The political puritans who control most editorial boards will doubtless mourn the tragically short life of the ardently sought détente between the White House and the ascendant Republicans in Congress. The good-government words were trotted out the day after the election—cooperation; grease the Capitol’s rusted legislative skids; we can hold hands to pass legislation and sing folk songs while we do—only to collapse under the President’s threat of unilateral action on immigration. Good. The good-government shtick—let us, said the President, “explore where we can make progress”; Mitch McConnell chimed in that “maybe there are things we can agree on to make progress for the country”—was nonsense to begin with.
There “is a role for Congress,” says a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, “in our Iran policy.” This is big of her, seeing as how “our” Iran policy consists largely of sanctions imposed by the legislative authority of Congress. A great deal hangs on the spokeswoman’s cavalier use of the word “our.” The suggestion is that the nation’s disposition toward other nations is a constitutional plaything, belonging solely to “us,” which is to say to the executive, and to be shared at “our” discretion. Imagine a comparable audacity—or is it to be called magnanimity?—from a congressional spokesperson: “There…
The psychology of legislative draftsmanship involved in the six words at stake in Halbig v. Burwell—“an exchange established by the State”—reflects a short-odds gamble that did not hit. The bettors first wanted the IRS to rescue them from the consequences, and now they want the courts to do it.
The gamble was that states, enticed by subsidies for their citizens or intimidated by the threat of losing Medicaid funds, would establish healthcare exchanges. The Obama administration is surely right that the whole idea of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was that such subsidies be provided, and that the consequences that have ensued from those six small words were probably unintended.
The syllogism used to run as follows.
The state should provide good things. X is a good thing. Therefore, the state should provide X. This is fraught with problems, to be sure—but it is also clear, debatable and honest. Now, on November’s ballots, comes the purportedly market-oriented version, which, debauching the name of Adam Smith, reframes it as follows: The state should guarantee good things. X is a good thing. Therefore, the public sector should compel the private sector to provide X. This is opaque, indirect and pernicious.
First the obligatories: The nauseating video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée, now wife, into unconsciousness in an Atlantic City casino should have landed him in the New Jersey state prison system. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell so badly bungled the case and the communications surrounding it that he ought to be disabused of the delusion that his very public job is a personal right to which he is entitled until conclusive evidence of actual wrongdoing separates him from it. And the number of domestic-violence cases in the NFL suggests a culture of lawlessness, not to mention simple indecency, among at least some of its players.
All true. And all of it was established, and was being vigorously and effectively debated, in the Tocquevillian sector—namely, civil society—without members of Congress queuing up to offer rhetorical interventions, from calls for official inquiries to demands that teams sit players under investigation. Some of their criticism was right, but on what authority—according to which of the 18 enumerated constitutional powers—were they acting? The moral-preening clause?
The syllogism by which healthcare deadlines may be deferred against laws, recess appointments made without recesses, and international agreements negotiated sans treaties runs as follows: The national government is empowered to pursue the public interest. The power of the national government is vested in the person of the President. Therefore, the President is empowered to pursue the public interest.
My first child having come with no manual, as evidently no child does, my wife and I arrived home with her somewhat bewildered, which was nothing compared to our confusion upon entry into the teenage years, but I digress. In any event, I blame college. Not a single class in parenting was required at the University of Texas at Austin.
This is, of course, absurd—an instance of what might be called the post collegium ergo propter collegium fallacy: the idea that the purpose of college is to prepare students for anything that comes after college. It is now pervasive. Students need careers; college must train them. Students do not know how to find jobs; college must teach them. The world is diverse and the economy is integrated; college must prepare students for both.
It is a close contest which recent assertion of executive authority crowns the rest, but the Administration’s potential skirting of the Senate’s treaty power in negotiating an international agreement on climate change ranks high in the running. The Constitution’s explicit partnering of the Presidency and the Senate in binding the nation in global agreements, combined with the two-thirds majority needed in the upper chamber of Congress to affirm them, points to the unique dangers of cutting one institution out of the process. President Obama is not the first to do this.
I used to think I wanted the job security of the tenured professor but now I think what I really want is to run the CIA. Nothing, but nothing, gets those guys fired. John Brennan, for one, has retained his position after presiding over a formal, frontal assault on a coordinate branch of government. He has kept it after further mocking the principle of the separation of powers by redacting a Senate report on CIA interrogation practices so thoroughly that even already public material is blotted out.
That drip-drip-drip sound you hear is condescension falling from the mouths of skeptics appalled that such as Lynne Cheney, who does not even hold a tenured position on a university faculty and whose hands are sullied by the actual practice of politics, to say nothing of the side on which she has practiced it, and whose previous writings have not always sounded the depths of profundity, has now dared without so much as the permission of a double-blind peer-review process to produce a sober, scholarly biography of James Madison and, what is worst of all, with a prestigious trade press.