that would have benefited had the law passed, in essence a de facto implementation of the DREAM Act. He also refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, as he is required by law to do, a law passed by huge bipartisan majorities and signed by Democrat Bill Clinton. Regardless of whether you agreed or disagreed with the outcome, Obama’s refusal to fulfill his obligation based on political considerations is very distressing.
Obama has also made recess appointments even when the Senate was not in recess, declaring that he has the power to decide what constitutes a legitimate recess by the Senate. And in forcing the abortion and contraception provisions of the ObamaCare law down the throats of those objecting on religious grounds, he has also assumed for himself the power to determine what is and is not a legitimate expression of religious belief.
His latest abuse of power is possibly his most egregious. With the ObamaCare law increasingly more unpopular and expensive, Obama unilaterally declared that the half of the linchpin provision which holds the law together, the employer mandate (without which the funding structure collapses), would have its implementation delayed for one year…conveniently kicking back in AFTER the 2014 mid-term elections (a mere coincidence, I am sure).
Since when does a president have the power to declare that a duly authorized law, passed by Congress and signed by him, would be enacted not when the law says it will be enacted, but when he deems it politically expedient? So brazen is this abuse of power that some Democrats, including Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and an key author of the health reform law, is demanding to know where Obama finds the right to change the law by decree.
The answer is that Obama has repeatedly taken power by force of will that is not constitutionally delegated to him, with Democrats aiding and abetting his usurpation because he is the captain of their team, and with Republicans too often playing the role of political invertebrates and refusing to use their entire arsenal to reign him in.
Obama has told us repeatedly of late not to be cynical of government, and to trust him to do the right thing. A nice sentiment that empowers his soft tyranny, to be sure. However, I prefer the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, who said “In questions of power, let us hear no more of trust in men, but rather bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution”.