Stephen Smoot

The British Parliament over three centuries ago knew a tyrant when they saw one.  Stuart kings of the 1600s, each in their own way, worked to absorb as much political power into the throne as possible.  Charles I in the 1640s proved so obnoxious that he was relieved of his head.  His son Charles II worked at a much slower pace, preventing the need for rebellion.  The last male Stuart king, James II, found himself fired by Parliament.

They then “hired” James’ daughter Mary who brought her husband William along.  Before they could assume the throne in 1689, Parliament presented a contract known ever since as the English Bill of Rights.  Our own Founding Fathers borrowed heavily from some of its ideas.  Violations of it were cited as reasons for independence.  Some of its cherished principles became foundations of American law.

One of the complaints against James II was found within.  It said that he assumed and exercised “a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament.”

In other words, the kings assumed the authority to establish and then violate laws at their own whim, obliterating rule of law.  If fear of such action only remained in the memory of history.

The Obama Administration always kicks out its most politically problematic material on Fridays.  March 16 was no exception.  That is when the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order sneaked past the mainstream media.

This was intended to update the Defense Production Act of 1950, enacted in the first few days of the Korean War.  According to the FEMA website, it was passed by Congress to give President Harry Truman the authority to prioritize contracts, protect from anti-trust legislation companies organizing to meet national security emergencies, and also to decide which resources go where during war or other emergencies.

By the 1970s, the provisions of this act were used to try to promote the creation of new technologies within the defense field.  In other words, DPA protection became another tool of crony capitalism.

Back to Barack Obama.  Why is he suddenly so interested in updating this act, by executive order, no less? 

It may be related to a March 2011 Memorandum of Understanding circulated between the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture that emphasized the dire national security need for "more advanced drop-in biofuels."  The memo mentions that Obama personally issued this directive.  Of course this initiative costs taxpayers $510 million, as opposed to expanding drilling for oil, which would actually create tax revenue.  But that is beside the point. 

To expand productive capacity of energy, the government is authorized by this new executive order "to create, maintain, protect, expand, or restore domestic industrial base capabilities essential for the national defense."  It can also pay out subsidies to entities trying to do the same.

Wow!  Now crony capitalists can be enlisted/paid to fight terrorism through the creation of bio-fuels in a country with some of the highest natural reserves of energy in the world!  How wonderful! 

Besides the fact that this seems to be yet another vehicle to quietly funnel money to his green special interest lobbies, the language in this executive order is truly Orwellian.  The original Defense Production Act referred specifically to national security and national defense, while Obama’s executive order broadens the categories to include “national emergency.” 

What constitutes a national emergency?  The President may not be able to define this for you, but he will know one when he sees it.

To be fair, the original act also confers a lot of power to the President.  A key difference lies in the fact that in 1950, Congress passed the act and delegated the authority.  In 2012, Obama assumed the power himself.  As George Stephanopolous once said "stroke of the pen, law of the land, kind of cool."

Executive orders themselves rest on very shaky constitutional grounds.  The Founders intended that authority in the United States be a careful dance between the three branches of federal government, the state governments, and the people.  Presidential executive orders threaten that balance.  This power makes them more like medieval kings than chief executives of free republics. 

Article 1 Section 1 plainly states that Congress has all lawmaking power.  Without an amendment, it could not delegate this even if it wanted. 

Obama’s executive order grasps at vast authority to make decisions on almost any resource in times of national emergency.  James II would have been awestruck by this assumption of power.


Stephen Smoot

Dr. Stephen A. Smoot is a columnist, historian, political adviser, and media expert. He lives with his family in West Virginia.