The president is an ardent progressive. This dastardly philosophy of government was brought into the American mainstream 100 years ago by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, and a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. Its guiding principle is the belief that government -- not individuals -- is the chief engine of human progress. If that means government tearing down rich persons to help poor persons, if that means the massive redistribution of wealth, if it means federal regulation of every conceivable occupation or productive endeavor, if it means fighting an unjust war, progressives are for it.
Before the progressives, the dominant political thinkers in America were Madisonians. James Madison, who kept the notes at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 -- notes that eventually formed much of the language of the Constitution -- made clear what the purposes of the Constitution were: to prescribe discrete areas of human endeavor in which the new federal government could legislate; to set forth open-ended areas of human behavior in which no government could legislate; and to leave the remaining areas of governmental endeavor in the hands of the states. The areas delegated to the federal government are only 17 in number and generally are referred to as federal powers. The areas in which no government may regulate are infinite and generally are referred to as natural rights.
The progressives have turned this philosophy on its head. TR and Wilson believed that the federal government could regulate any behavior, right any wrong, tax any event and curtail any freedom, subject only to the express prohibitions in the Constitution itself. This view of American government not only contradicts Madison, but it also contradicts the language of the Constitution itself, particularly the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which state in writing what Madison said many times throughout his life.
President Obama, most congressional Democrats and many congressional Republicans are ardent progressives. They view Congress as a general legislature with no limits to its powers -- and they mean no limits. For example, in an area clearly beyond congressional reach, such as in-state highway speed limits, the progressives found a way to extend their reach. They offered money to the states to repave their highways, with the condition that the states adhere to federally prescribed speed limits (only South Dakota declined). Once the courts gave their imprimatur to this assault on the Constitution, the feds realized that by spending taxpayer dollars -- by bribing the states -- they could extend their regulatory tentacles to any extra-constitutional area they chose.