The defeat of the Democratic Party in the 2016 election is an astonishing and unmistakable repudiation of the “transformation of America” to which Barack Obama dedicated himself as constitutional chief executive. Obama’s transformation of America disavowed the natural law principles on which the country was founded. For more than a century Progressive reformers assiduously indoctrinated Americans in the philosophy of pragmatist relativism. Faithful to the Progressive tradition, Obama appealed to pragmatism to rationalize the transformation of America. While post-mortems are being prepared to explain what went wrong, it is pertinent to reflect on how Left-liberal opinion makers understood the “once-in-a-life-time” opportunity that Obama’s election provided to achieve long sought progressive goals.
Now that Donald Trump is their presumptive nominee, elected officials within the Republican Party are faced with the difficult question of how they should respond. Some are saying it isn’t at all difficult—the people have spoken, by golly!—but I beg to differ. It’s a genuinely hard political question that ought to be framed by philosophical, institutional, and constitutional considerations.
An essential difference between civilization and barbarism is that civilized people conduct politics with words, a precondition of which is that words have objective meanings—they indicate this and not that—and that we are willing to articulate them.
Two weeks ago President Obama returned to the Illinois capitol. Praising the bipartisanship he had found there, he recalled that, despite having different principles, the parties had forged “compromises” that made for “progress.” He held up Illinois politics as superior to the partisan politics that infect Washington D.C. today.
The President may be nostalgic for the political culture that launched his career as a politician. But he does not have to live in the sorry state that was created in large measure by the bipartisanship he celebrates. Illinois is mired in billions of dollars in debt. Its bond rating is the lowest in the nation. It is judged the third worst state to do business. Its strong public sector unions deliver poor services at a high price.
Illinois’ failure to live within its means, and its solicitude for public sector unions, has indeed been bipartisan.
It has always seemed odd that the ultimate power of man over nature—science—is supposed to be what will preserve the naturalness of the environment.
Last time we celebrated Earth Day, President Obama had no doubts when he told the “science guy” Bill Nye that it is “part of our constitutional duty” to promote science for the environment. “I’m not a scientist either, but I know a lot of scientists,” said the President. “I have the capacity to understand science. I have the capacity to look at facts and base my conclusions on evidence.”
The burgeoning literature on the Obama administration, one of the most lawless in U.S. history, includes Michelle Malkin’s Culture of Corruption (2009), Tom Fitton’s The Corruption Chronicles (2012), Gene Healy’s False Idol (2012), John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky’s Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department (2014), Andrew McCarthy’s Faithless Execution (2014), and the many legal critiques of Obamacare. None, however, focuses on the damage the 44th President has done to the U.S. Constitution like George Mason University law school professor David E. Bernstein’s excellent new book, Lawless: The Obama Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with historian Mark Moyar about his new book, Strategic Failure, which critiques the foreign policy pursued by the Obama administration.
Last week’s horrible tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon put us back into a repetitive cycle in partisan discourse: A madman commits a massacre. Advocates for greater controls on firearm ownership use their outrage at the loss of life to point fingers at Americans’ right to own guns, and argue for more gun control. Gun-rights advocates mourn the loss of life, accuse their opponents of exploiting the deaths of the victims, and argue that greater restrictions short of outright bans would not prevent future tragedies and would endanger the basic rights of the vast majority of gun owners to protect themselves.
Senator Rand Paul’s crusade against the NSA’s Section 215 metadata program, now successful, has made him an icon to libertarians and anathema to securitarians. He isn’t fully either, for his rhetoric—like that of his adversaries—is incomplete. This battle between libertarians and security hawks needs resolution by Burkeans, who can add a needed dose of prudential balance to the debate.
In his second term, President Obama has unilaterally pressed his agenda, now that he has lost the congressional support needed to enact his political priorities through legislation. These uses or abuses of executive power include the suspension of deportation and granting of work permits for illegal aliens and various decisions to delay the effective date of certain provisions of Obamacare. As a consequence of the President’s actions, the proper scope of executive authority should figure front and center in the coming presidential campaign.
In conducting this important debate over the nature of our republican order, we must demand that candidates separate out their policy positions from their position on the appropriate scope of executive power. Thus, it is perfectly possible to embrace the policy goals of the President’s executive order on immigration while objecting to its constitutional basis, and vice-versa. Only by forcing candidates to answer the constitutional question can we have any confidence that they will stick to a consistently constitutional view of executive power. After a change in partisan control of the Presidency, partisans in both parties have had a habit of waking up on election morning to find that Article II has acquired a new meaning.
In questioning candidates, it is also important to make a distinction between the unity of the executive and the scope of its power—issues that are often confused.